When I first started studying Japanese seriously, Japanese TV programs helped me tremendously in learning. The few national networks in Japan provide a variety of shows, and cable channels don’t seem as popular in Japan as they are in the U.S.
Of course, there are many cable channels and several satellite channels available as well, but the seven national networks are extremely popular in Japan. Two are owned by the national public broadcaster, NHK, and five are privately-owned.
TV station schedules
Although Japanese TV programs vary from station to station, some generalizations can be made of their daily schedules. Early morning around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. news shows generally start, followed by late morning variety shows that target housewives who have finished or are taking a break from housework. These run over the lunchtime hour and early afternoon is usually filled with drama reruns or informational programs still targeting people that may be home at that hour.
In the late afternoon around 4 p.m. when children come home from school, some stations air cartoons and children’s shows. Evening news shows start around the same time or shortly after, running until around 7 p.m., when the “Golden Hour” of Japanese TV begins.
Between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. is called the “Golden Hour” in Japanese TV, and is the most popular time frame for people to watch TV, often with high ratings. The slot is valued by all stations and competition is fierce, usually filled with entertaining variety shows. It is the dream of many rising stars to appear on TV during this time frame, as only very popular talents, comedians, actors and celebrities make an appearance.
Dramas, talk-shows and other variety shows targeting adults after work air around 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., after which late-night news programs run, followed by sports news or business news.
Late night hours are filled with more mature-content programs, TV shopping and less popular shows or reruns until early morning when the news programs start again.
Similar to other countries, many people catch up on daily news on TV. Some may turn it on while they get ready for work in the morning or as they wind down at night before bed. News shows are fairly standard generally featuring male and female “announcers,” or broadcast reporters, including various news and weather forecasts.
Japanese variety shows are very popular and of course, vary in content, as the name implies. They are generally made up of game shows, comedy skits, musical performances, original stunts and a variety of original content with many guest appearances. These are famous worldwide for weird content and have influenced shows in other countries.
Owarai (お笑い), or Japanese comedy, is very popular and there are often stand up shows as well as competition style shows between comedians. Comedians regularly appear on other variety shows to add humor to quiz shows and other content.
Japanese dramas are also very popular and original series are often aired with around 13 episodes, airing one each week. They are varied in romance, comedy, mystery, horror and others.
Anime is also very popular in Japan, though it doesn’t air as often as you may think. In addition to children’s cartoons, there are a number of extremely popular animated shows for all ages. Many are based on manga, games or light novels, and is more popularly watched online or via DVD at the viewer’s own leisure.
Cooking shows are often pretty short and feature one recipe at a time, generally in the morning or early evening hours, targeting housewives. Regular shows feature chefs that may cook with a celebrity at their sides, “teaching” as they cook.
With such a range of choices, you’ll never be bored watching Japanese TV programs.
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