We are living in the golden age of the podcast. In Japan as the expat and tourist communities continue to grow on an upward and exponential trend, we have started to see more and more podcasts that are focused on producing content catered toward these audiences. Said podcasts transcend thematic boundaries: language learning tools, news, culture, comedy, travel and more.
Here we will introduce 7 of the internet's favorite English-speaking, Japan-centric podcasts in three different categories: Language, Culture, and Living and Working in Japan. Each podcast introduction features exclusive insights from the entrepreneurs who got them going!
Learning Japanese Podcasts
1. Learn Japanese Pod
"In short, I created this as the podcast I wish I had had when I started studying Japanese"
Learn Japanese Pod is a relaxed, conversational-style podcast for those who want to pick up more natural Japanese phrases. Hosts Alex and Ami-sensei discuss a variety of topics in Japanese, using everyday grammar structures, before dissecting them with English translations.
Founder and host, Alex, told me, "I was still struggling with my [Japanese] spoken fluency. This was because a lot of my Japanese language education was full of academic and formal grammar lessons. So, I decided to team up with my Japanese friends to create the Learn Japanese Pod podcast. The idea was for them to teach me the casual conversational skills I felt I was lacking. I’ve found the podcast format is perfect for language learning as my audience can listen to natural conversation in Japanese spoken by native speakers."
Learn Japanese Pod's organic approach is aimed at people who have studied a little Japanese, but are struggling with fluency and want to sound more natural. "We give lots of tips on how native speakers actually use the language rather than what your grammar teacher says is 'correct'," Alex said.
Ultimately the idea is to impart his passion for the language to a wider audience. "I hope I can spark an interest in Japan. I feel that Japan’s pop-culture and clichés about bizarre trends tend to get overrepresented in foreign media. I’m attempting to show aspects of Japanese culture that haven’t got so much attention," he said.
Check out https://learnjapanesepod.com/ for more!
2. News in Slow Japanese
"One thing I noticed for myself, was that listening-focused resources seemed to work much better for me than about anything else"
The News in Slow Japanese podcast is great for those who have picked up the language basics but still struggle with native speaking speed. Content creator, Sakura, is a true linguist who tried to turn her own language learning methods into a digestible platform for those wanting to improve their Japanese.
In each episode, Sakura reads the news in Japanese (in slower than native speaking speed), with most lessons focused at learners who are intermediate level or above. "Goal number one is improving users listening comprehension. By the time, a user finishes studying my episode or lesson (lessons are for paying members) they should be able to follow that actual Japanese language broadcast," she told me.
Sakura's real motive is about sharing her linguistic passions, "A long time ago, I discovered the joy of learning a language and how it can connect you to a whole country and culture," she said. "It's how I fell in love with Mexico, Venezuela, Spain, Italy and America too. Ultimately, I want to help people to learn about and connect to my country and culture. Nothing does that like learning a language."
"[The podcast] would give us a chance to unravel Japan and Japanese topics in a way we couldn't necessarily do in articles"
Tofugu is one of the internet's largest Japanese language resource centres, dedicated to improving the abilities of prospective speakers of the language, from first-timers to advanced students who are more focused on Japanese nuance and practical application.
Michael from the show told me, "We had been thinking about doing a podcast for a while before we finally published our first episode. We were all big podcast listeners, and it seemed like it would be a lot of fun... We are trying to attract people who are interested in learning about Japanese and Japan."
While the main focus at Tofugu is language, they also want to help people "have a better time when living in or visiting Japan." They have a huge amount of resources both in audio and written form, so there's plenty there to get your teeth into.
Japanese Culture Podcasts
4. Uncanny Japan
"What is that little statue you see everywhere with the red bib and toys all around it and what does it mean? Or What exactly is supposed to happen if you go to a Buddhist hell? Who is the Goddess of all Devils?"
Thersa Matsuura is an American writer and podcaster living in a small fishing village in rural Japan. She brings her years of experience and insider knowledge to the fore in her podcast, Uncanny Japan. Thersa is somewhat of a modern day Lafcadio Hearn, digging up arcane legends, mysterious folktales and intriguing superstitions from the dense annals of Japanese history.
Thersa initially wanted to present the unseen side of Japan; a side that isn't usually introduced to the west by anime and manga and other pop-culture tropes. "I live in a smallish town here in Japan where tradition, superstition, and folk beliefs play a pretty big role in everyday life," she told me. "Newly married and living near my in-laws, I found all this overwhelming and a bit difficult. I decided instead of making myself bitter and miserable, to embrace it."
