How To Watch Japanese TV Online: The Quick, No-Nonsense Guide
When I lived in Los Angeles many years ago, I was so eager to immerse myself in anything Japanese that I’d take weekend trips to Little Tokyo and rent VHS tapes with shows recorded straight from Japanese TV.
We no longer live in a VHS world, making it so much easier to watch Japanese TV, and this can be the closest thing to experiencing life in the country.
With Japanese TV, 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.
- The 22 Top Places to Watch Japanese TV Online
- How to Learn Japanese with TV Shows
- How to Choose the Right Japanese TV Shows
The 22 Top Places to Watch Japanese TV Online
Finding the best resources for watching Japanese TV channels online can be a quest in itself.
Luckily, famous platforms such as Netflix have a super wide variety of TV shows and series available.
One of them is Terrace House: Tokyo (テラスハウス — Terasu Hausu), which I’d describe as Big Brother meets First Dates. In the show, six strangers have to live in the same house and have dates to find love. Juicy!
Netflix also has features that would be useful to any language learner such as multilingual subtitles and (occasionally) audio dubs. You can use these tools as you wish to make your Japanese studies more accessible or challenging.
If you need some help on what to watch, here’s a quick guide to some great Japanese movies available on Netflix.
Netflix is available on iOS and Android.
It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
Just take a look at the wide variety of authentic video content available in the program. Here’s a small sample:
You’ll discover tons of new Japanese vocabulary through these great clips.
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language. FluentU makes native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts.
Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “add” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
FluentU even uses a learning program which adapts to your specific needs to turn every video into a language learning lesson and get you to actively practice your newly-learned language skills.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)
This blog post wouldn’t be complete without Crunchyroll.
This site lets you watch dozens of anime, dramas and pop music programs. 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 iOS or Android device.
Signing up for Crunchyroll Premium gives you unlimited access to all titles without ads starting at $7.99 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.
Another great option to watch Japanese TV online is Hulu.
There, you’ll get access to a ton of Japanese TV shows, as well as many series from all around the world in Japanese.
One of the biggest pluses of Hulu is its tendency to feature more recent content, such as the stuff available on network TV. So if you’re itching to watch the latest show that everyone’s been chatting about, Hulu might be worth a shot.
Unfortunately, you need a VPN to access the Japanese version of Hulu.
5. Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime also has a great selection of Japanese TV shows including anime, dramas and variety shows.
On one hand, kids’ shows are an awesome way to get your daily dose of easy Japanese without having to pause every five seconds to look up a word in the dictionary.
On the other, anime can be quite challenging for beginners. But who doesn’t enjoy a good one? Armed with the right mindset and strategies, you can effectively learn Japanese with anime.
It’s available to download for iOS and Android.
6. HBO Max
Besides producing some seriously high-quality shows, HBO also hosts plenty of international content on its online streaming service Max—including a number of Japanese series and films.
But be warned: HBO will be the cause of your next addiction with interesting additions like “Miss Sherlock.”
If you’re into solving mysteries and similar shows with a female main character (or rather two, because Dr. Watson—Wato-san—is also a woman here), you’re in for a treat. Just download the app for your iOS or Android device and you’re all set.
By now, YouTube has become a virtually endless fountain of free Japanese content.
You just have to search for keywords like Japanese tv shows, Japanese tv or watch Japanese tv online and you’ll get thousands of hits back.
For example, if you’re interested in learning some weather vocabulary, you can try Weather News (Wezā Nyūzu).
This channel normally has round-the-clock live streaming, but if you’re feeling like starting small, you can watch any of its hundreds of two-minute weather videos and create a Japanese micro-lesson with one click.
YouTube is also available for iOS and Android.
Thanks to the internet, there are more and more online live TV streaming services where you can enjoy TV in a foreign language at home and on the go.
One of these is Streema, a platform that allows you to watch TV from all around the world on any imaginable device.
Streema offers free Japanese TV stations including Fuji TV and NTV – News 24.
If you need to take a break from watching and want to listen to some radio, it also gives you free access to Japanese radio stations.
My favorite is definitely Stereo Anime, which offers the best selection of anime and gaming music worldwide.
You can download its corresponding app, Simple Radio, for iOS and Android.
9. TV Japan Live
Another superb free platform you need to try is TV Japan Live, where you can watch TV channels such as ANN News, QVC and NHK World, among many others, completely free of charge.
To make matters easier, the website also features a schedule that displays which programs air at what time.
Featured shows may also be accompanied with brief summaries and are categorized into genres, so you can quickly find and choose the one that interests you.
If you’re willing to pay a monthly or yearly subscription, ForJoyTV is the place you’ll find a large selection of Japanese TV channels.
Watching Japanese HD TV has never been easier.
Just download the service to the device of your choice (Windows, Mac, Android or iOS) and start watching as if you really were in Japan.
Their two best features are:
- Find and watch/replay any program or show streamed during the last 14 days
- Download your favorite shows and watch them offline
11. Japanese TV Live
This app is the easiest way to quench your thirst for Japanese live TV.
