Designer sunglasses are usually better constructed than cheap knockoff specks.
Movie remakes are rarely as good as the originals.
Sushi from a restaurant probably tastes better than the sushi from your neighborhood gas station.
But all too often, students assume they have to go to Japan to immerse themselves in authentic Japanese resources.
Luckily, that’s not so! You can even use authentic Japanese resources to learn Japanese from home. With the 16 resources in this post, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in real Japanese content and learn the language the natural way.
Why Use Authentic Resources to Learn Japanese?
Using authentic resources to learn Japanese can help you transition from classroom Japanese toward real Japanese. While classroom Japanese can give you tremendously useful foundations, real-world Japanese isn’t quite as rigid as textbooks might have you believe.
By taking you away from textbook language, authentic resources can make your Japanese skills more useful in real life. Academic Japanese may omit the common slang, colloquialisms and peculiarities that bring the language to life.
In other words, a classroom education might not fully prepare you for interacting with native speakers. Using authentic materials to study can help you enjoy new opportunities you might miss otherwise, like having a real conversation with someone in Japanese or reading native-level material.
Plus, using authentic resources to learn Japanese is also fun and motivating. Most authentic resources are designed to be entertaining for native speakers, so they’re inherently fun.
But beyond that, once you start enjoying authentic Japanese resources, you may feel more motivated to continue improving your skills so you can enjoy the content on a deeper level. Having extra motivation can help you overcome any hurdles you face and persevere despite challenges.
How to Maximize Your Learning with Authentic Japanese Resources
Don’t be intimidated.
If all you’ve ever known is learner-oriented resources, diving into authentic content can seem intimidating. After all, native speakers often speak less clearly and more quickly. Even written material can seem very different from what you’re familiar with.
But there’s no reason to be intimidated! While authentic materials may be different from what you’re used to, they’re completely approachable with a little effort. And if something is too hard, just try an easier resource and work your way up.
One easy way to avoid the intimidation factor is to start small. Don’t dive right in with a full-length movie or a novel. Instead, choose something short, like a brief Japanese YouTube video or a short news article. It’s much less intimidating to approach an authentic resource if you know it’ll only take you a few minutes to get through.
Use multiple resources.
Authentic Japanese resources are very diverse, so try using several to get a better perspective on the many aspects of the language. For instance, if you read news stories, you’ll be exposing yourself to very different vocabulary from the kind you’ll find if you watch Japanese movies.
Focus on multiple skills.
Just like different resources can give you different perspectives on the Japanese language, mixing it up can also help you develop different skills. For instance, written content can help you improve your reading skills, while audio and video content can develop your listening skills.
Ideally, you should aim for a balanced skill set, so try to incorporate resources that focus on different skills like using both written and spoken authentic content.
Engage with the resources as much as possible.
Listening or reading passively is beneficial, but you can get so much more out of authentic resources if you engage with them on a deeper level.
For instance, to work more on your vocabulary, consider jotting down unfamiliar words to revise later.
To work on your writing skills, you can keep a Japanese-language journal where you summarize the authentic materials you’ve read, watched or listened to.
To make sure your speaking skills keep up with all your other skills, work speaking practice into your authentic resource study sessions. To do this, you might try pausing video or audio resources and then responding out loud, summarizing what you’ve seen, asking questions or even repeating what you just heard.
16 Authentic Japanese Resources for Learning Real-world Skills
Watch Japanese TV Shows and Movies
You can finally justify the cost of your Netflix subscription as an educational expense! It’s a dream come true!
That’s right, Netflix offers plenty of authentic Japanese-language content. All you have to do is look for it. Search “Japanese movies” or “Japanese TV shows” to see some of your great options.
Here’s a bonus tip: Netflix has a “Japanese Movies” genre which also lists TV shows and animated works.
Since it has lots of subtitling options, Netflix content is accessible to beginner through advanced level Japanese students. For instance, if you’re not fully comfortable with Japanese yet, you can lean on English subtitles in the beginning. Or, if you’re more advanced and prefer to read along in Japanese as you listen, some content also offers Japanese closed captioning.
Need some viewing options?
Movie fans might enjoy “In This Corner of the World,” an animated film set in Hiroshima in the World War II era.
If you’re looking for a good Japanese TV show, check out “Mischievous Kiss,” in which a high schooler ends up living with her crush.
