A Beginner’s Guide to ’80s Japanese Ambient Music

Plus 9 essential albums to get you started

A Beginners Guide to Japanese Ambient Music of the 1980s

In the 1980s, Japanese ambient music emerged as a unique genre that combined traditional Japanese sounds with electronic music. This movement was primarily inspired by Brian Eno’s groundbreaking album, Music for Airports, which had a profound impact on Japan’s burgeoning minimalist music scene. The 1980s saw Japan’s economy grow at an unprecedented rate, with major cities like Tokyo and Osaka rapidly developing, leaving many longing for an escape from sensory overload. As a result, many musicians began experimenting with ambient sounds, creating a style of music that provided a much-needed respite from the frenetic pace of urban life.

One of the defining characteristics of Japanese ambient music is the fusion of traditional Japanese instruments with electronic sounds. This fusion is present in many of the genre’s defining albums, including Hiroshi Yoshimura‘s Green, and Midori Takada‘s Through the Looking Glass.  The combination of these instruments creates a unique sound that captures the essence of Japan’s traditional culture while also exploring the possibilities of modern technology.

A Beginners Guide to Japanese Ambient Music of the 1980s

Many Japanese ambient musicians have also sought to create music that reflects the pace and rhythms of daily life in Japan, with its blend of urban and natural environments. One way in which ambient music fits into Japanese culture is through its emphasis on introspection and the contemplation of nature. In Japan, there is a long tradition of aesthetic appreciation of natural beauty, which is reflected in the art, literature, and music of the country. Ambient music often seeks to evoke the natural world, whether through field recordings of environmental sounds, the use of organic instrumentation like flutes or bells, or the creation of immersive soundscapes that suggest landscapes or environments.

Although Japanese ambient music was not necessarily a mainstream genre in Japan in the 1980s, it did enjoy a dedicated following among fans of experimental and avant-garde music. Japanese ambient music remained relatively unknown outside the country for many years. However, in recent years, the genre has experienced a resurgence, with a new generation of listeners discovering these classic albums for the first time, largely thanks to the efforts of record labels such as Light In The Attic who have begun reissuing these pieces, making them more accessible to a global audience.

Equally, just like in the 80s, modern audiences are finding the music an antidote to the frenetic pace of the internet and social media age. The genre’s emphasis on creating a calming, peaceful environment has made it especially attractive to those who need a break from the constant barrage of information and stimulation that characterises our modern lives.

A Beginners Guide to Japanese Ambient Music of the 1980s
Japanese ad for the Yamaha SY77 Music synthesiser, released around 1989


These nine essential Japanese ambient albums are a dreamy and relaxing journey through a world of serene soundscapes. These albums are perfect for creating a calming atmosphere, whether it’s for background music while working or studying, or for a deep listening session that transports you to a peaceful state of mind. The music is often minimalistic and sparse, with delicate instrumentation and ethereal melodies that evoke a sense of wistful nostalgia.

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Midori Takada – Through The Looking Glass

Satoshi Ashikawa – Still Way

Fumio Miyashita – White Morning (Healing Music)

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Green

Satsuki Shibano ‎– Erik Satie (France 1866-1925)

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Soundscape 1: Surround

Kankyō Ongaku – Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990