One of my favorite things about Japan is the stuff you see on television. From crazy commercials and extreme game shows to intense crime dramas, one thing you can say about Japanese TV is that it’s entertaining. While some shows may not be able to bridge the cultural gap with another country, there are five shows that would be guaranteed hits outside of Japan.
These shows are some of my favorites and are worth checking out if you’re trying to learn Japanese, find out more about the culture, or just want to be entertained:
1. Vs. Arashi
This unique and high-energy game show is very popular in Japan. Famous guests compete in crazy games like Kicking Sniper, where contestants take turns kicking a huge ball at oversized cans stacked on a moving belt. The more cans you knock over, the more points you get.
Check out this quick Kicking Sniper clip from Fuji TV’s Vs. Arashi:
In another game, contestants with baskets strapped to their heads run on a long treadmill trying to catch balls that are falling from a skee-ball-like grid. Original games like this are what make Vs. Arashi so addictive (and I would LOVE to be a contestant one day!).
2. The World Unknown to Matsuko
In this highly entertaining talk show, cross-dressing host Matsuko-san invites experts to teach him about their products, hobbies and skills. Matsuko-san is very open about his opinion, even telling guests if he does not like a product, so the hilarity ensues as soon as the first guest walks out. Matsuko-san’s quick wit and comedic timing make the show hilarious, and even if you don’t understand what’s being said, you will still laugh and learn a lot about Japan. (And I think Matsuko-san’s personality transcends the language barrier, because I find myself laughing even when I don’t understand everything that’s being said.)
See a little preview of The World Unknown to Matsuko:
3. Aibou: Tokyo Detective Duo
As in many countries, crime dramas are huge in Japan, and one of the most popular and longest-running series is TV Asahi’s Aibou (which means “Partners”). To me, Aibou is a cross between American crime dramas NCIS and CSI, mixed with a dash of modern day Sherlock Holmes. The Japanese dialogue is a little more advanced in Aibou due to all of the technical and legal terms, but the storyline is easy to follow and you find yourself guessing whodunnit and rooting for the main characters, Sugishita-san and Kaburagi-san.
4. Tsurube’s Salute To Families
This awesome NHK show has been on for 2 decades, and with good reason. Extroverted host Shofukutei Tsurube is a comedian and a professional storyteller (called a rakugo) by trade. In the show, Tsurube-san walks around small towns talking to the locals and their families and going into their homes and businesses to learn more about them. Throughout the show, Tsurube-san’s personality shines through – he’s just one of those people who was born to entertain – and I laugh through the entire show. The bonus is that the show gives great insight into Japanese culture and small town life.
Anpanman is an animated children’s show created by Takashi Yanase and aired by Nippon TV. It has been on the air since 1973, and follows the adventures of Anpanman, a superhero who protects the world from an evil germ named Baikinman. While the show is obviously designed for younger audiences, I enjoy it because it helps keep my Japanese language skills sharp. Its basic words help you understand what you are hearing (not to mention, it’s just downright entertaining – and hugely popular in Japan).
For more on Japanese television and crazy commercials, check out Japanese TV Commercials Are Ridiculously Entertaining
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