While you may have never heard of Fuji tv, Yakuza plotlines and general Japanese Tv drama - 95% of programs airing on Japanese screens are made in Japan! When it comes to Asian drama, Japan dominates television series - producing more talk-shows, game shows, amines, and drama series even more than Taiwanese or Korean drama shows, sports entertainment and more. Whether you’ve already been to Japan and visited Mount Fuji or are looking for some great tv dramas to learn Japanese - the best way to learn more about Japanese language and Japanese culture is to binge some of the best dramas and comedies on Japanese television. With hits like Death Note, Hana Yori Dango, Nodame Cantabile, or Nodame, and Watashi ga Motete Dousunda - there’s no end to the types of shows you’ll be able to watch. While Japanese dramas and anime like Dango or Watashi are great, there are three other types of shows in Japan: culinary programs, game shows and talk-shows. If you’re looking for a great way to immerse yourself in great TV, culture and fun - starting with Japanese movies and television are a great way to start. Here are some of the best programs you can hitting Japanese screens today.
Japanese TV: Ninja Warrior
From amines like Great Teacher Onizuka, or Onizuka, Japanese actors like Ken Watanabe, historical TV shows like Nobunaga and countless pieces about first love, like Cantabile - it’s no wonder Japanese TV shows have risen in popularity over the years. One show that has been replicated in many countries is Ninja Warrior. A game show released in 1997 under the original title Sasuke, referencing the ninja Sarutobi Sasuke, has four stages. Each stage, increasing in difficulty, requires the contestants to push a buzzer before the time runs out in each step. It’s no Detective Galileo or Kdrama like Boys Over Flowers, but it is bound to set your heart racing. Each episode puts 100 candidates to the test, where each stage consists of:
- 1st stage: an obstacle course made up of 7 to 9 obstacles, each candidate has between 60 to 130 seconds to complete the course
- 2nd stage: another obstacle course, this time with 6 to 8 obstacles - the most notorious of which is the Salmon Ladder - each candidate has 60 to 110 seconds to reach the buzzer at the end
- 3rd stage: while this course isn’t timed, it requires more physical and mental strength; it also happens to be the stage in which the most candidates are eliminated
- 4th stage: the last stage is by far the most difficult - definitely better than watching a romance comedy shows on a high school student. Only four candidates make it to this round where, instead of obstacles, there is a large tower that each candidate must use to climb to reach the top. If the candidate doesn’t make it before time is over, this rope will be cut and they lose the game. 2018 saw the introduction of 3 obstacles to this final round.
There are definitely no nakama, or friends, in this game: the rules state that each candidate gets only one chance to compete. The only exception is when the show experiences technical difficulties. The reasons for elimination range from physically going outside the delimited boundaries, not arriving at the buzzer before time is over, committing an in fraction and more. At the beginning of the show, each candidate is invited to do a small dance in order to introduce their personalities to the public. This is definitely one of the most well-known Japanese TV shows - and not without cause. Watch just one episode and you’ll find out why.
Japanese Game Show: Takeshi’s Castle
With television drama and mangas like Future Diary and world-renowned dances like Kabuki, Japanese television has been giving Taiwanese and Korean dramas a run for their money. While the best Korean dramas and Taiwanese shows include classics like Meteor Garden, The Heirs and more - Japanese game shows are still some of the most popular shows in the region. Takeshi’s Castle is a Japanese game show that aired on TBS, or Tokyo Broadcasting System, from 1986 to 1990. Like Ninja Warrior, the show consisted of several obstacle courses in which contestants would be eliminated in each round based on time limits, ability and more. The goal was, of course, for the between 100 to 142 contestants to reach the final round - were usually only 9 would remain. Winning the game meant winning 1 million yen - around 7,300 pounds.
From every prefecture, class and religion, this live action game show was played by all. Here are some of the obstacles you’re bound to see if you watch the show:
- Velcro Fly: candidates must cross a body of water by swinging at the end of a rope in order to then stick to a Velcro board (they are also equipped with Velcro coveralls),
- Soft Stone: contestants must cross a body of water by hopping on some stones that are made of polystyrene,
- Balloon Bridge: the candidate must cross an unstable bridge holding a golden balloon while other candidates shoot them with black balls,
- Sumo wrestling in disguise
- Attention Rock: candidates must reach a summit while rocks run down the slope,
- Wall Explosion: the candidate must run and pass through walls, all the while not knowing which one is a screen and which one is a wall
While there are many other obstacles, these can readily be found with the help of the internet - go check out the show, sit back and get ready to laugh! Interested in learning more about Japanese media? Check out this guide on Japanese literature, publications and more!
Japanese TV Series: Tetsuko’s Room
With variety shows, shows about and for love, anime series, thrillers, terms like shonen, otaku and more - Japan has made major contributions to entertainment for decades. Whether you’re in need of a subtitle or dubbed show, you should definitely start watching what cities like Kyoto and Tokyo are producing. One such show, airing on TV Asahi since 1976 is hosted by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Running for 30 minutes at a time, Tetsuko’s Room is a talk show that, in Japanese, is called Tetsuko no Heya. On the 27th of May 2015, the show celebrated its 10,000th episode, entering into the World Record books for the longest running, single-hosted talk show in the world. Imagine people growing up with the show since it first aired in the 70s! While Vietnamese, Thai and South Korean drama has a lot to offer, there’s nothing like taking part of history and watching a show with one of the largest amounts of shows in the world. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi was born in 1933 in Tokyo. She started as an actress in many Japanese films and is known beyond Japan specifically because of her autobiography. She has been an ambassador for UNICEF since 1984 and created the Totto foundation that educates hearing-impaired actors.
Japanese Drama and Game Show: Dero!
From Meteor, Yamato Nadeshiko, Hotaru no Nikki or Nippon Hotaru and more, Asia has churned out documentaries, original series games and more that are worth a lifetime full of binge watching. Whether you’re already subbed to a channel dedicated to Japanese games shows or are already a fan of some of the ones we’ve already discussed, here’s another game show that’s bound to keep you on the edge of your seat. Dero! Is a game show that’s formatted as an escape game. The goal of the show is for the participants to escape a room after completing a number of crazy challenges. While it sounds simple, it gets a bit more intense. The participants get to choose between 8 different rooms: one filled with moving sand, one that gets smaller and smaller, in chains or one with a moving floor.
Other Popular Japanese Drama Series and Game Shows
As you’ve seen, the shows that the Japanese public consumes doesn’t include those made in Europe. On the contrary, the game shows and television dramas they produce are so wildly popular, audiences around the world have been watching for years. Here are some more game shows you should definitely watch if you love the ones we’ve already mentioned.
- Dead Meat
- Human Tetris
- Candy or Not Candy?
- Human Bowling
- Gaki No Tsukai
- Slippery Stairs
- Marshmallow Funny Face
Interested in finding out about more shows, TV and films the country has to offer? Here's our complete guide to Japanese media and entertainment!