Understanding: Japanese Album Sales


D) Import sales

As incredible as it may seem, imports represented as much as a third of international artists sales in Japan during various years, even more at some point. Those import sales were fully excluded from Oricon charts until the extended Top 300 ranking started in 2003.

Below two extracts from 2002 RIAJ Annual Report. First, international albums production per year in Japan:


As you can see, the number was around 80 million per year in early 00s. Second, at the same time below is the of yearly imports, coming obviously from non-Japanese artists:


In 2002, a massive 62 million albums have been imported. This means every 10,000 copies registered by Oricon for international sellers, some 8,000 units were ignored. Obviously, big international acts like Michael Jackson or Madonna weren’t impacted on such a dimension since their majors were locally promoting and shipping their albums, but still all foreign acts lost a chunk of their sales in Oricon charts.

46 thoughts on “Understanding: Japanese Album Sales”

  1. wow, such a detailed and carefully explained article about the sales in Japan, this is amazing work. I am interested in knowing the sales of Celine Dion if you ever get to that. Keep up the fantastic work, have been following it closely for years since you had the fanofmusic website 🙂

    1. Hello Pat!

      Thanks for your very nice words. Celine Dion clearly sold a lot of records in Japan with All The Way… A Decade Of Song topping the 2 million mark so I’ll definitely study her discography!

      1. Honey, Céline has the best selling INTERNATIONAL single by a female artist in Japan of ALL TIME lol [to love you more]

  2. MJD, Harvest sold 83.000 copies (Oricon) in 1972, in its first release.
    A lot of years ago you estimated 400.000 copies sold.
    Now, as for 2016, what is your estimate?

    1. Hello Borderwolf!

      Harvest album is a very atypical case. Later Neil Young albums sold poorly, it never re-entered until pretty recently and the CD re-issue was never certified. Yet, we all know its incredible catalog appeal and the fact it spent 12 weeks inside the overall Top 10 back in the day illustrates the album popularity in spite of not representing much sales at the time.

      The problem of Harvest chart-wise is that it never had a short-lived resurgence but sold well very steadily ever since released, which isn’t shown on charts. In terms of reissues WMJ have been pretty lazy, hardly caring about his catalog and certainly losing value. Some reissues in Japan for his catalog came in January 2009 when Harvest reentered at #239 on 679 sales.

      It is pretty safe to say this album sold at least 200,000 units during the 70s. Since, over the curse of more than 36 years, even a mere 150 sales per week makes it 285,000 additional copies sold. Thus, the 400,000 units estimate is a very conservative one. A realistic one puts it anywhere from 500,000 to 600,000 copies shifted to date.

      BTW, thanks for all your shares of chartmasters link, on each of them the traffic increased greatly, it pushes the motivation up to continue working on it 🙂

      1. Thanks for reply to my question!

        And, about “BTW, thanks for all your shares of chartmasters link, on each of them the traffic increased greatly, it pushes the motivation up to continue working on it”:
        you’re doing a GREAT work!

        1. You too! This is the story of the famous question about the tree falling in a forest with nobody around, does it make noise while going down as there isn’t people to hear it? A work can be rated as great only if it gets noticed so thanks you for all exposure you bring to this website 😉

  3. Years ago, I read Nana Mouskouri had had incredible success in Japan between the 70s and the 90s and I know she’s the kind of artist who spends most of their time under the radar of charts so it’s very hard to gauge her actual sales. Throughout her career she has realeased several Asia-only records – especially greatest hits albums. Is it possible to know what her best-selling record in Japan is ? I’m sure she has at least one of her greatest hits albums over the one million mark there!
    Thank you very much for the great quality of your work.

    1. Hello Aurélien!

      Nana Mouskouri started to tour and to feature in Japanese TV shows from 1974. She is definitely the kind of artists that sell well of various albums and with steady amount, thus in spite of her popularity she never charted in the country except as part as several classical artists compilations. There is little doubts she sold some relevant amounts in the country still, clearly over a million, possibly more as she was even used by the Billboard as the example to follow in Japan to reach great sales, but there isn’t a single package that registered huge figures.

