Looking for ways to legally watch Japanese TV shows and movies outside Japan?
While not as easy as it should be, it is far easier than it was just a few years ago. On this page, we'll review a few options people have to view Japanese TV shows and movies outside Japan. BTW, none of these links are paid or affiliate links. These are the services I have personally used.
Let's jump into those choices and then discuss them in more detail below.
[Information and prices checked on 2/8/2022]
- Netflix (Paid starting at $8.99 a month | Large library | Worldwide availability | Works amazingly with the Language Learning with Netflix Free Chrome extension (see the Netflix section below for more on this)) Click here for the Japanese section
- Amazon Prime (Paid $119 a year (price will increase soon) | Smaller library | Worldwide availability) Amazon is hard to navigate to see Japanese stuff in one place. This site does a great job of doing what Amazon should do.
- HBO MAX (Paid starting at $9.99 a month | Specialized library: Kurosawa movies and Miyazaki Hayao animations | Mostly Worldwide availability) Click here
- DLibrary (Paid $9.99 USD or $12.99 CAD a month | Excellent selection of newish Japanese TV shows and movies including a few released only a few days after showing in Japan | No Japanese subtitles (some with English subtitles) | Available in the US and Canada only | Recommended for intermediates and above (no subtitles)) Click here to sign up (US and Canada only)
- TVer (FREE | Amazing selection of the newest TV shows as they are released in Japan | Totally free | Accounts are optional | Requires a Japanese VPN if you are outside Japan--see my comments below) Click here to start viewing
- TV Japan ($25 USD or $17 CAD a month + Direct TV subscription (can be as much as an additional $30 a month) or, in a few places, it is included with cable companies | USA and Canada only) Click here for their website.
- Crunchyroll (Free to $14.99 USD a month | Most content in Japanese with subtitles | Worldwide availability (but content may differ)) Click here for their website.
- NHK World (FREE | Mostly English content on Japanese news and culture | Has some dramas and anime in Japanese with English subtitles | Worldwide availability) Click here for their website.
- Hulu.com (From $6.99 USD and up a month | Large anime section but mix of dubs and subs | Worldwide availability (but content differs)) Click here for the anime section.
Do you have other recommendations? Let me know in the comment section below, and I'll update the list! It goes without saying, but please only let us know about legal options.
I remember the good ole days (for the student of Japanese wanting to watch Japanese shows outside Japan). Japanese VHS tapes would play on American VCRs. That was the easy part. The hard part was actually finding Japanese shows--and when you could, it was very $$$$￥￥￥￥!
Then came DVDs. But... with DVDs came regions. Augh... You had to have a special DVD player just to read the Japanese DVDs.
Today, we have far more choices. Not only that, but many shows have Japanese or English subtitles. And! Many English shows have Japanese dubs and subtitles.
Let's take a closer look at each one.
- Paid starting at $8.99 a month
- Large library
- Worldwide availability
Netflix comes first in our list for a few reasons. First, it is available worldwide (although Japanese content will vary in different regions). Next, the available content is amazing. But most importantly, there is a browser extension that makes Netflix into an amazing language learning tool.
That is Language Learning with Netflix. If you aren't using this, you ought to. I mention this briefly in this video:
2. Amazon Prime
- Paid $119 a year (price will increase soon)
- Smaller library
- Worldwide availability
While Amazon Prime Video has a less glamorous selection, it is available worldwide and, well, many people have it. It can be a good resource for language learners too. This site organizes all the Japanese content for you.
3. HBO MAX
- Paid starting at $9.99 a month
- Specialized library: Kurosawa movies and Miyazaki Hayao animations
- Mostly Worldwide availability
This is pricey, but if you want to get your Kurosawa or Miyazaki fix, HBO MAX is the place to go.
- Paid starting at $9.99 USD or $12.99 CAD a month
- Excellent selection
- No Japanese subtitles (some with English subtitles)
- Available in the US and Canada only
- Recommended for intermediates and above (no subtitles))
This is a great service (we are subscribers). Excellent selection of newish Japanese TV shows and movies including a few released only a few days after showing in Japan. I believe it is made by the same people behind TV Japan (which is also good, but very, very expensive. See #6 below for more on TV Japan).
