The Best Japanese Radio Stations and Their Top Talk Radio Programs
If you’re a typical learner of Japanese, you’re probably excited to start listening to real, live Japanese with topics that you actually care about.
The good news is that, if you’re really determined, now is your opportunity to jump headfirst into the vast and wonderful world of Japanese talk radio.
Tune in to the place where Japanese is liberated from the straightjacket of socially-dictated role-playing and shows its true colors as one of the most expressive languages around.
- Who Should Learn with Japanese Talk Radio?
- How to Maximize Your Japanese Talk Radio Experience
- Where to Find the Best Japanese Talk Radio Programs
Who Should Learn with Japanese Talk Radio?
Making the transition to actual radio programs is something that everyone should at least try to do at some point in their studies. But to do it effectively, you need to be comfortable enough with Japanese to listen to native speakers. You need to have a solid foundation on which to develop your comprehension skills through listening.
Having mastered the typical classroom-brand listening drills doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to follow what people say on real-life radio; the gap between these two types of Japanese is so wide that they might as well be two different dialects on opposite sides of the country.
Instead, the best benchmark to determine how successful you’ll be as a radio listener is your ability to read current texts—mainly online articles on news and general topics. If you can go over such articles and get a rough idea of what they’re about without looking up anything in the dictionary, it means you’re ready for radio prime time.
Why? Because it proves that you have enough basic vocabulary under your belt to identify the most important words you’ll hear. This basic network of meanings is necessary for successfully inferring the many words you don’t know.
This means that, even if you think you’re not very good at listening, you may be better than you realize—as long as you can read well. The only way to find out is to go ahead and listen for yourself!
How to Maximize Your Japanese Talk Radio Experience
Whatever your language skills and taste in content may be, there are a few general tips that can help you make the most of your listening activities.
- Focus on programs that have frequently updated episodes with new materials to keep you engaged—at least one new episode per week. Don’t bother with discontinued programs; outdated radio is about as attractive as microwaved ice cream. To stay motivated, stick to current content.
- Don’t try to understand every word you hear. Don’t pause or play it back right away. Let it play on and try to get the gist from whatever parts you do understand, no matter how few they are. Doing this regularly will encourage your listening skills to develop more rapidly and naturally.
- Find a couple of programs you like and feel comfortable listening to, and make a habit of listening to them regularly. Hearing the same regular participants over and over again will make picking up new words and phrases easier, as you won’t have to struggle with constantly-changing manners of speech every time you listen.
- If the program is related to news, identify the most important keywords in the episode’s title, look them up on Google News and quickly go over a few written news articles that discuss them. Having some advance knowledge of terms that are relevant to the topic will make a big, positive difference in your ability to understand what you hear.
- Using other apps to help you learn while you listen to talk radio can benefit your learning. While you’re listening, keep track of new words, phrases, slang and so on to learn.
You can then use apps like FluentU to hear these words in more context with authentic Japanese videos. You can also create flashcards and test yourself with personalized exercises on this program. Another app you can use to learn new words is Anki, which is a powerful but simple flashcard app where you can create some of the most customizable flashcards you can imagine.
- Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! If a program bores you, stop listening to it and find something better. With all the options you’ve got here, you’re not likely to run out of alternatives anytime soon, so go ahead and have fun!
- Radio stations manned by native Japanese speakers too much for you right now? Start slower, with audio that’s been recorded with language learners in mind. For example, JapanesePod101 by Innovative Language. This particular audio series is designed to teach you Japanese step by step, starting from any level you’re currently at. There’s tons of audio and video to improve your listening skills, as well as interactive learning features and an eager community of learners to lean on along the way.
Where to Find the Best Japanese Talk Radio Programs
There are a great many Japanese talk radio programs, but surprisingly, there aren’t so many places on the web where you can find quality radio channels with regularly updated materials.
As a listener, the last thing you want is to end up with a few episodes of an old, discontinued program—but often, that’s exactly where you’ll be pointed when you try to find good things to listen to.
Luckily, there are some major radio outlets that are freely accessible online, and now I’ll introduce them and a few of the best programs that each of them has to offer. But before that, I’ll give you a few useful tips on how to maximize your listening practice through talk radio.
The Solid Player: NHK
For anyone who’s just starting to listen to real Japanese talk radio programs, NHK’s Radio on Demand (ラジオオンデマンド/らじおおんでまんど) should probably be the first stop.