      She was even bigger in continental Asia, moving incredible numbers in several countries. The best known example is South Korea where she sold close to 400,000 units of her Greatest Hits album. At Her Very Best package from 2001 is charted #65 this present week on their international chart, just ahead of Nirvana‘s Nevermind.

  4. I tend to be as conservative as possible with my sales estimates, but Japan is the one market where I try to be more “liberal” with numbers, knowing all these little intricacies that make it so different!

    I won’t ask you about the whole Queen catalogue, as I know it would take a long time, but I would be very interested in their Greatest Hits album.

    This is how it charted from 1991 to present in the biggest chart available:


    1981/11/10 Greatest Hits # 9 , 23 wks, 102,120


    1981/11/10 Greatest Hits # 32 , 18 wks, 38,050

    Greatest Hits
    1991/12/09: 111-180-x-160
    1992/01/13: 126-162-136-189-180-177-x-184
    1992/05/25: 147-x-x-196-180
    1993/07/12: 160-114-167
    1993/09/06: 119-142-132-176-184-x-x-199
    1994/07/04: 136-146-109-125-108-156-158-95-109-103-160-114-124-x-118-132-151-x-171-177
    1995/02/27: 130-187
    1996/01/29: 162-168-x-140-90-65-116-135-133-183-152-184-199-174
    1998/06/22: 104-138-x-x-164-171
    1999/04/26: 164-x-x-192
    1999/12/13: 199
    2000/01/24: 182-152-154-168-167-135
    2000/04/24: 128-124-114-87-84-103-143-158-153-145-192-175-144-125-154-158-182-183-x-x-197-196
    2001/12/03: 124-156-178
    2003/05/12: 252-253-257-292
    2003/08/25: 291
    2003/12/22: 240-229
    2004/01/12: 221-201-74-39-53-69-89-164-117-87-118-149-231-241-256-x-x-x-284-
    2011/01/24: 26-39-80-89-100-138-188-146-192-227-229-119-283
    2011/07/11: 224-196-250
    2011/10/10: 239
    2012/08/27: 295

    Digital appeal has been generally good for this record, with it many times on the Itunes chart.

    Since 1989, two versions were certified gold for reaching 100,000 units. One released in June 1994 went gold in mid 1995 (after charting 21 weeks in the Top 200, although none in the Top 100) and the other released in November 2001, which reached gold in January 2004, coinciding with Queen Jewels and the use of their music for a TV soap opera (the 2001 version charted 39 weeks in the Top 300 between 2001 and 2004, selling 41,727 copies while inside the chart).

    Interestingly, two further versions were released in 2005 and 2006, never charting.

    Sounds like this sold over 200,000 copies in 1981/1982, which is fine. Estimating its appeal for subsequent years is more difficult. Common sense indicates this album sold at least 750,000 copies in Japan. Its chart performance during the nineties was certainly excellent, although, incredibly, Freddie Mercury’s death doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact compared to other countries.


    1. Hello Hernán!

      Greatest Hits performances during the 90s are certainly impressive, especially considering how high sales were during that period. All data available tend to suggest about 600,000 sales during the 90s alone to be honest. This includes easily over 200,000 units in 1991-1993, then 100,000 in a year axed in 1994 Christmas, 200,000 units minimum during years 1996-1999 plus the missing periods.

      During the 00s, it came likely close to 100,000 before the 11/2001 release, which did some 200,000 itself by the end of 2010. Then add 30,000 copies during 2011, plus 150-200 copies a week since, which bring this version up to 75,000 units, a bit more with digital sales factored in.

      We are up to 1,175,000 units without even considering 1983-1990 period and being quite realistic, not optimistic at all. My guess is that this album shipped at least 1,3 million copies to date everything considered.

      1. Thank you, buddy. Very interesting. Beats what I was assuming, although I thought 1 million was possible.

        I wish I had more information for A Night At The Opera to calculate its sales.

