This post is part of a series called “Learn Japanese with _____.” Each post highlights a method, tool, resource, website, app, book, or life-hack you can use to immerse yourself in Japanese no matter where you live. In today’s world of smartphones, apps, streaming video, podcasts, etc., anyone with Internet access can learn the language anywhere; this series will show you exactly how. See the entire series here.
Netflix may be associated most with binge-worthy series like House of Cards and subtle romantic preambles (“Want to Netflix and chill?”), but it can actually become a fantastic Japanese language learning tool, too, if used correctly.
- You can choose from hundreds of Japanese-language TV shows and movies.
- You can watch English-language movies and TV shows with Japanese subtitles.
- You can change the interface to Japanese.
Browse for Japanese-Language Shows & Movies
The easiest way to find Japanese-language content on Netflix is to simply type “Japanese” into the search field or browse within the following categories:
- Japanese Movies
- Japanese Dramas
- Japanese TV Shows
- Japanese Anime
If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, check out my shortlist of Recommended Japanese Shows & Movies on Netflix below.
Change Audio & Subtitle Settings
Many of the Japanese TV shows, movies, and anime series on Netflix support both Japanese and English audio and subtitles. If your interface is in English, the audio will default to English, which we don’t want. Regarding subtitles, you can watch with English subtitles, Japanese subtitles, or no subtitles depending on your level and learning goals (and what is available for each title).
Here’s how to change the audio and subtitle settings to fit your needs:
- Click the Audio & Subtitles box in the lower right corner of the screen.
- Select Japanese in the left Audio column.
- Select English, Japanese [CC], or Off in the right Subtitles column.
Incidentally, the audio will default to Japanese if your interface is in Japanese. See Change the Netflix Interface to Japanese for detailed instructions.
Change the Netflix Interface to Japanese
One last little tip to squeeze out one last drop of Japanese learning juice from Netflix: change the interface language to Japanese. That way, you not only get useful Japanese input while watching movies or shows, but you also get highly contextual reading practice between the videos. Here’s how:
- On the login page, click Manage Profiles.
- Click the pencil icon on your profile image.
- Click the Language dropdown and select 日本語.
- Click Save.
- Click Done.
- Your Netflix interface will now be in Japanese. Woohoo!
A few tips and clarifications before you make the change to put you at ease:
- If you’re new to Netflix, it’s probably a good idea to use it in English first to get the hang of how to use the site or app.
- The change to the interface language only affects your profile. So don’t worry about freaking out your spouse, parents, children, roommates, or the colleagues freeloading on your Netflix account.
If you find that using Netflix in Japanese is too difficult for your current level, you can switch back to English as follows:
- Go to the login screen and click プロフィールの管理 (Alternatively, you can hover over your profile photo in the upper right corner from within the main Netflix view and select プロファイルの管理).
- Click the pencil icon on your profile image.
- Click the 言語 dropdown and select English.
- Click 保存.
- Click 完了.
- Your Netflix interface will now be back in English.
Recommended Japanese Shows & Movies on Netflix
Netflix has tons of Japanese-language television shows and movies to choose from (which you can browse following the instruction above under Browse for Japanese-Language Shows & Movies), but here are five of my favorites to help whet your pallet. Note that you will need to have a Netflix account and be logged in to access the links below.
Genre: Comedy | Release Date: 2017
Given its silly title, I nearly skipped over Samurai Gourmet, or Nobushi no Gurume (野武士のグルメ・のぶしのぐるめ). But now that I’ve watched a few episodes, I must admit that it’s one of my new favorites. The show follows KASUMI Takeshi (香住武・かすみたけし), a recently retired “salary man” who now uses his ample free time to eat and drink to his heart’s delight. In each episode, he struggles with a certain cultural faux pas, which he overcomes with the help of his new inner persona, a masterless samurai who lives life on his own terms. Just be careful not to watch with an empty stomach as the show’s parade of food porn will likely lead to an empty fridge and pantry!
Japanese Style Originator
Genre: Talk-Show | Release Date: 2008
Each episode of Japanese Style Originator, or Wafū Sōhonke (和風総本家・わふうそうほんけ), is centered around a Japanese cultural icon (e.g. tempura, tea, tofu, temples, gardens, etc.), with quizzes on proper etiquette, historical trivia, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t do very well on the kentei (検定・けんてい, “proficiency tests”); neither do most of the show’s Japanese panelists! I especially like the segments in which they highlight a traditional Japanese shokunin (職人・しょくにん, “artisan” or “craftsman”).
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Genre: Documentary | Release Date: 2011
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is one of my all-time favorite documentaries in any language (it just so happens to be in Japanese). The film, directed by David Gelb, centers on ONO Jirō (小野二郎・おのじろう), an 85-year-old sushi master, and his two sushi chef sons, Yoshikazu (禎一) and Takashi (隆士). Jirō is the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし次郎), a 10-seat, reservation-only sushi restaurant with three Michelin stars, which is located in a Tokyo subway station!
In This Corner of the World
Genre: Animation, Historical Drama | Release Date: 2016
In This Corner of the World, or Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (この世界の片隅に・このせかいのかたすみに), is an animated film based on a manga of the same name. The movie’s main character, Suzu (すず), is a kind-hearted young woman who does her best to make ends meet and overcome the domestic difficulties of life during World War II.
Genre: Reality-TV | Release Date: 2015-16
Terrace House (テラスハウス) is an unscripted TV show that follows the lives of six strangers (three men and three women) who live together in a house outfitted with dozens of cameras that run 24 hours a day. I don’t usually care for so-called “reality TV,” but Terrace House fortunately avoids much of the manufactured drama found in most American shows in the same genre.