Here I go dating myself, but 20 years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, I was so eager to immerse myself in anything Japanese that I’d take weekend trips to Little Tokyo and rent VHS tapes with anime recorded straight from Japanese TV, complete with commercials.
Ironically, after I moved to Japan in 1999, I had my parents mail me VHS tapes of American TV shows because being strictly limited to just eight or so channels of Japanese TV after spending an entire day in a Japanese-only work environment felt just a tad too immersive.
We’re no longer living in a VHS world, and the Internet allows anyone to visit Japan virtually, whether it’s with live streams or recorded shows. And thankfully, viewing from overseas, you don’t have to worry about the NHK man knocking on your door asking for money.
Watching Japanese TV on a regular basis can be the closest thing to experiencing life in the country. Consistent exposure to the language as it’s really spoken in modern day Japan as opposed to textbook phrases will dramatically boost your listening and comprehension skills.
Unexpectedly, binging on Japanese TV will also improve your ability to read kanji, hiragana and katakana. Most news and variety-type of shows feature subtitles throughout, allowing you to “see” words as they’re spoken. So put down that manga! You’ll be a speed reader before you know it!
How to Watch Japanese Television Live Online: The No-nonsense Guide
Choosing the Right Japanese Content
Simply mentioning the words “Japanese TV” to most people conjures up humorous images of game shows where contestants are subjected to sometimes humiliating or downright painful stunts. While it’s true there’s no shortage of this kind of inane TV fare, in reality there’s all sorts of programming on Japanese TV aimed at all ages and intelligence levels.
But even if you’re an adult, when you’re learning a foreign language, you may want to dumb down your viewing preferences, at least occasionally. Finding shows that match your comprehension level can boost your confidence and help establish solid vocabulary and grammar foundation to build upon. Depending on your specific language needs, different programming will also expose you to different speaking styles, grammar and vocabulary.
Children’s TV programs can be a good place to start if you’re a beginner. Steer away from the live-action kind with people wearing animal costumes, and sample a slightly more intelligent option like “Tensai Terebi-kun,” a show that has been running on NHK in various incarnations for over 20 years that features talented and intelligent, if not quite genius, youngsters with adult comedian hosts. Some older episodes are available on Daily Motion.
While highly popular with Japanese children, “ItteQ” is one of those rare shows that adults can truly enjoy as well. This comedic and adventurous travel show been on the airwaves for several years. Seeing what Japanese people find exciting and humorous about foreign cultures can help you better understand the Japanese mindset, an essential aspect of learning the language. Watch the hosts and guest stars visit places around the globe, from Greece to East Asia and even exotic Wisconsin!
If you plan on using Japanese for business, however, you’ll want to focus on keigo, a style of speaking commonly used in news programs. Short newscasts are perfect for a quick lesson, chock-full of useful expressions and mature terminology. By staying on top of political and social issues in Japan, you’ll soon develop your own opinions about the present state of the nation and be able to express them. TBS, TV Asahi and Fuji News all feature current headline news embedded in their homepages.
Using keigo as a non-native speaker will probably impress most Japanese people. But you may win over more Japanese friends by testing your own comedic wit by learning the Kansai-ben, the dialect commonly spoken by owarai. One of the longest-running and ridiculously funny shows is “Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!” These guys love over-the-top gross humor and pranks.
Team Gaki is a fan-based project dedicated to translating and subtitling the shows into English for your amusement…er, I mean, for your Japanese study.
How to Watch Japanese Television Anywhere with WiFi
There are two ways you can indulge in Japanese TV online, live streaming or video-on-demand, and both have their own advantages.
Finding a namahousou, or live broadcast, streaming online is the closest one could get to actually being in front of a TV set in Japan without buying a plane ticket.
It’s virtual travel—just hit play in your browser and you’ve got a direct link to what’s happening in the country in real-time. You’ll experience how TV in the land of the rising sun varies from morning to sunset and beyond. Early in the A.M. you might tune in to bright and robotically genki female weather announcers gracing the screen, mid-day perhaps a subdued talk show, and in the evening maybe loud-mouthed comedians pulling pranks on one another.
