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.
If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can access a fair number of Japanese TV shows and movies on Amazon Prime Video. As of writing, there are 605 Japanese titles available for streaming, 33 of which are available for free to Prime Members (the balance being available for rent). Not a massive number, but hey, this is plenty of content to immerse yourself in Japanese right from your TV or smartphone, transforming otherwise wasted time into productive language learning. There are even a few Japanese language Prime Originals (日本オリジナル), which were previously available only in Japan but are now available to stream outside the country.
Incidentally, there are many more Japanese language shows, movies, and Prime Originals available to those who have an Amazon.co.jp account. See How to Set up an Amazon Japan Account for step-by-step guidance on how to set up an Amazon.co.jp account, even if you don’t live in Japan. The following post, however, focuses just on Japanese content available for those with Amazon.com accounts.
How to Watch
Download the Prime Video App
Amazon Prime Video can be streamed through your browser online or using one of the many Prime Video apps. Prime Video apps are available on the following platforms:
- iOS devices (iPhone, iPad & iPod touch)
- Android devices
- Apple TV
- Smart TVs (e.g. Samsung)
- Most Blu-ray players and modern set-top boxes
- Most modern game consoles (e.g. PlayStation, Xbox & Wii)
- Google TV
- Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, Fire Phone & Fire Tablets
Find Japanese Language Content
The easiest way to find Japanese content on Amazon Video is using filters within the web version (a feature not yet available within the Prime Video apps listed above). The link below will take you to the filter settings I recommend: Movies & TV > Foreign & International > By Original Language > Japanese > Prime Video. This search limits content to Japanese movies and TV shows that Prime members can stream for free.
You can then further filter search results by clicking on any of the following criteria in the left column:
- Average Customer Reviews
Alternatively, you can just search for “Japanese” within any of the Prime Video apps to find Japanese language shows and movies.
Turn Subtitles On or Off
As of writing, Amazon Prime Video only supports English subtitles for Amazon.com users. This is great for beginning and intermediate Japanese learners, but it would be great for more advanced learners if there was the ability to turn on Japanese subtitles (you can do so if you have an Amazon.co.jp account).
To turn on English subtitles:
- Select the Subtitles and Audio button (the speech bubble with 2 lines).
- Select English.
- If you like, select Subtitle Settings to customize the font size, color, etc.
- Tap or click anywhere outside the subtitle menu to return to your video.
If you want to practice your listening comprehension, try turning off English subtitles:
- Select the Subtitles and Audio button again.
- Select Off under Subtitles.
Recommended Shows & Movies
Here is a small “flight” of five Japanese titles to get you started on Amazon Prime Video:
Genre: Comedy | Release Date: 2018
The premise of Documental (ドキュメンタル) is simple: he who laughs last wins money! The show pits ten of Japan’s top comedians against each other in a closed room, with each of them attempting to simultaneously make the other nine laugh while they themselves keep a completely straight face. If a comedian smiles or laughs, they lose their entry fee of ¥1,000,000 (approx. $9,000 USD). But whoever manages to go the longest without cracking up, leaves with ¥10,000,000 (approx. $90,000 USD)! If you enjoy comedy, psychology, and competition, this Prime Original is a great way to practice your Japanese while getting some laughs along the way. The series is produced by MATSUMOTO Hitoshi (松本人志・まつもとひとし), a.k.a. Matchan (松ちゃん・まっちゃん), a popular comedian and TV host in Japan. He created the show title by combining the words ドキュメンタリー (“documentary”) and メンタル (“mental”), since the series uses a documentary style to highlight the mental battles between the “comedic fighters” who agree to enter the room and put their hard-earned yen on the line.
Genre: Drama | Release Date: 1951
Early Summer offers valuable insight into the growing divide between younger and older generations in post-war Japan, as well as conflicts around evolving gender roles and expectations. The story centers around Noriko (紀子), played by HARA Setsuko (原節子・はらせつこ), a 28-year-old woman living in Tokyo with her extended family, who are concerned that she is still not married at her “advanced age” (I know, I know). Incidentally, the film is called Bakushū (麦秋・ばくしゅう) in Japanese, which literally translates as “Wheat Harvest” (which occurs in late summer).
Genre: Documentary | Release Date: 2016
This thought provoking documentary follows the lives of five Japan residents who have a Japanese parent and a parent from another country. Called hafu (ハフ, “half”) in Japan, multiethnic, multicultural individuals can face significant challenges in a country that has historically seen itself as monoethnic.
Fukuyado Honpo: Kyoto Love Story
Genre: Drama | Release Date: 2018
For those interested in traditional Japanese culture, romance, and drama, Fukuyadō Honpo (福家堂本舗・ふくやどうほんぽ) is a good place to start. The romantic drama series—based on the book of the same name—follows the hopes, dreams, and love lives of three sisters who work in a traditional Kyōto sweet shop with hundreds of years of history.
Genre: Dramedy | Release Date: 2008
Tokyo Girl, or Tōkyō Joshi Zukan (東京女子図鑑・とおきょうじょしずかん, lit. “Tokyo Girls Guide”), is a “dramedy” centered around SAITOU Aya (斎藤綾・さいとうあや), who dreamed of moving to Tokyo as a high school student in the inaka (田舎・いなか “countryside”). She finally makes it to the big city years later, but reality doesn’t exactly unfold with the same glamor and material trappings she had dreamed of back in Akita Prefecture (秋田県・あきたけん)…