With options such as TBS, Tokyo MX and NHK World TV, this free app will turn your smartphone into a “mobile TV” you can switch on whenever you feel like watching something in Japanese.
Ads do pop up while you’re watching, but you can consider them akin to your average TV commercial.
Unfortunately, this great Japanese TV app is only available for Android devices, but if you have an iPhone or iPad, you can always download TV Japan Live or ForJoyTV as I mentioned earlier.
Rakuten Viki is a popular free streaming service that features Asian shows and movies.
Much of the content is of the drama genre, so if you’re a big fan of narratives with emotions running as high as the stakes, Viki can be a godsend.
There’s a wide selection of Japanese dramas and movies. Viki also has translated subtitles available, which you should definitely take advantage of for your studies.
It’s also available in app format for Android and iOS.
Similar to Viki, AsianCrush is another Asian media hub, but with a bit more variety in terms of genre and content.
Here, you can watch all kinds of Japanese movies, shows and anime.
You can easily through the vast catalog and make your pick. And take your time doing so, as you have plenty of options—from old classics to trending series.
On the other hand, looking for Japanese content isn’t as simple as typing “Japan” into the search bar. Either you have to know what you’re really looking for in terms of title, director or genre, or you need to be prepared to set aside at least a few hours of scrolling.
That said, with a Premium plan, you can avoid ads and get exclusive content that’s otherwise unavailable to standard users.
Again like Viki, AsianCrush is available as an app for Android and iOS.
AbemaTV is a major Japanese video streaming website that boasts a large number of channels and content including news, sports, anime and even documentaries.
Because the format is live broadcast, you’ll have to figure out when to hop onto the website at the right time for the channel you’re interested in.
You can view a good number of channels for free, but signing up for a premium membership gives you unlimited access as well as the ability to view old programs that are no longer featured.
AbemaTV also became officially available to a number of countries outside Japan. However, the amount of channels available to international users is limited, so a VPN would still come in handy.
An app version is available for both Android and iOS devices.
15. Japanese QVC Home Shopping
While perhaps not the most entertaining channel available online, the Japanese QVC shopping network can certainly prove useful for study.
And hey, maybe you’re a fan of Japanese decor and accessories!
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.
16. Nippon TV
Using a VPN, you can access Nippon TV’s On Demand free site, which has an assortment of recently aired shows including the latest dramas and geinojin specials.
While the original site is fully formatted in Japanese, Nippon TV also has an English-language website that displays its program catalog.
Here, you can access a basic summary of a given show and be redirected to where you can watch it on the native site.
dLibrary features a select number of Japanese dramas, variety shows, documentaries and movies, with new programs added weekly.
Luckily, there’s an English version of the website, and a few of the programs do come with English subtitles.
You can access dLibrary’s services after you make an account and pay for a subscription plan. While your plan is active, you have unlimited access to all available shows.
Currently, dLibrary is only available internationally in the US and Canada.
18. NHK WORLD – JAPAN
This major media organization conveniently offers an international service for viewers outside the native country.
NHK World provides both Japanese TV, documentaries and radio programs, which you can catch live or as a recorded VOD.
Because it’s meant for those abroad, a lot of the content actually features both Japanese and English audio. If you’re looking for a purely Japanese experience, you can head over to the native version of the website.
There’s even a helpful “Learn Japanese” section that teaches the basics of the language.
You can also download NHK World for Android or iOS.
19. TV JAPAN
If you’re already paying for cable or a 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 broadcasted in English or with English subtitles. Cost starts from $15 depending on your provider.
20. FNN Prime
The official website of the FNN (Fuji News Network) hosts news reports in both text and video format. The video catalog includes short snippets and longer broadcasts.
Be forewarned that the entire website is in Japanese, so navigating it can be difficult. However, you can also think of it as a good chance for you to work on your Japanese reading skills.
When available, you can also catch live channel broadcasts. And if you miss them, you can still watch VODs of past programs.
21. TBS Japan
The Tokyo Broadcasting System also has a home website housing a wide variety of video content.
You can check out clips and recordings of all kinds of programs such as news, dramas, sports, anime and more.
The “TBS Free” section is where you can access some previously broadcasted programs and episodes, although they only remain on the site for a few days. There’s also an app version of this service available for iOS and Android.
TBS also hosts shows on the website Paravi, which allows for unlimited viewing but requires paid registration for you to watch.
22. TV Asahi
Finally, let’s round up our list with yet another one of Japan’s biggest TV news networks—TV Asahi.
Compared to most of the entries on the list, this one leans heavily towards the news side of things. You’ll find articles and videos on serious topics like business, sports and the weather to more lighthearted ones like cute animals.
Since the site is entirely in Japanese (without furigana for the kanji), it may be daunting for beginners to navigate. But if you feel like you can already move past the likes of NHK News Web Easy, TV Asahi’s site may give you the news fix you’re looking for.
Oh, and you can download the app version to your iOS or Android device too.
How to Learn Japanese with TV Shows
When it comes to Japanese TV, there are two approaches you can take: passive learning or active learning.
