Understanding: Japanese Album Sales


I) raw data sources

A) Oricon – Charts & Sales

Decades before the US introduced Soundscan in 1991 or the UK got the DUS scanning system in 1994 Japan already had an album chart with sales mentioned explicitly. Indeed, Oricon company – named initially Original Confidence – was founded in 1967, started issuing draft charts a few months later and then officially publishing its first weekly music charts in 1970.

During the last decades, the ranking obviously evolved. Its size changed, the format (LP, CD etc.) factored in too, just like a few additional rules. One point that never changed is that sales are displayed only while a record is charting. To clarify it, below is the full discography of legendary American singer Carole King as posted by grendizer on UKMix:

1971/07/01 Tapestry # 29 , 42 weeks, 50,200 [LP] 1971/09/10 Writer # 67 , 8 weeks, 7,840 [LP] 1972/01/25 Music # 28 , 19 weeks, 25,480 [LP] 1972/12/01 Rhymes And Reasons # 34 , 12 weeks, 24,890 [LP] 1973/07/25 Fantasy # 21 , 13 weeks, 33,720 [LP] 1974/10/25 Wrap Around Joy # 73 , 1 week, 1,540 [LP] 1976/03/21 Thoroughbred # 72 , 5 weeks, 6,660 [LP] 2002/06/19 Love Makes The World # 90 , 2 weeks, 6,220 [CD]

1971/07/01 It’s Too Late # 34 , 17 weeks, 64,000
1972/02/25 Sweet Seasons # 71 , 6 weeks, 15,000

First date is the entry date on charts, second the title of the record, third the chart highest position reached, fourth the number of weeks charted, fifth the number of copies sold and then the format used to compile charts.

Seeing this list make it look like the jigsaw is pretty much completed with all information needed there. Wait a minute! If this raw data surely is valuable you will quickly understand how wrong all those figures are if you expect to read the artist overall sales in Japan.

B) RIAJ – Certifications

RIAJ stands for Recording Industry Association of Japan, the local equivalent of the US counterpart RIAA. In spite of being create way back in 1942, certifications got introduced only in January 21 1989.

Not only certifications got introduced late, they were also restricted to various rules we are going to study. Until July 2003, the Gold album award was given after 100,000 units shipped and one Platinum disc was awarded after request each 200,000 units. After July 2003 the Platinum criteria was moved to 250,000 units.

All certifications, old and new, are available and published on a monthly basis at RIAJ website.

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I thought Queen were big in Japan? But nothing mentioned here?


What about the best-selling albums of all-time in Asia?

by western artists:

#1. 6.3M+ | Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard
#2. 5.4M+ | Mariah Carey – #1’s
#3. 5.2M+ | Michael Jackson – Thriller

I know Carpenters and Beatles both have a 3M+ selling album in Japan, but what about Asia overall? You guys didn’t mentioned in their article !!! It would be nice to know


Hi Work!

The top 5 would be:

#1. 6.8M | James Horner – Titanic
#2. 6.3M | Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard
#3. 5.4M | Mariah Carey – #1’s
#4. 5.2M | Michael Jackson – Thriller
#5. 5.1M | Michael Jackson – Dangerous

Then there are several more over 4m like Music Box, Merry Christmas and Daydream by Mariah. And possibly 1 by The Beatles + some Céline Dion albums.


Hi! I wanted to ask something. You said that The Beatles outsold Mariah Carey there, but, doesn’t Mariah actually have more certified sales than The Beatles in Japan? Mariah has like 14.5 – 15 million, Beatles like 4.5 or 5 Mariah has estimations for more than 20 million already. I just wanted to ask that because i don’t see Mariah’s analysis here since she has one of the (if not the) best selling foreign album there as far as we know! #1s 3.6 million in 2001 https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/78521/careys-glitter-sparkles-in-japan And this page from Billboard Japan shows some sales for some of her… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Mariahshistory

According to the website Mariah has sold about 13.3 million+ pure albums in Japan and what compilations are listed sold around 4.625 million, bringing her up to a total of at least 18 million.The Beatles have sold about 23 million albums considering everything according to their article.
Mariah’s article: https://chartmasters.org/2017/04/cspc-mariah-carey-popularity-analysis/
The Beatles article: https://chartmasters.org/2017/03/cspc-the-beatles-popularity-analysis/81/

Last edited 1 year ago by Chika

Probably The Beatles certification hasnt been updated in Japan. Plus back then the certification systems was messy.


Oh ok, got it, i was asking because there’s no site that can confirm those sales for The Beatles, but if you say so, it’s ok!

Thanks for the reply!


Hi MJD! I meant to post this as a reply to your reply to me (thank you by the way!), but I can’t seem to find the comment so I’ll ask here as this pertains to Japanese artists. My apologies for the long comment. One of the striking things about the Oricon charts is that most albums (especially local acts) seem to have extremely front-loaded sales. Even ignoring idol groups like AKB48 which use gimmicks, it seems the norm even for bands and singer-songwriter-type artists to sell 40-60% of their overall sales in their first week, and 90% or more… Read more »


​​Hi MJD! Thanks so much for this response and your explanation which was very enlightening! I appreciate the incredible attention to detail that goes into the analyses on this site. Based on your explanation it seems like the CSPC system would still be an accurate reflection of the popularity of Japanese album eras. I hadn’t considered the number of consumers who hold out to buy just the compilation album but it makes complete sense especially with CDs being more expensive in Japan. As for the matter of “collectors” buying the same songs across multiple albums, since it affects artists from… Read more »

Donald Miller

I appreciate this exchange. Japan’s a fascinating market with their own stars and superstars. But their music rarely crosses over to foreign nations. I’ve seen several documentaries about their Idol system and it reminds me of the old Hollywood studio system. I saw another on Suzuka Nakamoto. Seems like she was a rising star from the beginning. How about an article about the Idol system combined with a streaming masters on Babymetal?

For those acts not on streaming, maybe you can start a series on pure physical sales focused on vinyl and CD sales?


Thanks so much for the insight! I’m very interested to see how various Japanese acts would fare in a CSPC analysis so it’s great to see that you have such detailed information on many of them. I’m also motivated to look into what happened in the 80s to cause that shift in sales!

Christoffer Ekelund

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.



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!



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.


Amazing job! Do you know Avril Lavigne numbers for albums and singles? Thanks!

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