Whether you’re just starting to learn Japanese or you’re already an advanced speaker, FluentU can help you improve your skills using real-world videos, like movie trailers, news, informational talks, music videos and much more.
But FluentU also takes the intimidation factor out of these authentic videos: Each video is captioned and the captions are annotated to give you easy access to any word’s definition and example sentences, so you never have to worry about misunderstandings. Find a word you think you’ll use in the future? Add it to your vocab list and come back to it later.
FluentU can also test your understanding through quizzes that fuse videos, images and example sentences into activities and flashcards. Meanwhile, the program tracks your learning to present you with level-appropriate questions that build on your learning, making it flexible and adaptable to any skill level.
To start learning, simply sort the videos by level, topic or format to find something that interests you! For instance, you can learn animal and food words with the adorable and beginner-friendly “Snack Time Song” or learn to cook a popular Japanese dish with the more advanced “How to Make Hamburg Steak.”
Asian Crush is a great source for Asian movies and it has plenty of Japanese content for beginning through advanced Japanese students.
For instance, Japanese students can enjoy movies like the crime drama “Blackmail Girl.”
The content here is subtitled in English, so if you’re an advanced student and don’t want to be tempted to read along, you may want a different resource. Other than that, Asian Crush’s material is appropriate for any level of Japanese learning.
While everything is technically labeled as a movie, some TV shows also sneak in. For instance, anime fans can enjoy “Pop Team Epic TV Special,” which is actually two back-to-back episodes of a TV show.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just stream live Japanese TV on your computer? With AQ Stream, you can!
You can select from several different channels, including TV Asahi, TV Tokyo, Fuji TV, NHK World and more, giving you access to tons of current content.
Want to chat about the show you’re watching? AQ Stream even offers channel chat on the right side of the screen as you watch. While the chat wasn’t particularly active when we checked it out, you never know—maybe you’ll meet your next language exchange partner here, who happens to love the same shows you do.
Since this is real Japanese TV, there aren’t supportive resources, like subtitling, so it’s best for advanced students.
Listen to Japanese Music
Just turn on the radio and improve your Japanese!
Okay, it’s not quite the same—you’ll have to stream the stations online. But it’s just as good.
Japanese learners can practice their listening skills by streaming live radio stations direct from Japan.
TuneIn offers access to over 50 Japanese radio stations. While most of the stations feature popular Japanese music, you’ll also find more varied options, like the Japanese Hiphop/R&B show and indie radio station i-Radio.
While listening to live radio is best suited for intermediate and advanced students, beginners can also enjoy it (even if they don’t understand much). In fact, just by having the music playing in the background, you’ll be creating an immersive environment while enjoying some great jams.
Need more radio stations? Online Radio Box has them in droves.
One unique benefit of Online Radio Box is that you can select radio stations by region, allowing you to familiarize yourself with regional accents or trends. Plus, there are plenty of news and talk channels if you’d rather listen to spoken Japanese rather than songs.
Since these radio stations are in Japanese and lack support for anyone struggling with the language, they’re best suited for intermediate and advanced learners.
Spotify is home to plenty of Japanese playlists, so if you’re already using the music streaming service to enjoy your favorite tunes, you can add some Japanese education to your listening.
However, Spotify does have one major problem for anyone wanting to listen to music in Japanese: Some of the content listed in “Spotify Japan” is in languages other than Japanese, including English and Korean. To find material in Japanese, pay careful attention to the title and image associated with the playlist, because they often provide strong hints. For instance, if you see an image of an English-language performer as the icon, the playlist probably isn’t in Japanese.
That said, you can still find some good Japanese playlists, like “Ballads in Blue.”
Since the music is in Japanese, it’s appropriate for intermediate and advanced students. Beginning students might not understand as much, but they can still enjoy listening.
YouTube can also be a phenomenal source for Japanese music, as evidenced by this terrific YouTube channel.
The channel offers plenty of music videos of popular songs. While there are some English tunes, there are also plenty of Japanese songs to choose from, like Luna Sea’s “Higher and Higher.”
Intermediate and advanced students will be most comfortable with this authentic content, but beginning students might also give it a try for immersion and to expose them to the culture and popular music of Japan.
Read Books and News in Japanese
Aozora Bunko is an online library of free Japanese books. It’s hard to go wrong with that!
The site is entirely in Japanese and can be hard to navigate for beginners. In addition, since much of the literature is comprised of classics, the books mostly use advanced-level vocabulary, so this option is best for advanced students.
