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On Demand TV in Japan: Why Netflix is the Way to Go

"Wanna Hulu and chill?" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

By 3 min read 5

Keeping up to speed with your favourite movies and TV shows from abroad can be a tricky business. Netflix is one particular fad where I was something of a late adopter. I only got round to taking out a subscription late last summer, shortly after getting a PlayStation 4.

The online TV and movie platform is enjoying something of a renaissance in Japan recently, after dealing quite a big blow to its subscriber base at the end of last year. Much to the annoyance of UK and US citizens living in Japan, Netflix decided to tighten its regional controls, meaning that a US subscriber could no longer access the US Netflix site in Japan, or indeed anywhere outside the States.

However both Netflix and its main rival Hulu have upped their game here, providing more and more new content from abroad each month. Subscriptions are pretty cheap too, coming in at around ¥1,000 per month.

Amazon, already a major player in the Japanese online shopping market, has also entered the on-demand TV scene with Amazon Prime TV. Of course, there’s the ever-present YouTube, which has long been a source of easily accessible and completely free video content.

So which of these options is best for you, the viewer?

TV sign

Benefits of Netflix

Netflix Japan, does, for the time being at least, seem to have an edge over other on-demand streaming services in terms of movies. There is a lot of crossover with Hulu, both boasting similar-sized libraries that host many of the usual favourites.

On the TV front, Hulu does have the bonus of Game of Thrones, albeit it’s a year behind the US, but Netflix seems to have a wider range of options. I’m a big fan of documentaries and comedies, and I’ve really enjoyed watching the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos as well as the underrated (in my opinion) UK comedy drama series Doc Martin.

Netflix Exclusive programming also gives them an advantage over Amazon and Hulu. Whilst I did really enjoy the Amazon exclusive drama series, The Man in the High Castle, I’ve enjoyed multiple such shows on Netflix. The likes of Luke Cage, Daredevil and Jessica Jones have all been excellent.

But I especially like the range of stand-up comedy exclusives that Netflix has to offer. As well as enjoying some of my old favourites like Jimmy Carr and Jim Jeffries, I’ve been introduced to a host of new comedians I had never even heard of before.

Netflix isn’t perfect of course. It is frustrating that, whilst all of its British and American content is fully subtitled in Japanese, I have yet to find a single Japanese series that has any English subtitles. It would be nice if even just a few of the most popular Japanese shows had some English subtitles. I’ve enjoyed watching numerous shows in English with my Japanese friends, so it would be great if we could do it the other way round from time to time.

Mobile portability is also a big issue for me, and I found that, whilst I was able to consistently enjoy clear sound and picture quality on my iPad, Android smartphone, PlayStation and computer with Netflix, Hulu has issues, especially with its mobile app. Frequent crashes and freezing made viewing on anything other than the PS4 or computer very tedious.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon continues to develop their video content over the next couple of years. They’ve already promised to triple the volume of original content by the end of this year and are clearly going after Netflix to become the new market leader. However, Netflix is where I’m staying for now, especially with a new Star Trek series to come next year.

Do you subscribe to Netflix? Or prefer another service? What’s your favorite show on right now?

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  • Robin Michael Breeden says:

    Not sure if it still works because I heard Netflix was changing their system. But, when we lived in Japan between 2013 and 2016 it was possible to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to virtually change your country and get Netflix from the country of you choice. So if you want a Japanese show with English Subtitles access Netflix US, UK, Canada or Australia and you should be able to find some.

  • Jamie Pritchard says:

    The Japanese show Underwear does have English subtitles. The newest versions of Terrace House do as well. It seems that the Netflix originals coproduced with Japanese networks tend to have them.

  • CentipedeCarpet says:

    I use both Hulu and Netflix in Japan too. I’ve found streaming on my tv with a Chromecast that Hulu is more consistent. Funny. My iPhone plays Netflix fine but I have problems trying to send the signal to my tv.

    I agree with you tho mostly and I would also say another advantage of Netflix over Hulu is if you travel to another country you can still use your Netflix account, but not Hulu.

    One other thing tho. I used Amazon Japan’s streaming briefly and I loved Mr Robot but they don’t let you turn off subtitles. That I thought really sucked. If I watch with Japanese friends yes I want them but on a train commute subtitles just suck.

  • Bobbymook says:

    Netflix in the UK has quite a lot of Japanese shows with subtitles uploaded quite recently. I guess the same in Japan but this is an old article?

    • OsakaWebbie says:

      No, it isn’t the same in Japan. (And the article is not old at all, written about a week ago.) In Japan, it is generally assumed that the customer is Japanese, so foreign shows have subtitles while Japanese shows do not.



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