Watching Japanese TV Shows

Watching Japanese TV Shows post image

Time and time again I have heard from readers that watching Japanese TV shows is one of the best ways to hone your listening skills. As a matter of fact, a lot of people who have passed the higher levels of the test (N2, N1) have gotten a good amount of their listening skills from just watching TV shows.

Now don’t get me wrong. You still have to work on some of the basics. And drill books like the Kanzen Master series for N1, N2, N3 are invaluable for helping you to get used to how questions are asked on the test. It’s important to be able to take good fast notes for these higher levels.

However, it is daunting at first to jump in and start listening to native speaker speed conversations. And chances are pretty good that they’ll be speaking like what you heard in your textbook, but they will be shortening things, cutting sentences off, and generally communicating in a very unorganized way, which is how regular people talk.

I’ve been through this process a few times, trying really hard to get good at listening and getting used to native speakers this way. There have been several times that I’ve walked away either because I got too bored or I simply became unmotivated because I didn’t feel like I was making progress or I felt like it was taking up too much of my time.

Morning Shows

About 3 months ago, I started watching morning TV with my wife. She loves a morning program called よーいどん, that is available here in the Kansai area. It is a very run of the mill TV show with standard sections that play out every day. There is a part where they visit some interesting person in the Kansai area, a part where they visit all the best of a certain kind of restaurant (like curry, or ramen) and so on, you get the idea.

At first I watched it begrudgingly, because my wife would usually sat me out of the way if I happened to block her view or ask her a question. But, slowly, gradually, I started to understand it more and more. And I started finding myself wanting to watch it more and more. Now, I can understand a great deal of the show.

It seems like, to me, that you go through 3 stages watching native TV shows – kind of understanding, filling the bathtub and understanding and enjoying it. If you stick with it to the end, you can really get a lot out of watching TV shows.

Stage 1 – Kind of Understand

If you are a upper intermediate level with Japanese, chances are you will understand a little bit of a native Japanese TV show. Not enough to truly enjoy it, but probably enough to get the general idea of what is going on. Plus, in general, you can also fill out some of the details with what the people are doing on TV.

You might think that if you can’t understand it all completely that it might be a waste of time. But, actually you are starting to get used to the rhythm of the conversation, the pacing of the words and how people respond to each other. You need to build up a foundation before you can go onto better things.

Another important thing to remember here is that the TV show does have to be entertaining. If it isn’t your kind of show, you are simply not going to make it to comprehension, nor are you going to want to. So do yourself a favor and make sure it’s enjoyable.

Stage 2 – Filling the Bathtub

After a good amount of consistent TV watching, your comprehension will start to creep up gradually. This can be the most aggravating part of starting this habit. You are putting in the effort, but aren’t seeing a huge benefit. You can’t count the words you know. And that can be a little rough.

It’s like when you take a bath and you are waiting for the tub to fill up. There is a lot of water flowing into the tub, but it is still slowly filling up. After awhile you start to get impatient because you’re tired and want to take a bath. You want to get your reward, but you still have to wait just a little while longer. After all, a bath doesn’t feel as good if the tub is only half full.

Stage 3 – Starting to Really Understand and Enjoy it

And if you do finally wait it out and put in the time, you can start enjoying the show. I have started to look forward to watching the morning shows these days. And I can understand a good part of them.

Now, is this the most efficient way to study Japanese? Probably not. Are they going to cover a ton of vocabulary and subjects that will come up on the test? They might. The point here is to get used to natural speakers doing natural things so that your mind can start to guess at meanings more naturally.

The more you do it, the more things will become automatic for you and won’t have to think about comprehending Japanese, you will just understand it. Things will be a lot more effortless.

What are you going to watch?

What kind of TV shows do you like to watch? Are there any TV shows you can recommend us? Let me know in the comments.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • athos July 19, 2016, 4:48 pm

    Living outside Japan makes watching Japanese TV shows a little bit tricky. Radio is somewhat easier by using apps like TuneIn, but you have to deal with time-zone differences.

    But you can always resort to watch TV-rips uploaded to YouTube and subscribe to Japanese youtubers. In the mobile version, you can set your content location to Japan in the Settings menu, and on the desktop site, there’s a country selector at the bottom of the home page (when scrolling downwards, it loads a few screenful of videos like an infinite scroll similar to sites like 9gag, but it stops after one or two pages so you can access the footer). After changing this setting, YouTube will start to recommend a lot of Japanese videos.

    I don’t follow any TV shows regularly, but I try to force myself to watch a lot of videos on YouTube, even if I don’t understand a lot of things.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 21, 2016, 2:47 pm

      Great advice. I tend to check out Japanese videos on YouTube from time to time, but there doesn’t seem to be the ecosystem here that America has. I might have to go digging again though to see what I can see.

  • RJ August 1, 2016, 3:30 pm

    Some users on YouTube regularly upload TV shows in Japan. There isn’t a single user that consistently does it though, so you usually have to find them by searching the name. A few of my favorites:
    * YOUは何しに日本へ (interviews foreigners when they arrive in Japan, and sometimes will follow them around)
    * プレバト才能ランキング (a game show where contestants compete in different things, such as haiku, ikebana, etc.)

    • Clayton MacKnight August 2, 2016, 2:04 pm

      I love YOUは何しに日本へ. My whole family watches it every week. It’s on every Monday night here. Great show, and it has a lot of subtitles, and it is easy to understand.

  • Sisi August 17, 2016, 3:07 pm

    Love this article! I never improved that fast before watching Japanese TV.
    I’d also add Netflix and Hulu, which are wonderful tools to learn conversational Japanese. Netflix is maybe richer than Hulu, for the major part of the movies and the series, you can choose the language settings: japanese or english dubbing, japanese or english (even Korean sometimes) subtitles, and combine them as you prefer.
    Personally I prefer Hulu’s database (HBO series, Pokemon and One piece franchise, etc), but the subtitles/dubbing settings are more limited in my opinion (you can’t put Jp subtitles on a Jp dubbed stuff, while you can on Netflix)
    You can also easily find sites listing streaming links of バラ動画 but I’m not sure they’re “that” legal so I won’t give the link.
    Have fun studying!

  • Grutendon September 27, 2016, 6:46 am

    I love your blog, but I don’t comment! But I really love TV shows so I thought it would be a good start!
    I personally love ガキの使いやあらへんで!and ごっつええ感じ. But both are in thick 関西弁so sometimes the words I learn are not that useful in real life for me!
    I also love 初めてのおつかい and another one that I watch on YouTube about big families. I don’t remember the name now.
    The only problem with TV shows are the subtitles (I’m talking about the ones that appear from time to time for important things they say. Not the English subtitles made by fan). It gives me the idea that I can understand a lot. But since I’m more confident in my reading abilities than my listening ones, I rely a lot on subtitles. So when I watch a drama I’m really lost :/
    I can watch a 4 hour 笑ってはいけない and only have trouble with the rumors part at the end. I’ll laugh the whole time. But a 45 mins drama? I’ll be lost in no time!
    How about you ? Is there a difference between your TV show watching and your drama watching ?

    Ps:English is not my language so sorry for the weird mistakes you’ll find !

    • Clayton MacKnight October 18, 2016, 12:45 am

      I understand that completely. Here in Japan, you can turn on closed captions. I tend to over-rely on those. So recently, I’ve been trying to shut them off.

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