  5. More details on Queen’s Greatest Hits, including its multiple versions with their respective catalogue numbers (although the chart weeks are only while inside the To0 100 before 2001):

    Cat: CP32-5381
    Rel: 1987/04/22
    Sales: 2,700

    1994/08/22 – 95
    Cat: TOCP-8284, TOCP-65861
    Rel: 1994/06/22
    Sales: 14,430

    1996/02/26 – 90
    1996/03/04 – 65
    2000/05/15 – 87
    2000/05/22 – 84
    Cat: TOCP-65861
    Rel: 2001/11/21
    Sales: 41,727
    Peak: #39 (24 weeks)

    2003/05/12 – 252
    2003/05/19 – 253
    2003/05/26 – 257
    2003/06/02 – 292
    2003/08/25 – 291
    2003/12/22 – 240
    2003/12/29 – 229
    2004/01/12 – 221
    2004/01/19 – 201
    2004/01/26 – 74
    2004/02/02 – 39
    2004/02/09 – 53
    2004/02/16 – 69
    2004/02/23 – 89
    2004/03/01 – 164
    2004/03/08 – 117
    2004/03/15 – 87
    2004/03/22 – 118
    2004/03/29 – 149
    2004/04/05 – 231
    2004/04/12 – 241
    2004/04/19 – 256
    2004/05/17 – 284
    Cat: TOCP-53461
    Rel: 2005/05/25
    No entry
    Cat: TOCP-53605
    Rel: 2006/03/08
    No entry
    Cat: UICY-15001
    Rel: 2011/01/12
    Sales: 17,438
    Peak: #26 (18 weeks)

    2011/01/24 – 26
    2011/01/31 – 39
    2011/02/07 – 80
    2011/02/14 – 89
    2011/02/21 – 100
    2011/02/28 – 138
    2011/03/07 – 188
    2011/03/14 – 146
    2011/03/21 – 192
    2011/03/28 – 227
    2011/04/04 – 229
    2011/04/11 – 119
    2011/04/18 – 283
    2011/07/11 – 224
    2011/07/18 – 196
    2011/07/25 – 250
    2011/10/10 – 239
    2012/08/27 – 295
    Cat: UICY-75410 (SHM-CD)
    Rel: 2012/12/05
    No entry
    Cat: UIGY-9532 (SACD)
    Rel: 2013/03/06
    No entry

  6. Could you estimate Mariah Carey’s album totals for Japan. I know that she hasn’t outsold the Beatles, but her total must still be outstanding nonetheless. I would really like to know what her huge albums have shipped (Music Box till #’1S have all sold more than 2 million per piece).

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hello Luminator!

      My comment about Mariah Carey and The Beatles was aimed to highlight the limitations of Oricon figures, certainly not downgrade the success of Mariah Carey over there as it has been absolutely extraordinary. Just like Celine Dion she will be one of the very first artist I’ll study!

      1. Oh thanks! Even though Mariah’s imports might not be as big as for other artists (she has been pushed heavily by Sony Music Japan), her #1’s compilation album must have shipped huge amounts. As a greatest hits compilation, i refuse to believe that it completely stopped selling ever since it left the Oricon Top 200.

        I’ll remain excited for her work 😉

  7. You’v done a beautiful job explaining this, it’s a pleasure to read such a detailed explanation concerning Oricon. I’m more into the sixties and seventies and all I could ad is that Oricon datas are not as accurate as people think they are. One reason, as explained on the first page of Oricon Book, is that some part are missing. December 1974 to february 75 for exemple. At times, there is only a Top 50 even a top 30.
    I also noticed that depending on the month or specific period, being 90 or 270 is almost the same. About 1000 albums a week, this is confirmed by Billboard. I tend to think , helped by many exemples, that when an album is in the top 100, you can count on 30 000 copies more in the end (or more for big names).
    As for singles, it seems that 35 000 was common under the Top 100.

    1. Hello Grendizer!

      Great to see you around as you have been doing a really great job on UKmix with carefully verified and presented information. I do have Oricon rankings from 1970 and I too noticed the holes there is into charts. Luckily the LP only charts can fill in some including the end of 74/early 75 part. Figures themselves aren’t fully accurate as they were using certain retailers and multiplying the result by 1,75, but they never did specific studies to know if their retailers were representative of the entire market. There is a few famous examples of albums never charting because they were exclusives of some retail chains not tracked by Oricon, so their sales were considered as 0.

