Nippon is one home to one of the oldest civilizations on earth and, because of this, has witnessed countless examples of artistry in the forms of sculpting, painting, photography and film-making. Having influenced East Asian popular culture since time immemorial, Japan saw artistry flourish even in the Heian and Meiji periods.
Today, Japan travel and tourism isn't just centred around understanding Japanese government, culture and society but also aspects such as street fashion, Japanese television, media and more. From the 17th century, Ukiyo style of painting to the Tokyo and Kyoto subculture of Harajuku's Lolita fashion - art created for and by Japanese audiences has been steadily gaining traction on the world stage for decades now.
Whether it be anime and manga or television documentaries, getting to know Japanese culture and language doesn't strictly mean you have to take a trip to Japan. On the contrary, Japanese language and popular culture has been made much more accessible thanks to the help of 21st century technology.
While Studio Ghibli, Akihabara kawaii pop culture, otaku, and more have put Japan on the map in terms of entertainment, it’s the entirely original and deeply rooted cultural media that have helped export Japanese pop culture to the rest of the world. Whether you want to get to know more about Japanese society and Japanese people, want to improve your Japanese language skills or even want to design your own manga anime one day, learn everything you need to know with this guide on everything to do with entertainment in the country.
The Must-See Films of Japan
Whether you're preparing for your upcoming trip to Osaka, want to know more about kawaii, or cuteness, culture, or are simply curious to learn more about everything from Japanese pop songs to Japanese animation - the easiest way to start learning about culture in Japan is by watching movies!
Japanese style is, like all cultures in the world, made up of a plurality of identities and subcultures. The yen, kimono, woodblock prints - Japanese fashion, architecture and lifestyle are as diverse and historically nuanced as any. Movies, however, can help bring both the main ideas and subtleties of Japanese society and history to the forefront. Here are some of the best Japanese movies you must see.
A cult film considered by many to be the best movie ever made, Seven Samurai was directed by acclaimed Akira Kurosawa in 1954. The movie's plot centres around a 16th century village that hires 7 samurai in order to defend and protect their citizens against the bandits in the region. Known for its epic scenes and classic plot, the movie has influenced generations of directors and actors since its initial debut. Earning praise both domestically and internationally, the film has continued to receive awards throughout the years.
While this film might already be popular with English speaking audiences thanks to the help of its American remake released in 2002, many movie lovers have recognized the original as the best of its kind out of all the iterations that have since come out.
Created in 2000 under the title Ju-On and directed by Takashi Shimizu, the film tells the story of school teacher Shunsuke Kobayashi. Kobayashi, worried about a truant student, pays his family home a visit only to find out that the boy is dead. After that spooky encounter, Kobayashi starts experiencing strange phenomena happening all around him.
Some of the other notable Japanese movies you should check out are:
- Tokyo Story
- Battle Royale
Best Japanese TV Series
With classic theatre drama like Kabuki, subcultures like visual kei, and sports like sumo wrestling, Japanese artists have had an impact in the world arena for centuries. Boasting some of the best comic books, anime manga and more - it's no wonder much of contemporary youth culture includes many Japanese idols.
While modernity has taken much of the guesswork out of finding new music, books and shows to try out - it can still be overwhelming to navigate the crowded space of Japanese entertainment. If you're looking for cool Japan guides for understanding many a fandom, music, pop culture, manga and anime - the best place to start is by watching TV!
While it may surprise you, whether you're currently living in Japan or want to visit someday, real-time viewership is still higher than internet audiences. Take a look at some of Japan's most famous shows and you'll probably figure out why.
My Boss, My Hero
Touching on the same themes as the wildly popular Japanese manga Great Teacher Onizuka, this 2006 drama was released on Nippon TV in 2006. The story's main character, Makio Sakaki, is a 27-year old Yakuza member whose gang leader is actually his father.
When his father decides Makio must go back to high school and finish his degree, he is forced to disguise himself as a 17-year old and re-integrate into a society that is not only unrecognizable, but with whose modernity he's lost touch with.
One Litre of Tears
Cantered around the narrative of Aya Kito, the drama was released in 2005 under the Japanese title Ichi Rittoru no Namida. In the story, Aya's expectations of starting her high school experience on the right note are shattered when she starts to lose function in her body. Diagnosed with an incurable disease, she must re-orientate how she views her place in the world. Be warned, the title is what it is for a reason!
Whether it be the style in Shinjuku, the history of the Edo period, postwar economics, or a traditional tea ceremony - Japan has been at the forefront of style, finance and history for centuries. Getting a glimpse of Japanese popular culture can help you start to untangle their society's long and diverse narratives. Here are some other Japanese dramas you should check out:
- Switch Girl!!
- Hanazakari No Kimitachi E
- Nodame Cantabile
- Hibana: Spark
Japanese Game Shows
Cat cafes, pop music, Japanese tea and Japanese comics - Japanese soft power has consisted of exporting its entertainment to the world for decades now. One of the most well received of these has come in the form of game shows. Regardless of whether you're interested in building your own Japanese garden or can't point out Japan on a map - you're bound to love the drama, comedy and suspense contained in an episode of some of Japan's most famous game shows.
Remade into many similar game shows in countries around the world, Ninja Warrior is made up of 4 rounds where contestants must complete obstacles and tasks within certain time limits and physical boundaries. The typical set up of a round consists of an obstacle course that each contestant must complete by reaching the buzzer at the end of the line. Out of the nearly 100 candidates put to the test, only four are allowed at the final round.
Originally airing on TV Asahi in 1976, the show is hosted by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Running for half an hour, the talk-show made history in 2015 when, celebrating its 10,000th episode, it was inaugurated into the world's hall of fame for the longest running, single-hosted talk show in the world. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi is one of the most admired women in the country and has been an ambassador for UNICEF since 1984.
Take a look at some more instances of Japanese artists, Japanese history and more through some other great Japanese game shows like:
- Takeshi's Castle
- Marshmallow Funny Face
Japanese Literature, Culture and More
Interested in post war autobiographies, Japanese anime or science fiction? Here are all the different types of Japanese publications you should check out to learn more about the language, culture and economy!
Manga Publication Magazines
What started with Osamu Tezuka, often hailed as the father of manga, has grown into an international art form loved by many. Before manga get published as graphic novels, they often get their start by being included in pre-publication magazines specifically for manga. The different types you can check out are:
- Shojo manga
- Josei manga
- Shonen manga
- Seinen manga
The first word in these different types of manga stand for the Japanese word for woman, young adult female, boy and man.
If you want to learn more about beauty tips, trends and fashion, take a look at some of Japan’s most popular beauty magazines:
- Elle Japan
Arts and Culture Magazines
Interested in Japanese music, sports and politics? Some of the magazines you should check out include Records Collectors' Magazine, Music Magazine and Bungeishunju.
Here are some recommendations if you're just getting started with Japanese literature. From science fiction like Gundam to classic texts.
- Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
- Confessions by Kanae Minato
- Snow Country by Yasunari kawabata
Learn more about the different kinds of publications Japan has to offer!