Passive Learning vs. Active Learning
Passive learning means you don’t treat watching Japanese TV like a typical study session. Instead, you just relax and let your brain absorb the language.
A couple of examples would be:
- Letting a Japanese show keep playing throughout the day so you get used to the sounds and rhythm of Japanese
- Watching Japanese TV normally, guessing what new words mean based on their context without pausing or looking them up
Passive learning is about letting your subconscious do most of the work. For this reason, you can see it as a supplement to your regular studying rather than being a stand-alone strategy.
On the other hand, active learning takes a lot more effort because you’ll actually be studying the vocabulary and grammar carefully as you watch a TV show. Active learning includes:
- Shadowing or imitating people on TV while they’re talking
- Looking out for unfamiliar words and remembering them through spaced repetition
- Playing a show all the way through with subtitles, and then replaying it without the subtitles to test your listening comprehension
Active learning is usually the more effective approach unless you’re already advanced in Japanese and know most of the words you hear.
How to Choose the Right Japanese TV Shows
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, there are all sorts of programming on Japanese TV everyone can enjoy.
Let’s take a look at a few tips for choosing the right Japanese TV shows to watch and learn from.
Consider Live Streaming or Watching Video on Demand
There are two ways you can indulge in Japanese TV online: live streaming or video-on-demand. Both have their pros and cons.
Pros of live streams
- Finding a namahousou, or live broadcast, streaming online is the closest you 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 have 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, perhaps a subdued talk show during mid-day and in the evening loud-mouthed comedians pulling pranks on one another.
- The best thing about a 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.
Cons of live streams
- You’ll also be exposed to all the commercials that you can’t skip through. On the other hand, all those jingles you subliminally memorize add to your Japanese fluency as well as cultural understanding.
- 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.
Pros of video-on-demand
- Choices expand dramatically when you decide to search for pre-recorded video. For example, Japanese Game Shows is a Reddit forum worth checking out if you prefer the variety show format and silly comedians. Many of these links feature English subtitles as well.
- There are many services that offer a garden variety of programs, letting you choose from a plethora of different genres. For these, you can feel free to browse through the catalog. Still other services focus on a certain type of genre, such as news, anime and so forth.
Cons of video-on-demand
- If you’re watching VOD news, it can quickly become outdated the next day—or even the next hour!
- Likewise, the latest releases of your favorite shows may not be available until quite some time after they premiere.
Even if the offered content wouldn’t top your list of “things I’d like to watch,” you should still check them out since you’ll still be getting exposure to the language. And who knows, maybe you’ll find new favorite shows!
Look for Level-Appropriate Japanese TV Shows
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 a 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’s been running on NHK in various incarnations for over 20 years. It features talented and intelligent, if not quite genius, youngsters with adult comedian hosts. Some older short clips are even available on Daily Motion.
Watch Japanese TV Shows that Entertain You
Naturally, you’ll find that some shows and genres won’t appeal to you. The resulting disinterest can make the task of language learning all the more needlessly difficult.
For this reason, I suggest focusing on the shows that you know will keep you engaged. Your interest in the content can translate to a much more fruitful and interesting learning experience—one that you’ll be keen to investigate and deepen.
That being said, you should also have an open mind and explore Japanese TV in all its colors and shapes. It’s unfamiliar territory, after all, so you’ll no doubt stumble upon plenty of pleasant surprises. In fact, you can even find yourself liking a show that at first glance seems to stray far from your preferences.
For example, while highly popular with Japanese children, “ItteQ” is also highly enjoyed by adults who love watching the hosts and guest stars visit places around the globe, from Wisconsin to East Asia. This comedic and adventurous travel show has 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.
Find Japanese TV Shows that Work Towards Your Goals
Undoubtedly, different TV shows will feature the Japanese language in different contexts. Knowing that, you should think ahead about what kind of show genre may best suit your current language needs.
Let’s take business Japanese and comedy, for example.
If you plan on using Japanese for business, you’ll want to focus on keigo, a style of speaking commonly used in news programs. It’s absolutely critical for basic Japanese workplace etiquette. Additionally, using keigo as a non-native speaker is likely to impress most Japanese people.
For this type of goal, short newscasts are perfect for a quick lesson, chock-full of useful expressions and mature terminology.
Plus, by staying on top of political and social issues in Japan, you’ll soon develop your own opinions about the nation’s present state and be able to express them.
Alternatively, you may want to try to work your comedy jowls and learn more witty Japanese.
Japanese TV comedy, known as owarai, can be the right choice to learn funny expressions, puns and certain amusing dialects, such as Kansai-ben.
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.
What’s more, Team Gaki is a fan-based project dedicated to translating and subtitling the shows into English for your enjoyment… er, I mean, Japanese study.
Whatever your language needs, be mindful of your Japanese TV choice. It can very much determine how well your studies go.
With all these recommended resources, you’re ready to watch Japanese TV online.
You can choose to do so on your smartphone, laptop or television, so the world is really your oyster.