      I came pretty much to the same conclusion e.g. nearly all albums that charted inside the Top 100 in the past sold 30,000 copies or more. Sales were much less frontloaded at the time, not comprehensive due to imports plus all those years of catalog sales make it a minimum for records that managed to sell 2-3,000 units registered in a week!

  8. Hello! Just wanted to say that I’m in love with your site and this article. Very well explained. I didn’t know The Beatles sold more than Mariah Carey in Japan. Still, both acts must have outstanding sales there.

    When you have the time, could you please estimate Britney Spears’s sales in Japan, including imports? That would be very much appreciated. Thank you so much for all your hard work as always! Looking forward new posts. 🙂

    1. You’re most welcome!

      Although Mariah Carey fans won’t accept it so easily there isn’t much of a fight between both artists as the Beatles lead is quite big, a good 4-5 milion gap, possibly more. This is for albums only as if you look at physical singles, Let It Be alone tops Mariah Carey entire singles discography by 2 to 1. From 1970 to 1976, although they had split already, they were charting 3+ albums per week, some weeks the tally was up to 11 albums ranked inside the Top 100 for no specific reason and years after their releases. Their achievements in Japan are truly unbelievable.

      Your query about Britney Spears is well noted and will be completed!

  9. It’s really fascinating ! I didn’t realize that all certifications by RIAJ started with post 1989 figures only. The Billy Joel exemple made it very clear.
    In the end real sales of The Carpenters should be impressive.

    1. Yes! Myself I first got misled and had to check it twice to correctly interpret that Billy Joel example and certifications from RIAJ in general. Him and the Carpenters truly got tremendeous sales from Japan, just like Simon & Garfunkel and ABBA. Japanese weren’t getting too much into foreign artists but when they loved some of them they went mad into it!

  10. I have another question concerning the RIAJ certifications. What about previous ones ? It seems that in the sixities and part of the seventies, companies used to give “indoor certifications” to foreign artists. But in the 80’s and even late 70’s there are RIAJ certifications. Am I wrong ?

    In the end Oricon’s figures created confusion and today, every where , on wiki or on the net, people really think that Bowie sold 5 000 copies of “young american”.

    1. Yes, that’s exactly the purpose of this article, I see so much confusion about Japanese album sales that I though it was really needed. I remember reading not that long ago how incredible it was that Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie sold three times more than Jagged Little Pill, which shows how wrong conclusions taken from Oricon sales may be!

      AFAIK RIAJ started in 1989 only, everything before was not official. Labels used to give a lot of those in-house awards in the past. Actually, I saw many from many countries and I have to say that most of them were quite accurate, at least in the album side. For singles, the large returns often happening since their sales happen on a much shorter time-span make those awards less accurate as they were granted very early before returns came back!

  11. Merci d toutes ces réponses. Piqué par la curiosité, j’ai cherché d’autres exemples d’écarts entre ventes “chartées” et certifications. Il y a beaucoup d’albums qui s’affichent à 30 000 et qui seront certifiés, parfois longtemps après leur sorties.

    J’ai Carol King et Janis Joplin certifiées or sans avoir été classées.
    Mais j’ai surtout trouvé un récidiviste puisque le single de Billy Joel “honesty” en re-print du 21.12.90 est single OR en 09-93. Il n’a jamais été classé à ma connaissance.

  12. J’ai rassemblé les singles certifiés sur le site du RIAJ et leurs ventes oricon.

    Ben E king : Stand by me – Platine (100 000) / 12 000 oricon
    Madonna : Vogue – gold (50 000) / 46 960 oricon
    Bryan Ferry : Tokyo Joe – platine (100 000) / 25 000 oricon
    Rolling Stone: Angie nc – Gold (50 000)
    Wham : club tropicana nc – Gold (50 000)
    Lennon : Love – gold (50 000) / 19 200 oricon
    Elton : Can you feel -gold (50 000) / 14 900 oricon
    Guns and roses : Sympathie devil -Gold (50 000) / 22 770 oricon
    Bee gees : First of may – double platine (200 000) / 114 000 oricon
    Eagles : Hotel california -platine (100 000) / 77 580 oricon
    queen : I was born to love you – Gold new (100 000)/ 77 000 oricon
    Billy Joel : Honesty – nc/gold (50 000)