The best thing about live TV stream is that it plays continuously—eliminating the need for you to constantly seek out another show to watch. Just let it play in the background and simulate an immersive Japanese environment, only focusing on the visuals when you feel like it.
You’ll also be exposed to all the commercials, and whether you like it or not, all those jingles that you subliminally memorize add to your Japanese fluency, not to mention cultural understanding.
But live streams aren’t the best for hardcore study because you can’t pause, rewind and repeat. If someone said something you didn’t quite catch—tough luck.
If you want to be able to review what you saw and heard, pre-recorded video is the way to go. The Internet has a seemingly unlimited supply, from programs that originally aired on Japanese TV to original content produced for online viewing, including here on FluentU.
FluentU features interactive transcripts and a video player designed for learning Japanese—all supported by a vocabulary review system that takes full advantage of the site’s video library.
It takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Japanese learning experiences, naturally and gradually easing you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos—like music videos, dramas, TV shows, and TV commercials:
FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
All definitions have multiple examples, and they’re written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always 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 your vocabulary. You’ll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU app is now available for iPhone and Android, and it’s also available as a website that you can use with your computer or tablet.
Searching for pre-recorded videos means you can look for exactly what you want to watch. This allows you to tailor your study to cater towards the specific language skills you need to work on. A live stream, though, is just like life—you’re stuck with what you got!
With some sites, such as YouTube, you can also save videos and create your own playlists. Set a playlist to play videos consecutively and continuously, and jyajyaan! You’ve got something that feels like a live stream, without the lack of playback controls.
How to Channel Surf Online
If you are already paying for cable or satellite TV service in either the U.S. or Canada, you might want to check if your provider offers TV JAPAN. It’s the only 24 hour premium Japanese language channel available in North America, with programs primarily produced by NHK. Although the majority of shows are in Japanese, some are also broadcast in English or with English subtitles. Cost ranges between $15-$30, depending on your provider.
An easy way to set up a VPN and magically change your location to Japan is by installing HideMyAss! VPN on any of your devices—it works on your computer, smartphone and internet-enabled TVs and game systems. It’s a valuable tool for language learners who’d like to access online resources that have country restrictions.
Windows users can also turn their PC into a Japanese TV with JP Player. For $30 a month, you get access to 38 channels of Japanese TV, including all the major stations in both the Kantou and Kansai regions, as well as BS digital broadcasts.
But why pay for something when you can get it for free?
Niji is similar to JP Player, only with less channels. Unfortunately, like JP Player, it’s for Windows only. But hey, it doesn’t cost anything!
While perhaps not the most entertaining channel available online, watching the Japanese QVC shopping network can certainly prove useful for study. The variety of products for sale will introduce you to an extensive vocabulary of descriptive words, and the slower editing pace, as opposed to conventional programming, is perfect for following along.
How to Find the Best Japanese Video-on-demand Services
Choices expand dramatically when you decide to search for pre-recorded video. Your first stop should be this cross section of shows hand-picked by Reddit Japanophiles. It’s constantly updated with recently aired TV shows found from various sources. Japanese Game Shows is another Reddit forum worth checking out if you prefer the variety show format and silly comedians. Many of these links feature English subtitles as well.
No article about Japanese TV online would be complete without mentioning Crunchyroll. This site lets you watch dozens of free anime, dramas, and pop music programs for free! Best of all, it features English subtitles to keep you from getting too lost in the language.
Crunchyroll is also available as a mobile app for your iPhone or Android device. Signing up for Crunchyroll Premium gives you unlimited access to all titles without ads from $6.95 a month. And since it’s an officially licensed site, they’re able to release new anime within one hour after it airs on TV in Japan.
With all those recommended resources, you’re ready to start watching Japanese TV for sure! You can choose to do so on your smartphone, laptop or television, so the world is really your oyster.
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