“What is your favorite Japanese TV show?”
Whenever new Japanese students are asked this question, the answer is invariably the name of an anime.
However, Japanese television is very diverse! It’s not all cartoons, you know.
The follow-up question, “do you watch Japanese news or variety shows?” is often met with hesitation. Japanese learners tend to think these shows are too difficult to understand, far out of their league.
Well, I’m here to inform you that there are many Japanese TV shows out there suited to your current language level. Believe it or not, anime shows often use more complicated language and obscure vocabulary. Choose the right TV show and you might surprise yourself by discovering a fantastic new learning tool. This could be the perfect way to try out your Japanese listening practice strategies.
Why Learn Japanese with TV Shows?
We all get a kick out of watching the telly.
Lots of TV shows are filled with comedic elements, making it very entertaining.
This point is almost too obvious. I mean, we all like to watch something that makes us laugh. It is easier to pay attention to what people are saying if you’re having a good time. Compare this to watching a very dry TV show that focuses on stuffy political debate, how canned tuna is made, or the science of watching paint dry. You’ll probably fall asleep on the couch before you learn one new word. You already know how much fun it can be to study Japanese by simply turning on the subtitles and watching awesome movies – why not try the same with a good TV show?
Look at your own country’s TV shows! Comedy is an extremely popular genre for a reason. We love to laugh! A lighthearted style can make a TV show’s content much easier to digest.
Didn’t you know? Japanese TV is awesome.
Unfortunately, Japanese TV hasn’t got a very good image in some parts of the world. If you think of the famous American movie “Lost in Translation” then you will remember when Bill Murray’s character has a very bizarre interview experience on a Japanese TV show.
However, this is not the standard format in Japan. Of course, you are bound to find a lot of silliness – Japanese entertainment has a propensity for boisterous, colorful humor. However, you can find a lot of standard variety shows which aren’t outright crazy if you’re a more mellow soul.
In many programs in other countries, you’ll just have one host that will interview other people one at a time. In Japan, it is almost always a group experience with multiple hosts and up to ten guests. Instead of a simple question followed by answer, there is a group discussion which can go off in lots of interesting directions.
Group discussion is a lot more natural and fluid that the formal interviewer-interviewee dynamic. Don’t worry about teasing apart what each person is saying. Subtitles usually appear on the screen for key sentences that have been said. It is very interesting as you get the feeling that everyone in the show is speaking more honestly, and what they talk about can be hilarious!
TV opens the door to Japanese culture.
You will need to have basic levels of grammar and vocabulary to understand what it really going on. However, why not let Japan’s rich and famous help you reach proficiency? Japanese celebrities make frequent appearances on a variety of TV shows, so you’ll begin to get familiar with who’s who in Japan these days.
Once you are familiar with a certain actress, actor, singer, or model, then you will become familiar with their speech patterns, rhythm, pronunciation, and topics of conversation.
These star-studded celebs are bound to appear on your favorite dramas and variety shows. Love using music as a means for studying Japanese? If you’re a J-Pop fan like I am, you’ll be psyched to hear that band members from Arashi and SMAP have their own TV shows, starring roles on popular dramas, and seem to pop up in all sorts of unexpected places in Japanese television.
TV shows are made for the average Joe.
Think about the language used on your favorite English language programs. TV shows want the biggest possible audience, so they appeal to as many people as possible. Unless you only watch technical engineering shows and Senate debates, you’ll probably agree that the language featured on your favorite shows is conversational, casual, and easy to understand. This is true of Japanese television as well.
Group interviews make news programs and variety hours extremely natural. It’s like watching a group of friends get together and chat! This is real, modern-day conversational Japanese loaded with all those common phrases you’ve been learning.
If you come across a period drama, like an old-school samurai adventure show, you will be exposed to some more formal, antiquated language as well. By watching the right blend of different Japanese shows, the diversity of vocabulary will dramatically enhance your speaking and listening skills.
Learn Japanese Through These 10 Must-watch TV Shows
You’re probably pretty excited now, right? Then get to watching some shows straightaway! We’ve already ventured into the dark depths of the internet, done the research, and put together this fantastic list of Japanese TV shows just for you, friend.
1. 笑っていいとも! (Waratte ii tomo!) – It’s okay to laugh!
This is an extremely popular lunchtime show that has been on for over 30 years and only recently ended. Due to the quality of the guests on this show, and the length of time it aired, it is easy to find on many streaming sites. It was hosted by Tamori (タモリ) who was joined by regular guests every day as well as special guests. A typical episode would include a group tasks, challenges, and one-on-one guest interviews. This is a brilliant show if you want a good introduction to the top TV stars of Japan. The group sections are always entertaining! This show is suitable for Japanese learning as well as modern cultural study.