  13. Hi MJD,
    Thank you very much for you acute answer about Nana Mouskouri’s charts in Japan.
    I’m currently reading a book about French chanteuse Barbara in which I read she toured several times in Japan (from the early 70s to 1990), performed in venues of 1,000+ seats and was quietly but constantly reviewed by Japanese music journalists. A couple of years ago, I read just about the same thing about Juliette Gréco.
    I’m not asking you precise chart facts about these two iconic French singers but did they ever really find chart success over there or is it exaggerated to say so ? I know the Japanese once were quite francophile! (Next question will be : are they still francophile ? :-D)

    1. Hi again Aurélien!

      Sadly none of them (Barbara and Juliette Gréco) charted inside Japanese Top 50 Singles / Albums rankings. In the other side, other French artists like Sylvie Vartan and Michel Polnareff enjoyed incredible successes. This latter charted 12 albums and 11 singles from 1970 to 1975, even hitting the overall Top 10 in both charts. Tout Tout Pour Ma Chérie registered over 300,000 sales.

      Even uncharted artists still sold yet. In Japanese Amazon website, in their World music ranking (that includes various big international acts), Sylvie Vartan is charted at #14 with Best Collection. The Integrale Studio Albums of Barbara is #149. A best of from Polnareff is #255. Bohemian Rhapsody by Juliette Gréco is at 801 in the same ranking, 24,578 overall.

  14. Maybe this link concerning French Pop in Japan will help :
    It’s in French but it will be translated in the weeks to come, maybe the week to come. We put all the Oricon charts positions we found and before Oricon, ranking from Music-Life. Also various hit-parade ranking. I choose not to put the figures but with after this article by MJD, it’s would not be a problem. In the future, we’ll try to find the dates of more french artists like Juliette Greco (more than 10) and Barbara. Barbara was the headline of the 1970 Yamaha Music festival, like Polnareff two years after. Raymond Lefevre realized a single of “l’aigle noir” in 1971.

  15. Hey MJD! Really looking forward to this new project. I didn’t realize Mariah wasn’t the biggest selling foreign artist in Japan. Still, she is the biggest selling SOLO foreign artist, is she? Anyway, this might me off topic, but if Mariah isn’t the biggest selling foreign artist in Asia, is she the biggest selling foreign artist in the Asian continent? Or does The Beatles hold that title as well?

    Also, can you tell me how many copies All I Want For Christmas Is You sold in all formats? I know it sold 1m+ physical copies, and I’ve heard it received some certifications for digital downloads and Mastertones.

  16. Hey Guillaume,

    I’m collaborating with Chartmasters, but I’m still entitled to ask like anyone else, right? lol.

    I would like to know if you can help me with Queen’s main compilations in Japan: what is your take on Greatest Hits II, Greatest Hits I & II, Queen Rocks, Greatest Hits III, In Vision, etc.? Thanks!

    I don’t ask about studio albums because they would be much too hard to estimate, I guess.

  17. Hi MJD.
    I have just discovered your invaluable website.
    Do you have any sales data for the band HEART please, particularly from the 80s? Something, anything would be most welcome.
    Thanks and best wishes.

    1. If it’s of any use Heart stand at 22.5 x Platinum with the RIAA.

      1976: Dreamboat Annie 1xp
      1977: Little Queen 3xp
      1978: Magazine 1xp
      1978: Dog & Butterfly 2xp
      1980: Bebe Le Strange Gold
      1980: Greatest Hits/Live 2xp
      1985: Heart 5xp
      1987: Bad Animals 3xp
      1990: Brigade 2xp
      1993: Desire Walks On Gold
      1995: The Road Home Gold
      1997: Greatest Hits 1985-1995 Gold
      2002: Essential Heart Gold
      2008: The Essential Heart 1xp

      In Canada, as of February 2012:

      Canada Sales (CRIA)
      1976 Dreamboat Annie: 200,000
      1977 Little Queen: 200,000
      1978 Magazine: 100,000
      1978 Dog and Butterfly: 100,000
      1980 Bebe Le Strange: 100,000
      1985 Heart: 600,000
      1987 Bad Animals: 400,000
      1990 Brigade: 500,000
      1993 Desire Walks On: 50,000
      Total: 2,250,000

      They sold 1.5 million albums between 1985-1990 in Canada.