With help from her friend and fellow podcaster, Rich Pav (host of the Herro Flom Japan podcast—sadly no longer running), she turned a hefty collection of research that didn't make it into her books, into Uncanny Japan. In the podcast she combines her gift for folktale storytelling with the sounds of the Japanese wilderness to really envelop listeners in the episodes. The focus here is very much on deep regional culture, "not the wacky people-wear-underwear-on-their-heads stuff, but more deep culture-related stuff that you really can't find on the internet (in English) yet," she told me.
5. Japan Eats!
"We have an audience in 190 countries, which is 97% of the countries in the world!"
Given the global popularity of Japanese cuisine, Akiko Katayama's Japan Eats! podcast has invariably been a rip-roaring success. Now a New York-based food writer, she shares insights on the true nature of Japan's acclaimed cuisine and culinary culture. Her show often includes special guests from a variety of fields of cooking and brewing expertise: a 7th generation sake producer, a Japanese-knife bladesmith, an American chef who pushes the envelope of Japanese food culture and an American food scientist who demystified miso.
"I became aware that there was no radio show or podcast by a native Japanese host to explain the nitty-gritty of Japanese cuisine. So I contacted my friend at Heritage Radio Network and asked if they were interested in having a Japanese-food themed program. It turned out they were actively looking for the right host for their new show," Akiko told me.
"I hope the show can narrow the distance between the image of Japanese food culture being foreign and mystical, and the fact that it is based on a simple mindset of respect to nature and craftsmanship, along with genuine hospitality," she said.
6. Japan 2.0
"Two guys podcasting about the obscure side of Japan you haven't heard about but probably should"
Japan 2.0 hosts, David and Matt, discuss weird festivals, pop-culture oddities, funky districts, bizarre art and fashion trends in this conversational culture podcast.
"We started Japan 2.0 in order to try to fill a void of information in English about Japanese life and subcultures, ranging from the Shibuya-Kei music genre to up and coming neighborhoods like Minami-Horie in Osaka," David told me.
"Our target audience was originally anyone who wanted to take their knowledge a step further—hence the 2.0 in the name—but lately we’ve found a good amount of our listeners want travel tips, so we’ve spent time covering a bit if both," he said.
The idea of creating a "community" runs deep with the guys at 2.0, "It’s been great meeting, collaborating, and interacting with our guests so far, and we can’t wait to see what content we will create in the future," David said.
7. Samurai Archives
"Our original goal was to share our passion for Japanese history"
The Samurai Archives, which kicked off in 2010, was created as a natural extension of the website of the same name (now in its 20th year of existence). Japan and the legacy of the samurai are literally inexorable from one another. It is, indeed, this facet of Japanese history that has made it so unique, and appealing to people the world over.
Chris from the show told me that they like to mix it up at Samurai Archives, keeping things fresh for regular listeners. "Frankly we tackle subjects that interest us first and foremost, so we don't really have a target outside of the blanket 'people who are interested in Japanese history'. We have a variety of episode styles, from interviews to round-table discussions, to narrative history episodes that simply tell a story. We do what's fun and interesting for us, and hope that people get on board with it."
Heading towards the future, Chris admits that he tends not to plan too much, but would like Samurai Archives to be held as the "gold standard" for that specific slice of the history podcasting world.
Living and Working in Japan Podcasts
8. Got Faded Japan
"2 dudes, booze and the news"
The preceding quote is Got Faded Japan in a nutshell. Johnny, usually accompanied by one of four alternating co-hosts, gets drunk and discusses the latest news and sub-culture trends in the Japanese capital. It's a conversational-style podcast and one of the most successful expat-run shows in the country.
"I started the podcast in 2009," Jhonny told me, "at that time there were basically no English-speaking podcasts in Asia." 10 years and over 450 episodes later, Got Faded has grown into one of the biggest internet audio shows in the nation. Johnny's eccentric style, gift for the gab and experience of living in Japan for nearly 20 years gives his show a really unique flavor.
Japanese culture has almost become tropey due to the proliferation of certain forms of said culture across the globe. Johnny intends to break away from the clichés, "on our podcast we try to avoid all the typical Japanese culture stuff—of course we talk about the stuff happening in Japan—but it's more subculture, underground stuff," he told me.
