TV shows in Japan get a lot of flack from foreign residents for being repetitive, puerile, and sometimes, unwatchable. However, before tarring all TV with the same brush, it may be useful to know that all shows aren’t equal. Here are a few of our favorite shows that are fun, thought-provoking, and educational — and can help you improve your Japanese.

Go Ji ni Muchu!

Tokyo MX has been doing its best to stand out with its programming — and it has succeeded. Not only do they show festivals from across Japan, they air topics other channels can’t get away with. Enter Go Ji ni Muchu!, a discussion show that, unlike most other panel shows, doesn’t hold back. Guests often share personal anecdotes and are happy to debate with each other, and no topic is taboo. They’ve covered everything from erectile dysfunction to actually trying out adult diapers. There are a lot of laughs – you’ll often hear staff guffaw in the background since it’s filmed live. From a learning perspective, there’s a very natural flow of the conversations. It’s more like listening in on a group of friends chatting. As an extra bonus, they often give book and manga recommendations for those who want to improve their reading skills.

Pro tip: Watch on Thursdays, when author Shimako Iwai is usually scheduled. She often appears in a full-on catsuit with make-up.

Goji ni Muchu! airs on weekdays at 5-6pm on Tokyo MX1 Go Ji ni Muchu!


Bara Iro Dandy

Bara no Iro is in a similar vein to Goji ni Muchu!, but is the more risque, late-night version. Celebrity guests discuss both mainstream and niche news topics and add their own opinions and personal stories to the mix. For those wanting to improve their shimoneta (dirty joke) skills, this may be the show for you.

Airs on Weeknights at 9-10pm, on Tokyo MX1. Bara Iro Dandy

Tamori Club

Tamori, known for his trademark sunglasses, is, along with Beat Takeshi and Sanma-san, synonymous with Japanese TV. He’s been on screen for over 40 years as the host of trivia and variety shows and has appeared in many dramas. Unlike most of the mainstream shows he’s done, this one airs late at night and is pretty bare bones in content and set design. Tamori and his guests (often well-known celebrities despite the late-night slot) cover social phenomena from very niche perspectives. One of the show’s highlights is “Soramimi Hour” (soramimi means to mishear). Here, Tamori and Hajime Anzai make videos featuring misheard lyrics from (often English) songs. They create a story that matches the misheard lyrics and add subtitles to it. The new lyrics are sometimes so convincing it’s hard to figure out the original words!

Tamori Club airs Friday nights at 00:20-00:50 on Asahi TV. Tamori Club

The Nonfiction

The Nonfiction is an award-winning documentary show that features in-depth human interest stories about real people in Japan. It explores themes such as love, human relationships, social issues and gets to the nitty-gritty without feeling exploitative. Some stories have several parts, where the camera team will follow up with people a year or two later to see how things have changed.

The Nonfiction airs 2-2:55pm On Sundays on Fuji TV. The Nonfiction

72 Hours

The concept of this show, as can one can guess from its title, is to document things that happen over a 72 hour period. Rather than bizarre locations, the program takes us to ordinary places and gets to know people passing through, or visiting. They’ve featured a daycare center located in Fukuoka’s nightlife area, a road intersection in Tokyo, a street piano in Miyazaki, a 24-hour supermarket, and more. People share stories from their daily lives and we can find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
This program is also available on NHK World with English narration and subtitles. For those who want a language challenge, watch it on local TV when it’s first aired.
72 Hours airs 10:50-11:15pm on Fridays, on NHK G. 72 Hours

Do you ever watch Japanese TV shows? What are your favorites?

Compiled with the help of Kate Borland.

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