      Credit ‘thebigham’ and ‘journey2010’ of UKMix.

      1. Thanks, but I was aware of those stats, which are way out of date now. I was thinking about sales in Japan?
        Best regards.

        1. Hello Robert!

          Please find below the original charts coming directly from ORICON about the band Heart:

          Album Name – Entry Date – Peak – Wks – Sales
          リトル・クイーン 08/08/1977 62 5 6580
          ハート宣言 20/02/1978 67 3 4840
          ドッグ&バタフライ 06/11/1978 67 2 3010
          ベベ・ル・ストレンジ 07/04/1980 62 2 3310
          HEART 02/09/1985 30 36 71700
          バット・アニマルズ 15/06/1987 15 16 25800
          ブリゲイド(3,000円) 16/04/1990 6 7 53850
          デザイアー・ウォークス・オン 08/11/1993 20 4 41310
          ザ・ロード・ホーム 21/08/1995 20 2 25630
          バラッズ~Greatest Hits 15/07/1996 32 3 31900
          ジュピターズ・ダーリング 30/08/2004 222 3 2897
          ハート(08.10) 10/11/2008 246 1 546
          レッド・ヴェルヴェット・カー 13/09/2010 243 2 1098

          As you can see and unsurprisingly their 1985 album is the best performer. To that you need to add CD sales and K7 sales as it was all about LPs at the time on Japanese main album chart. Their only certification since the arrival of RIAJ in 1989 is Brigade (ブリゲイド in Japanese) which was awarded Gold (100,000) in August 1990.

          From this information, I would say the eponymous album likely sold 300k-ish with the rest of their catalog being distributed similarly to their US sales.

          1. Dear mjd. Thanks so much for this. I know Heart had a gold disc from Japan for the album ‘Bad Animals’, but it just said “for excellent sales”.
            Very kind of you to take the trouble.

  18. It seems like the japanese record market was, and continues to be, a virtually closed market for western acts. Abba were one of the very few who bucked the trend.

  19. Hi MJD, I really like you site and chart info for Japan. Back in the 70’s I believe Lynsey De Paul was very popular in Japan. She won awards and her albums have all been re-released at least once on CD. So I wondered how her singles and albums did on the Japanese charts. Thanks for any info.

  20. Hi MJD!

    Are you planning on doing a CSPC analysis on Japanese artists like B’z and Hikaru Utada? It would be really interesting to see how they hold up against international acts.

    1. Hello Al!

      Actually, yes, I do have B’z among the B-priority list of artists to complete. They performed rather well so it will make sense to highlight it.

      1. Thank you for your answer! I’m looking forward to it! By the way, how are you going estimate streaming sales for artists such as B’z?

  21. Hi MJD!

    I have always been curious as to how much Janet Jackson has really sold in Japan. Her numbers are good for an international artist but there could be more missing sales (imports, out of the charts etc). I hope you can do a breakdown for her too soon!


    1. If I’m not mistaken, Janet’s career will be analysed soon so we will be able to know her sales in Japan (as well as several other countries). I’m quite curious about them too haha.

  22. It would be great if you did some analysis of Japanese artists/bands as some domestic acts (like B’z and Mr. Children) are huge and have sold 50-80 millions records in Japan alone.

    1. Hi Christoffer!

      There is many very interesting cases on Japanese artists, from Hikaru Utada to AKB48 while going through B’z, also Korean acts like Psy or BTS. They are tricky though as downloads are barely known there, only some certs, so are streams. Plus, their overseas sales are realised mostly in the rest of Asia. I think Utada may be the only one for which I own detailed figures for various of those off the radar categories, so I’ll most likely try it with her first!

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