For those interested in learning more about Japanese culture, Netflix has a great selection of documentaries about the curious land of the rising sun. While some exclusively focus on Japan, others feature a deep dive into one aspect of the culture in a single episode. From samurai and street food to kabuki and idols, there is something for everyone in these Japan documentaries.
Netflix Documentaries About Japan
This historical Netflix docuseries tells the story of 16th-century feudal Japan starting with Nobunaga Oda becoming the head of the Oda clan after the death of his father. It involves well-known historical figures such as Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who unified the nation, and Ieyasu Tokugawa, the powerful daimyo who became the shogun after Toyotomi. This dynamic, fast-paced series delivers a rich and compelling story about the eventual birth of the Tokugawa shogunate, which lasted for over 250 years.
In this documentary, popular actor and idol Toma Ikuta joins his childhood friend and kabuki artist Matsuya Onoe in the final season of an independent kabuki production called “Idomu” (Challenge). He fulfills his dream of acting in a kabuki play while trying to master the fundamentals of kabuki over the course of a few short months. Not only can fans of Ikuta watch their idol learn a new skillset, they can also catch a rare glimpse into the world of kabuki from rehearsal to the pre-show make-up room. This is a movie about passion, friendship and the ancient art of kabuki.
This documentary follows Daiki Tsuneta, the leader of Japanese rock group King Gnu, as he works on the musical collective “Millennium Parade.” King Gnu are one of the most famous rock bands in Japan. Their song “Kasa” was number one on the Billboard Japan Download Chart in October 2019, while their album “Ceremony” was one of the 10 best-selling records of 2020 worldwide, selling around one million copies. Their tracks “Ichizu” and “Sakayume” are also in the popular anime movie Jujutsu Kaisen 0. The film crew documents from the start to the finish, the entire three months of the creation of Millennium Parade’s special track “2992.” Fans of King Gnu and those interested in the Japanese music scene will enjoy this enlightening documentary.
4. Ride on Time
This four-season docuseries follows a different top male idol group produced by Johnny & Associates each season. Those interested in peeking behind the scenes at a top idol agency in Japan will appreciate the insight of this docuseries that tracks the groups over several weeks. It’s named after a Tatsuro Yamashita track that is also the theme song of the show. Yamashita is a city pop artist whose hits remain popular alongside songs by Mariya Takeuchi and Miki Matsubara. The male idol groups in this docuseries, such as Johnny’s West, Naniwa Danshi and SixTONES, are more contemporary artists.
Netflix Documentaries With Episodes About Japan
Episode two of Street Food: Asia introduces Netflix’s global audience to stalls, shops and izakaya in Osaka, a city known for its famous street food that includes okonomiyaki and takoyaki. In the 32-minute episode the audience learns about the owners of the popular Izakaya Toyo, one of Osaka’s oldest takoyaki stalls Umai-ya and an okonomiyaki shop called Fue. This documentary inspires both an appetite for food and travel.
New Zealand filmmaker and journalist David Farrier travels to morbid destinations in Japan, including Fukushima, Aokigahara and Hashima Island, in episode two of season one of the docuseries Dark Tourist. Fukushima was hit by three deadly disasters on March 11, 2011 when a tsunami, earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster devastated the prefecture. Aokigahara is known as the suicide forest in Japan while Hashima Island (commonly known as Gunkanjima) is a tiny abandoned island near Nagasaki that used to be a coal mining island until 1974. Farrier speaks with locals about the macabre history behind each location, bringing to life the stories tied to each place.
Episode one of this docuseries throws viewers into the diverse, adrenaline-inducing world of Tokyo at night. The audience gets a sneak peek into the lives of the oldest professional club DJ in the world, 87-year-old Sumiko Iwamuro, renowned bartender Rogerio Igarashi Vaz and fetish partygoers at Department H, Tokyo’s longest-running fetish club. If viewers want to know what life is like once the trains stop running in Japan’s capital, then they should try living vicariously through the Tokyoites in this episode.
In episode two, chef and cookbook author Samin Nosrat introduces viewers to the wide variety of salt in Japan and teaches them that salt tastes different depending on where it comes from and how it’s produced. Amazingly, Japan has over 4,000 different types of salt and each one has its own special flavor. Viewers also learn how miso, dashi and soy sauce provide saltiness and umami to Japanese dishes.