However, it is only available in the US and Canada. The other drawback is none of the content has Japanese subtitles. Some have English subtitles, however. Still, if your spouse is Japanese, he or she will probably love DLibrary. I know Yumi does!
Recommended for intermediates and above (no subtitles))
- Amazing selection of the newest TV shows as they are released in Japan
- About 400 programs are available for streaming
- Accounts are optional. Start streaming without logging in
- Requires a Japanese VPN if you are outside Japan
Content-wise, this should be first. Not only does it have the latest Japanese dramas and shows (great for staying up on Japanese pop culture and what's popular in Japan), but it also has many with Japanese subtitles.
However, it doesn't work outside Japan without a VPN. And that might be a no go for many people.
Still, I think you should be aware of this amazing free service. It is sponsored by five major Japanese TV stations and streams the best current TV content in Japan.
Having a VPN is a good idea for privacy and security, but many people also use it to make websites think you are viewing from within Japan. While not illegal, this can be against the terms of service for various websites. If you do choose to go this route, you will need a VPN that has servers in Japan. Most free VPN services do not have servers in Japan. I personally use Express VPN and they do have several servers in Japan that work just fine.
6. TV Japan
- $25 USD or $17 CAD + DirectTV or Cable fee (can be up to an additional $30 a month)
- Not cheap...
- 24 hour live TV programming (mostly NHK material but some good premium shows also)
- Some programs are the latest dramas and movies.
- Only available in the US and Canada
We had TV Japan for many years. Yumi loved everything except the price. I think we were paying about $60 a month just for that one channel (including DirectTV's activation fee). Still, twenty years ago, this was truly the only option for live Japanese news and the latest dramas and hit movies. Once Yumi discovered YouTube, we cancelled TV Japan. If I were rich, I would probably sign up again, though. It has great content.
- Free to $14.99 USD a month
- Worldwide availability (but content may differ)
- Some titles are dubbed, but most are in Japanese with optional subtitles.
- Anime focused
Several people chimed in about this service. From Colin:
I have Crunchyroll and HiDive for anime. The subtitles on Crunchyroll tend to be English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Arabic. Japanese subtitles are unavailable. However, most of their shows are not dubbed and are left in Japanese. HiDive only has English subtitles but like Crunchyroll I'd estimate 90% or higher are not dubbed over. They also have some older shows like Lonewolf and Cub.
Thanks to Colin and everyone else who emailed me about this.
8. NHK World
- Worldwide availability
- Mostly English
- Some content in Japanese with English subtitles
I had ignored this thinking it was mostly news programs in English. Oh boy was I wrong. It is full of shows on Japanese culture (in English--but learning about Japanese culture should be a part of your studies) and there are English subtitled shows in Japanese. I will check this out more.
Thanks MikeMc for the mention. Here's what he wrote:
NHK World has good language and culture shows. Most of the content is in English but they usually have a small selection of drama and anime in 日本語。Music programs are often subbed. Can’t beat the price (free).
- Starting at $6.99 USD a month
- Worldwide availability (but content varies)
- Mostly English (except the Japanese Hulu version)
- Very limited content in Japanese with English subtitles
Hulu.com has very limited Japanese language content. While it has a dedicated anime section, it is a mix of dubs and subs. According to one reader (Thanks Chris!), he thinks the more popular anime (e.g. Naruto) is dubbed while the less well-known stuff is subbed. There doesn't appear to be any option to switch between subs and dubs.
Hulu.jp has a ton of the latest Japanese TV shows and anime. It is limited to those living in Japan, however. I imagine a VPN would work, but I haven't tried it personally.
As mentioned above, please write in the comments if you know of any other services for legally viewing Japanese TV and movies from outside Japan. Maybe there are services only used in Europe or the Philippines or Australia? If so, please let us know, and I'll add it to this list.
Using Japanese media such as TV shows and movies is a great way to build vocabulary, improve your listening ability, and boost your overall comprehension.