5 Japanese Dramas That Will Improve Your Language Skills
Is watching Japanese drama a magic pill that will make you fluent? Probably not. But, next to immersing yourself in the country of Japan itself, it’s arguably one of the most beneficial ways to practice your listening skills and to up your vocabulary. It will absolutely help your non-native ears become acclimated to the natural rhythm and pitch of Japanese.
Not only that, but many Japanese shows include subtitles (in Japanese) that you can find online. By reading these transcripts, your Japanese skills will progress much faster. Before I tell you more about accessing transcripts, let me first go over 5 Japanese dramas that I think you’ll enjoy.
Tell Me You Love Me
This show has the greatest hits from the 90s: Guys wearing high-waisted pants! Scrunchies! Fax machines (which are still a thing in Japan, even today)!
In this passionate drama, we watch Koji, an impossibly handsome 30-something artist who happens to be deaf, and Hiroko, a bubbly, bright eyed 20-something aspiring actress fall in love. This drama is a great watch purely for the story, but bonus points are given for the fact that you get to learn some Japanese Sign Language (JSL, known in Japanese as 手話 shuwa, “hand talk”) along the way. I still remember how to sign chigau (違う! “You’re wrong!”) because of how many times it dramatically got used in their arguments.
This one’s for you foodies. Follow Takeshi Kusami on his culinary adventures as he gulps down ice cold beer, slurps on miso soup, and tears into croquettes.
This show is great for learning vocabulary that’s all things food-related, and, of course, for learning about traditional Japanese meals. Warning: don’t approach this show on an empty stomach.
Song of the Sun
A great way to learn a different language is through song, and Taiyou no Uta provides a great opportunity to do so. Kaoru, who suffers from an incurable disease that makes going out into the sun a life-threatening no-no, shares her pain and emotion through song (the film version is also worth a watch).
The great thing about learning a language through song is that the words can be sung slowly, making it easier to remember the meaning behind them than if you’d heard them being said too quickly. The emotion and the story behind the songs may also help you stay motivated to learn.
If you have enough tissue boxes to handle it, I recommend giving this a shot.
A classic Japanese drama from the early 2000s, and based off of its manga series, Gokusen is the story of Kumiko Yamaguchi, the granddaughter of a yakuza boss. Hiding her real identity, she teaches at an all-male high school, and comes head to head with some rascally delinquents that, of course, just need a little guidance to straighten them out.
This is the perfect show to watch to learn extremely casual, gruff Japanese (a lot of じゃねー vs.じゃない, for example). This is very useful for getting people to leave you alone (specifically creepy guys at the bar, am I right, ladies?), and to show ‘em you’re not messing around.
Technically not a scripted drama, Terrace House is a reality show that follows the lives of six young people (3 boys, 3 girls) as they live together. The show is excellent as a source of up to date slang and casual Japanese (I’ve never heard yabai ヤバイ said so many times when someone thinks something is “insane”- whether in a good way or a bad way, depending on the context).
Watching variety shows and reality TV is a great way to get yourself used to very natural, everyday Japanese conversation. It always helps to know what the latest slang words or cultural references are, and these types of programs are priceless for that.
The Proper Way to Use Japanese Dramas for Studying
As I mentioned earlier, Japanese dramas are great to get you accustomed to natural dialogue and to improve your listening skills. However, you’re going to need to do more than just listen if you want to improve your Japanese. That’s where reading and studying the transcripts comes in.
You can find a ton of Japanese drama transcripts, a simple Google search and some digging will lead the way.
Or… You can study Japanese dramas the easy way using sites like Viki and LingQ.
Using LingQ, you can import your favorite Japanese dramas from Viki and create interactive lessons using their Japanese transcripts. Pretty awesome, right? All you need is the LingQ extension.
Click the import button and LingQ will turn your favorite dramas into easy-to-read lessons that include the audio. You can save new vocabulary and look up their definitions with a simple tap.
For more information about importing content such as anime, music, shows, and more, please read LingQ’s Complete Guide to Importing.
Kristen is a Michigan-born, Brooklyn-based freelance writer. She studied and lived abroad in Japan during college, taught English there after graduation, and worked as a Japanese-speaking flight attendant for two years afterwards. Kristen enjoys her days reading as many books as humanly possible, and writing as much as she can.