However, if you’re ready to put your reading skills to the test, Aozora Bunko has some wonderful options. For instance, Japanese students can enjoy hundreds of stories by renowned writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa, including the well-known classic, “羅生門” (“Rashomon”).
Project Gutenberg is one of the most well-known sources for free books online and it has plenty of Japanese books, too!
You can select from a few dozen options, including some works translated from other languages. Japanese students can also read more classic works, like Kafu Nagai’s “あめりか物語” (“American Stories”).
While these works are definitely at an advanced level, the interface is in English so intrepid beginning and intermediate students could still try to read by using a translation tool, like Readlang.
Another way to make reading these books in Japanese more approachable is to select a work you’ve already read in English so that you already have a clear understanding of what happens. For instance, you might try reading “雲形紋章” (“The Nebuly Coat”) by John Meade Falkner in Japanese after reading it in English.
Asahi Shimbun is a popular national newspaper in Japan and you can read or watch news stories online from the comfort of your computer!
Since these stories are intended for well-educated native speakers, this resource is best suited for advanced speakers. However, if you have the skills for it, you can read stories like news of the opening of a new hot spring resort or that time U.S. President Trump traveled to Japan to watch a Sumo wrestling match.
The BBC also has a Japanese news site, offering both Japanese and world news, which is a terrific way for advanced students to stay abreast of current events while practicing their Japanese. Since news stories often use advanced, thematic vocabulary, reading the news can be both great reading practice and a convenient way to learn new, relevant vocabulary that you may not have encountered yet in your studies.
For instance, you can read stories about events around the world, like the strange circumstances surrounding the deaths of over 550 people associated with the Indonesian presidential election.
The BBC Japan website offers a clear, text-based format that works well with translation services, so beginning and intermediate students can also use the site with a little extra support, like Google Translate or Readlang.
Follow Authentic Japanese YouTube Channels
The charismatic hajime is a very popular Japanese YouTuber. And if you don’t believe that, just ask any of his nearly eight million followers!
He posts funny videos like challenges and sketches. Viewers can enjoy his hilarious antics with videos like the one where he made a slime bath.
The videos have a lot to offer intermediate and advanced students. Captioning is often available in Japanese to allow you to read along, and key words frequently appear on the screen.
While the language level is best for intermediate and advanced students, many videos offer subtitles (including in English), and there’s often plenty of visual context if you don’t understand something, so beginning level students can also enjoy these fun videos.
HikakinTV is another popular Japanese YouTube channel. Much like hajime, this channel focuses on comedy and entertaining challenges.
For instance, you might watch his video which shows how many things you can get if you play 100 crane games in a row, which can help reinforce your listening skills while making you wonder where the nearest ice cream crane game is.
This channel’s best for intermediate and advanced Japanese students. Videos tend to offer only auto-generated subtitles, which aren’t always accurate. However, key words and phrases do sometimes appear on screen, which is helpful.
Can’t resist a little bit of cute in your Japanese learning routine? Then you’ll love Kan & Aki’s Channel!
The channel features several children who test toys, try food and have a great time.
For Japanese students, the channel can also be a fun way to practice listening and study vocabulary. For instance, Japanese students might like the kids’ review of a new Anpanman kitchen playset, which features some cooking and food vocabulary as the children try out the toys.
And there’s another huge bonus! Some of the channel’s most popular videos offer English subtitles, making it easier for students to follow along. These subtitled videos are ideal for beginning students since the vocabulary is usually simple and there’s plenty of support.
On the other hand, the videos on Kan & Aki’s Channel that don’t have subtitles are great for intermediate students. While there isn’t support, the children use fairly basic vocabulary, so intermediate level students will be able to understand much of what they say.
Sen, Momo, Ai & Shii’s Channel is another great YouTube channel featuring adorable Japanese children. They review toys, play and travel, and you’re along for the journey.
Since the channel mostly has children speaking, the vocabulary is approachable for virtually any level of language student.
Videos don’t offer English captioning, so beginning students could be a little overwhelmed by some videos. However, there isn’t a lot of speaking in most of the videos, and there’s usually enough context to understand what’s happening even if you don’t understand every word.
Enjoy some fun videos like the one in which the kids make shaved ice and then sample their creations.
Don’t be afraid to dive into real-world Japanese learning! With these 16 authentic Japanese resources, you can learn the real-world skills you crave in a fun and engaging way.
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