When I lived in Los Angeles 20 years ago, I loved learning Japanese so much that it felt like I was dating it.
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.
But now, 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, that means 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.
Plus, 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.
And lastly, most news and variety-type 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.
The 21 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, including 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.
Another great option is subscribing to the Japanese 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!
Have you ever wanted to learn Japanese with Game of Thrones?
Now is your chance!
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, then Hulu might be worth a shot!
3. Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime also has a great selection of Japanese TV shows, but they’re mainly cartoons and anime.
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? And, armed with the right mindset and strategies, you can effectively learn Japanese with anime.
Besides producing some seriously high-quality shows, HBO also hosts plenty of international content on its online streaming service, including a number of Japanese series and films.
But be warned: HBO will be the cause of your next addiction with fascinating additions like “Miss Sherlock.”
If you’re into solving mysteries and like shows with a female main character (or rather two, because Dr. Watson—Wato-son—is also a woman here), you’re in for a treat.
You can also do a quick search and find out how popular Japanese drama really is: there are over 2,000 options to choose from!
Thanks to the internet, there are more and more online live TV streaming services where we can enjoy TV in a foreign language at home and on the go.
One of these services is Streema, a platform that allows you to watch TV from all around the world on any imaginable device.
Streema offers 37 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 684 Japanese radio stations.
My favorite is definitely Stereo Anime, which offers the best selection of anime and gaming music worldwide.
6. 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, Japanet Channel DX and MTN, 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 the biggest selection of Japanese TV channels (over 80).
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
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 Japan hdtv and you’ll get thousands of hits back.
You can get started with JapaNews24, a live news channel that’ll help you not only get to know what happens in Japan and the world, but also improve your keigo.
If you’re interested in learning some weather vocabulary, you can try Weather News 24.
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.
9. 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 live streaming 24/7, by downloading this free app, you’ll 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, then 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 and shows, including anime.
The interface is pretty reminiscent of Netflix’s, so you can easily scroll 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.
With a Premium plan, you can avoid ads and get exclusive content that’s otherwise unavailable to standard users.
And similar to 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, variety shows and anime.
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.
13. Japanese QVC Home Shopping
While perhaps not the most entertaining channel available online, watching 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.
14. 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.
This blog post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Crunchyroll.
This site lets you watch dozens of 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 iOS or Android device.
Signing up for Crunchyroll Premium gives you unlimited access to all titles without ads from $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.
dLibrary features a select number of Japanese dramas, variety shows, documentaries and movies, with new programs being 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.
17. 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, then 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.
18. 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 ranges between $15-$30, depending on your provider.
19. 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.
20. 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, including news, game shows, 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.
21. JP Player
With JP Player, you can turn your phone, PC or tablet into a Japanese TV. It’s currently available for Windows, iOS, Mac and Android.
For $10 to $20 per month, you get access to 55 channels of Japanese TV, including all the major stations in both the Kantou and Kansai regions, as well as BS digital broadcasts.
For Language Learners: How to Choose the Right Japanese TV Shows to Watch
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 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, and both have their own advantages.
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’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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 has 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. This 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.
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.
TBS, TV Asahi and Fuji News all feature current headline news embedded in their homepages. These resources will likely focus on very technical or formal Japanese that can prep you for proper keigo usage.
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, for your 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 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.
And One More Thing...
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