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The Best TV Shows in Japan to Study Japanese

Take a deep dive into Japanese culture with Japanese TV!

By 5 min read

There is a reason Japanese TV is stereotyped as being bad. Out of the nine free channels available to the public, only two are remotely educational. They’re also quite dull. Beyond kids shows, you have three choices: News, dramas and talking-head variety shows.

However, if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s not a bad way to study conversational Japanese and learn about Japanese culture and current trends. But while you can just zone out during some shows, others require more concentration. Want to give it a try yourself but don’t know where to begin?

Well, tune in, because here are the best Japanese TV shows to watch to study Japanese.

Japanese TV shows for beginners

What better way to socialize with Japanese people than the ol’ idiot box?

If your Japanese level isn’t very high, the last thing you want to do is burn out on the news. You’ll get easily discouraged as you will only pick up a few words from what is said. What you need is something flashy and casual.

Why Did You Come to Japan?

Mondays at 7: 00 p.m. on TV Tokyo
Why Did YOU Come to Japan? (YOUは何しに日本へ?) features Osamu Shitara and Yuki Himura, the comedy duo known as Bananaman, as presenters, and follows foreigners met straight from the airport through their activities in the country. You’ll meet an incredible range of people who all have one thing in common: a passion for Japan.

This is excellent for beginners because most of the people interviewed will speak simple Japanese. If they don’t, you’ll still hear their English without a Japanese voice over and will be able to read the translation in Japanese on-screen. Due to this year’s travel ban, the show quickly switched to showcasing foreigners living in Japan, searching for them on the streets.

What If You’d Compare The World

Wednesdays at 8: 00 p.m. on TBS.
In What If You’d Compare The World (世界くらべてみたら), comedian Naomi Watanabe along with Jpop idol Taichi Kokubun, learn about customs and statistics from various countries and compare them with Japan. For some reason, making foreigners try weird Japanese delicacies, such as natto, is also a reoccurring theme.

Each country introduced is presented by a person from that country while the hosts make commentary. It’s a fun way to see what Japanese people think of other countries.

Can I Come to Your House?

A gonzo-style show that lets you see inside the lives of real Japanese people.

Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. on TV Tokyo.
This concept of Can I Come to Your House? (家、ついて行ってイイですか?) is simple: cameramen waiting at a station, usually in Tokyo late at night when people are going home, ask if they can follow people to their house.

This show’s appeal is you meet amazing people every time. Some have tragic stories to tell, but it always ends in a very inspirational and heartwarming way. This offers an excellent chance to see into the lives of every-day Japanese people.

Intermediate level TV shows

When you become more accustomed to the Japanese language, you’re ready to dive into Japanese TV’s cultural aspect. You’ll need to know who’s who, what they did/do and where they appeared. If you still have trouble with names during conversations, an easy trick is to remember TV personalities by the commercials they are featured in.

It’s always worked for me!

Sekai no Hate Made ItteQ!

Sundays at 8:00 p.m. on Fuji TV
Sekai no Hate Made ItteQ! (Take me to the end of the earth!) is one of Japan’s craziest TV shows. Hosted by Uchimura Teruyoshi, a famous comedian, the show sees popular Japanese entertainers traveling worldwide searching for exciting, unique or even dangerous experiences.

Experiences like Degawa Tetsurou trying to snap a selfie with movie stars in Hollywood with broken English, Imoto and her iconic big eyebrows visiting a secluded tribe in Africa or Miyagawa Daisuke taking part in the custard pie festival in the UK.

You may need a keen understanding of Japanese popular culture on top of your Japanese skills to fully enjoy Sekai no Hate Made ItteQ! But stick with it, and you’ll start to remember the regulars. Keep in mind they have been known to “exaggerate” certain facts about different countries.

The World Unknown To Matsuko

Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. on TBS.
The World Unknown To Matsuko (マツコの知らない世界) is about otaku, a word used to describe people with obsessive hobbies to the point where they are experts.

Matsuko Deluxe is a cross-dresser and one of Japan’s most famous TV personalities. In the show, he hosts ordinary guests in his “world,” all with what seems like a regular hobby but soon turns to something way over the top.

For example, a guest with a passion for chopsticks shares his collection of 3000 pairs. Every show is divided into two or three segments, always with in-depth explanations and funny comments from Matsuko but still very accessible to any intermediate Japanese learner.

Advanced level TV shows

Here, let’s talk about shows that require a high level of Japanese and pop-culture knowledge. You won’t need to watch the news or anything serious, but you’ll enjoy them more if you keep up with Japanese trends.

Matsuko & Ariyoshi’s Angry New Party – TV Asahi

Friday at 8:00 p.m. on TV Asahi.
In Matsuko & Ariyoshi’s Angry New Party (マツコ&有吉 かりそめ天国), the charismatic Matsuko is paired with Ariyoshi Hiroyuki, a famous singer and comedian, to debate and often roast other people.

Subjects are usually simple such as why the heck is a pack of tofu so difficult to open or the proper way to spread butter on a toast without ripping it to shreds—serious business.

There’s no real theme as they debate, just like two old friends talking together. You especially enjoy it if it’s a topic you can relate to.

Dancing Sanma Palace – Nippon TV

Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. on Nippon TV.
 In Dancing Sanma Palace (踊る!さんま御殿), Sanma Akashiya, one of Japanese TV’s “Big Three,” hosts different guests (typically comedians and TV personalities) every week. On the show, they chat about their personal experiences and even Japanese society. In a non-serious way, of course.

Topics include the misunderstanding between Kansai and Tokyo dialect, views on marriage from the perspectives of newlyweds and divorced couples and life between younger and older generations.

Not only will you learn a lot of Japanese, but you’ll get deep dives on the culture at the same time!

Love Japanese TV? What are some of your favorites? Hate Japanese TV? Tell us why in the comments!

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