2. アメトーーク (ame toooku) – Ame Talk
You might be tempted to think the title of this show means rain talk, since ame (雨) means rain, but the word ame comes from the name of a comedy duo who hosted this show, “Ameagari Kesshitai” (雨上がり決死隊). They are very funny comedians, Hiroyuki Miyasako (宮迫 博之) and Tōru Hotohara (蛍原 徹) who, alongside a panel of guests, have extremely funny chats and make their guests undertake humorous tasks and competitions while answering interview questions. This show is laugh-out-loud funny, and bound to get you hooked on Japanese TV.
3. しゃべくり007 (shabekuri 007) – 007 Talk
007 Talk includes hosts and a panel of guests. Interesting thing about this one: guests have to come forward about more taboo subjects they might usually dodge. As can be guessed from the title, it is about having a secret discussion in order to hear the silliest of the silly. Some of the things that guest say can be quite surprising! Just as we all enjoy a bit of gossip, this TV program features gossip on a more public stage.
4. SMAPxSMAP (sumappu sumappu or suma suma)
Do you know SMAP (スマップ)? SMAP are popular celebrities themselves who appear virtually everywhere, including most of the shows mentioned in this article. They’re the hosts of this show. They invite guests onto the show which features interviews, cooking and comedy. In the first part of the show, the members of SMAP compete in two teams to cook the best meal possible. In the second part of the show they will normally do comedic skits and finish with a song.
5. YOUは何しに日本へ? (You wa nani shi ni nihon e?) – Why Did You Come to Japan?
This TV show goes outside of the studio and features presenters, normally at Narita airport, asking foreigners who have just arrived what they are doing in Japan. It is a really interesting show as often they speak to people who speak the language and who have come to Japan to work or study. Other foreigners have interesting Japan-related hobbies, are getting married, meeting up with friends, and so on. The Japanese language that is used can be quite easy to follow, especially when spoken in a familiar accent, and quite often there is English translated into Japanese. This show is really fascinating as you can learn about other people who love Japan.
6. 笑ってコラえて (Waratte koraete) – Laugh and be patient
This show has regular and guest hosts, along with a panel of guests. They usually throw a dart at a map of Japan, and then either the host or a presenter will go to that part of Japan. They talk to local people about the local area and things, and quite frankly a lot of these conversations are really funny. They aim to speak with old people or very young children, simply because they tend to say very funny things. This has since expanded to trips overseas as well.
7. 行列の出来る法律相談所 (Gyouretsu no dekiru Houritsu Soudanjo) – Legal Office: Advice So Good You Stand in Line
As you may have realized from the title of this show, there are primarily conversations about legal matters. However, the majority of the show is actually a very enjoyable group discussion with two hosts and a number of guests. As in all Japanese TV shows, the guests are quite often comedians, actors, models, singers, and so on. In addition normally the format of the show includes visits from special guests who are often quite exceptional non-famous people. The discussions are diverse and funny, and as expected there is normally a section about current law changes or legal issues. Admittedly, this can be a bit harder to follow unless your language ability is quite high, but the show actually makes law seem fun!
8. 天才！志村どうぶつ園 (Tensai! Shimura Doubutsuen) – Genius! Shimura Zoo
This show features animals from around the world interacting with the hosts and their guests; it can be very funny to watch – especially for the reactions of the guests to a particular animal. The hosts and guests have very interesting conversations about animals and usually quite famous people appear on this program. This show can be enjoyed by anyone and you can learn vocabulary related to nature.
9. 食わず嫌い(Kuwazu girai) – Food you don’t eat and you don’t like
This is hosted by comedy duo とんねるず (Tonneruzu), Takaaki Ishibashi (石橋 貴明 ) and Noritake Kinashi (木梨 憲武 ). A panel made up of regular guests and special guests goes on a food journey where the participants try to guess which food the special guests won’t like. It can be a very funny show and normally ends with a competition between the special guests. As you can imagine there is a lot of food vocabulary, and this kind of vocabulary is always useful! Especially if you learn it in an entertaining way!
10. 世界一受けたい授業 (Sekai ichi uketai jugyou) – The class that you want to take most in the world
This is hosted by two people and joined by a “class.” Celebrities get mixed in with non-famous guests, and they invite specialists in different fields onto the show to talk about their particular focus subject. Sometimes it can bring up rather serious topics, but usually the banter is lighthearted and fun. The point is for the “class” to learn about that subject, and in this way we are also part of the class!
And One More Thing…
If you love learning Japanese with TV shows, then I would be remiss not to tell you also about the the FluentU app.
Like the site, the FluentU app takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Japanese learning experiences. It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese. You’ll learn Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
The FluentU app has a really wide range of great videos:
FluentU makes authentic Japanese videos understandable with interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to instantly look it up.
All definitions have several examples, and they’re written to for Japanese learners. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
FluentU has a learn mode that turns every video into a language learning lesson. When answering questions, you can swipe left or right to see more examples.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and it suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You’ll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU App is now available for iPhone, but it’s also accessible as a website that you can use with your computer or tablet. And if you’re an Android user, fear not—our Android app is currently in the works!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.