What’s it like going to the movies in Japan?

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After a couple of months settling into life on my little island, I caught a bit of rock fever and decided to round up some friends to head into mainland Kagoshima. Our goal: catch a movie and see the bright city lights. There’s a dangerously delicious restaurant there that combines pizza with 2 hours of bottomless beer and wine bottles (飲み放題 nomihoudai), but perhaps those are stories for another time. Spirits high and stomachs full, we sauntered into the theatre and caught The Avengers. The experience was great; however some things at the movies in Japan were different to what I was used to in the States. Let’s see what’s it like going to the movies in Japan.

Buying a Ticket

In the US, it isn’t unusual to walk in to a theatre and buy a ticket to catch the next showing, however, for movies in Japan, online reservations are often made. This isn’t a hard rule, but a lot of times it’s quite convenient to buy tickets online and pick them up at the theatre. Whether online or at the counter, guests reserve a seat number, and must sit at their reserved seat (rules are rules, ya know!) It sounds a little unnecessary, but it can actually be pretty nice to know you have a position you like in front of the screen that’s guaranteed for you. It’s possible to buy tickets days in advance, and those days just might work to your advantage. Why, you ask? Discounts!

There are all kinds of discounts for moviegoers, depending on the day they choose to go. Prices tend to range from ¥1500-¥1800 for regular tickets, but for example, on the first day of every month guests can buy tickets in Tokyo cinemas for ¥1100. These are called Happy Days. But wait, there’s more! There are Ladies’ Days, Married Couple Days, Cinema Days, and usually foreign exchange student discounts. It’s best to check with the local theatre and see what discounts they have to offer. In Tokyo, the major cinema chains are Toho, Aeon, Movix, and 109 Cinemas Cineplex.

During the Show

Most popular movies in Japan—especially those from abroad—will be offered dubbed or subtitled. Those looking to hear the original voices and work on their kanji skills should look for 字幕 (jimaku) or 字幕版 (jimakuhan) next to the movie title, and those who are looking for dubbed (meaning if the movie is from the US, it’ll be voiced over in Japanese) should look for 吹替 (fukikae) or 吹き 替え.

A lot of Western kids’ movies, like Pixar or Disney, tend to be dubbed, which I think can really change the meaning of the movie at times! It’s an interesting experience, though, to see how some English phrases are translated into Japanese for viewers. I’ve found myself sitting there thinking, “wait a minute! That’s not really what they meant in that scene at all! This translation is way off!” But that’s the nature of language in general. I’m sure the same is said vice versa plenty of times. Other Western movies will usually have a subtitled version, which can give foreign exchange students a chance to hear English and compare it to their Japanese reading in real time (woohoo! You can study even during your leisure time! That’s what you wanna do, right?!)

Though it’s catching on more and more in the US nowadays, it’s pretty common for theatres here to sell beer or wine. On top of that, in addition to the typical popcorn and snacks (which seem to have a lot less variety here) guests can purchase cool movie goods like posters in the lobby.


The funniest thing I’ve found about going to the movies in Japan, is how Japanese politeness extends into the movie experience. I’m accustomed to movies at home where, if the movie is scary, moviegoers gasp, or if the movie is funny, the room laughs. Here, if it’s scary, it’s quiet, and if it’s hilarious, it’s quiet. Guests usually sit until the end of the credits, too. I think it’s pretty nice that people making the movie get a bit of spotlight over here, but be prepared to sit through a dark room in silence as the many names roll by.

All in all, going to the movies in Japan is too different than going to the movies back in the US, in my experience. It’s a bit pricey, but they do take care of you! The complex is usually very clean, pillows and blankets are offered, and if you’re looking to take a breather from Japanese life, come watch an English movie.— And don’t forget the popcorn!

For more information about Japanese culture, keep following our Go! Go! Nihon blog.

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