The show also offers listeners variety through regular interviews with a hodgepodge of interesting guests from the worlds of DJ-ing, punk and heavy metal music, stand-up comedy, film and television, and Japanese subcultures: Fat Mike from NOFX; comedian Bert Kreischer; a prominent woman from the world of local S&M; comedian and actor Tom Green; and most recently pro wrestler, boxer and actor Bob Sapp.
9. Tokyo on Fire!
"After living here for over 30 years, I have come to understand that there is more depth to this country than meets the eye"
Tokyo on fire is an intellectual podcast where hosts, Timothy Langley and Michael Cucek, discuss the "burning" issues of the day at the nexus where Japanese business and politics intersect with the rest of the world.
Tokyo on Fire is essentially the spiritual successor to Timothy's YouTube channel, created as a method by which his content could reach a wider audience. "I knew there was a wide audience of people who prefer to listen while they commute into work, or even while they move about day-to-day, and wanted to find a better way to reach them. The reason I began the channel was to provide the foreign community in Japan with high-quality content on Japanese politics and business," he told me.
While most of Timothy's audience is currently in situ in Japan, his sights are not exclusively set on that market, "I want to reach people who seek to understand the Japanese political and corporate environment; whether it be for business or personal interest.
"I hope to do my part in providing insight into the political underpinnings of this country and share my knowledge on the realities of doing business here," he said.
10. Disrupting Japan
"I want to change the way people—both Japanese and foreign—think about innovation in Japan"
Disrupting Japan is a podcast about the world of innovation and startups, brought to you by host and entrepreneur, Tim Romero. Each podcast typically focuses on a specific aspect of start-up companies in Japan, explored by a man who has over 30 years of life and work experience in the land of the rising sun.
Like many podcasters, Tim used the podcast medium to disseminate an already successful concept. "I've been writing about innovation in Japan for decades," he said, "and thought it might be fun to experiment with a new medium. I originally thought it would be me just talking with my founder friends about startups. I never imagined that the show would become as large as it has.
"A lot of people overseas don't understand that there is a huge amount of innovation going on in Japan right now and many Japanese don't understand how easy it is to start a start-up these days."
Discover more about Japan's startup scene and more at https://www.disruptingjapan.com/!
11. Voices in Japan
"We want to continue producing a show that represents the voice of the people in Japan"
Voices in Japan is a conversational podcast that focus on what it's really like to live in Japan as a foreign resident. Though show creator Burke is half-Japanese, he grew up in America before moving to Hokkaido's major metropolis, Sapporo. After appearing on a weekly radio segment in Sapporo called 'World Window', which focused on living in Japan as an expat, a proverbial light bulb of inspiration lit up in his head. And so became Voices in Japan; a show where he could discuss more controversial topics about life in Japan, free from the shackles of corporate constraints, and to deliver it in English.
Over (more than) a few drinks in Sapporo one night, Burke and his friend from the UK, Ben, discussed the podcast idea. A few days later, Ben messaged Burke and said, "'Mate, I bought a mic! Are we doing this or what?' That was the genesis of the show," they told me.
Burke maintains a focus on authenticity and "being real." "The show started off aimed at people outside of Japan who may not know much about everyday life in the country. However, we soon discovered that a good chunk of our listeners were in Japan, foreign and Japanese, who were saying they could relate to the opinions that we were sharing," he said.
The living and working in Japan podcast field is growing ever more competitive, but Burke and Ben seem excited about the prospects that the future may hold for their show. "In a country renowned for shying away from blunt expression, we are happy to say some things maybe others feel like they cannot, and also have some fun while doing so. We definitely have some ideas for ways to expand the show, but with it still in its infancy, for now it’s probably best just to consider us two nice guys focused on improving the quality of the content for our listeners."
Your Japanese Podcast Starter Set!
Consider this a starter set to get your Japanese podcast list packed. The aforementioned shows are a great introduction to the local podcasting world, offering a little taste of what is out there. In spite of all the great content that these entrepreneurs have created so far, there was a collective excitement about what's around the corner. Stay tuned, and enjoy!
How to listen to these and other podcasts
1. The Podcasts app should already be downloaded on your phone so search your apps for ‘Podcasts’. If it isn't, go to the App Store and download it.
2. Open the Podcasts app and go to the search page (tap the magnifying glass button at the bottom of the screen).
3. Search for the podcast title above!
1. Use the Google Podcasts app. If you haven't yet installed it, search for “Google Podcasts” in the Play store and install it.
2. Once you open the app, use the search box (look for the magnifying glass icon) and enter in the name of the podcast you want to check out.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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