After all, NHK sets the standard of what “Standard Japanese” actually is, so the kind of spoken language you’ll hear from the corporation’s anchors and reporters will be the most similar to the language you already know from your textbooks and class settings, which ensures the smoothest transition to real-life materials.
Another great advantage of NHK’s ラジオ オン デマンド for learners is that every recording can be played in the three speeds marked in hiragana: normal (ふつう), slow (ゆっくり) or, if you’re in a hurry, fast (はやい). You can alternate between these speeds according to your level, and the slowest one can help you pinpoint words you couldn’t distinguish in the normal speed.
The ラジオ オン デマンド website allows you to listen to the most up-to-date of NHK’s news-oriented broadcasts. The programs aren’t streamed live but uploaded sometime after going on air—so the times indicated below are only for the actual radio broadcasts, and the web versions will appear later. The programs can either be played directly through the website or, if you prefer to listen to them in podcast format, downloaded from the podcasts page.
Now we’ll take a look at the programs they offer.
Bite-size listening: Short news programs
Regular NHK news bulletins are broadcast three times a day and usually have fixed lengths: at 7:00 (20 minutes long), 12:00 (15 minutes) and 15:00 (10 minutes).
At 19:00 is the main news program, “NHK Daily News” (NHKきょうのニュース/NHKきょうのにゅーす), which is around 30 minutes long and has the most diverse content of the four news programs.
A daily tour of Japan: “The Islands Relay News”
After the news at 7:00 p.m., usually starting at 7:30 p.m., there’s a fascinating short program, called “The Islands Relay News” (列島リレーニュース/れっとうりれーにゅーす). The concept is to present one story from each of Japan’s regions, starting from either Okinawa or Hokkaidō and gradually progressing toward the other end of the country.
The stories focus on region-specific news and provide an interesting look into the real Japan that exists outside the overbearing megalopolis of Tokyo. Typical stories focus on local events, traditions and other topics of interest that are unique to the focal region.
Wrapping up the day: “NHK Journal”
Finally, at 22:00, “NHK Journal” (NHK ジャーナル/NHK じゃーなる) brings together regular anchors and rotating commentators to discuss current events at length. Some of the stories elaborate on earlier news items while others are specific to this program.
NHK Journal is a good place to get accustomed to listening to group discussions. The participants speak relatively clearly and slowly and don’t interrupt each other—something that does happen in more casual talk radio and can instantly drop your listening comprehension to sub-zero levels! Here you can listen carefully to each speaker and gradually build the ability to follow multiple speakers at the same time.
The Spiritual Economist: Radio Nikkei
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (日本経済新聞/にほんけいざいしんぶん), more familiar by its abbreviated name, The Nikkei (日経/にっけい), is the world’s most widely circulated economic newspaper. It’s also a household name thanks to the Nikkei 225 Stock Index, which is calculated by the newspaper and is the established barometer of Japan’s economy.
But relatively few people outside Japan are aware that The Nikkei also has a subsidiary radio service, and its excellent programs are by no means limited to economic topics—although there are of course plenty of those as well, beginning with the daily headline recap bulletin “聴く日経ヘッドライン” (きく にっけい へっどらいん).
With podcasts freely available online, learners of Japanese can enjoy access to some truly excellent listening content on topics that no other broadcaster seems to venture into. Another advantage is that the website usually keeps its listening materials accessible in the archive, so you can listen to programs that were originally broadcast several years back.
Just a technical note first: Listening to the programs is possible either directly on Nikkei’s on-demand listening website, or by downloading podcasts on iTunes through the link provided at the top of the website’s main page.
If you listen directly on the website, note that access to the episodes is done not from the descriptions that you see at the center of the page but through a sidebar with the title “今すぐ聴く！オンデマンド (いますぐきく！おんでまんど/Listen Now! On Demand).
When you’re on a program’s page, find the sidebar on the right and click on the episode you’d like to listen to—they’re arranged by date in descending order, with the most recent broadcast shown first.
Now you’ve got quite a diverse collection of Japanese talk radio broadcasters and programs to listen to.
Get started listening right now, and you’ll grow more accustomed to hearing and understanding Japanese natives by the day.
Dan Bornstein is the creator, writer and translator of Reajer, a constantly expanding series of bilingual Japanese readers that develop advanced reading skills using real literature.