It seems the idea of a TV station sending some kind of celebrity to the land of Japan is not going to end anytime soon with programme after programme continuing to be churned out by television networks each and every year. As well as the ‘fish out of water’ concept there have also been a wealth of documentaries covering all kinds of subject matter from the land of the rising sun…if I can use that overly used description of this country which no-one actually ever says!
Having made similar lists on ‘Songs about Japan‘ and ‘Music Videos filmed in Japan‘ Tokyo Fox thought it was about time to compile as many of the English-language TV shows about Japan. This is by no means an exhaustive list but if you know of something missing then please let me know and I’ll add it to this list. I have only included links for the video’s of episode’s which are on YouTube but please remember that things are taken down from there all the time so some links may not work. Others are available on other search engines (Putlocker, Sockshare etc) so if you really want to see a programme then you’ll have to look around the internet for it.
* Globe Trekker (S01E08, S10E01, S16E12, S17E05, Channel 4/Travel Channel (1994 – Present) – The long running adventure tourism series has called in to Japan a fair few times over the years. It’s premise is similar to the Lonely Planet guidebooks in that it often tries to go beyond popular tourist destinations in order to give viewers a more authentic look at local culture.
* The Simpsons Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo (S10E23), Sky One (1999) – The dysfunctional family take a cheap last-minute flight to Tokyo. The episode references and mocks several aspects of Japanese and American culture, as well as differences between the two. More details here
* The Tom Green Subway Monkey Hour, MTV (2002) – The Canadian comedian basically torments the Japanese people with a load of sketches including monkeys, temple tours, slurping noodles, musical performances and so much more.
* Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama (3 seasons), BBC Three (2002 – 2007) – 18 episode’s from the TV and radio funny man with each one focusing on a different theme, around which he presents cultural phenomena, films, music, and art that exemplify facets of Japan. More details here
* Geisha Girl, Documentary, BBC1 (2005) – Documentary about a 15-year-old Japanese girl’s arduous training to become an apprentice geisha.
* Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (S02E01/S02E07, S04E16, S07E08, S08E05), Travel Channel (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012) – Similar format and content to his previous show with the host visiting worldwide cities and countries as well as places within the U.S. with an emphasis on local food and culture. Japan-based episodes didn’t just focus on the capital city but also Hokkaido, Nagano, Ishikawa and Osaka. More details here
* Jack Osbourne Adrenaline Junkie (S02E03), ITV2 (2005) – Not even a full episode was dedicated to Japan but following some white-water rafting in New Zealand, Jack comes this way and embarks on some more spiritual challenges. More details here
* Journey’s Into The Ring Of Fire Japan (S01E04), BBC1 (2006) – Four part documentary series looking at how geology has shaped human history and culture in Pacific Rim regions. More details here
* Top Gear (S11E04), BBC2 (2008) – Jeremy and a Nissan race across Japan against James and Richard, who are on the shinkansen (bullet train). This challenge comes to a climax at Nokogiri-yama mountain in Chiba.
* Japan: In Search Of Wabi Sabi, Documentary, BBC4 (2009) – Marcel Theroux sets off across Japan to define the elusive concept of wabi sabi; an idea at the heart of the Japanese psyche but so difficult to define. More details here
* Japan: A Story Of Love And Hate, Documentary, BBC4 (2009) – About a 56 year old postal worker who had it all during the bubble era before losing it in the early 1990’s. Thrice-divorced and dating a much younger girl he has long been an outsider in Japan. They share a shoebox room with no windows, he’s a house-husband with only a part time job whilst she has three jobs to support them both. It also focuses on meeting each others families in order to save the relationship. More details here
* Fish! A Japanese Obsession, Documentary, BBC4 (2009) – Investigation into the Japanese love of fish and their need to eat so much with particular reference to whale. It details the emotional attachment to it which Japan just doesn’t have as they continue to hunt these huge specimens which may become extinct. More details here
* Great Railway Journeys: Tokyo To Kagoshima, Documentary, BBC4 (2009) – Part of the Japan season on this BBC4, Fergal Keane travels through Japan, starting with the shinkansen (bullet train) in Tokyo and journeying through the countryside where he contemplates the old and the new. More details here
* The Last Explorers -Thomas Blake Glover, Documentary, BBC Scotland (2011) – Neil Oliver travels to Japan to discover more about Scottish rogue trader Thomas Blake Glover who helped rebel samurai clans overthrow the shogun and laid the foundations for Japan’s future economy.
* Justin Lee Collins Turning Japanese (3 episodes), Channel Five (2011) – The comedian throws himself in at the deep end as he travels to Tokyo and Osaka on a cultural trip where he gets involved in a few challenges such as performing as part of a Japanese comedy duo. More details here
* An Idiot Abroad (S02E07) Japan: Climbing Mount Fuji, Sky One (2011) – Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant monitor the progress of Karl Pilkington who has no interest in global travel. In series two Karl chooses activities from a general (but not his) “bucket list” with one of them being to climb Japan’s iconic mountain. More details here
* World’s Busiest Train Station, Channel 5 (2013) – Documentary detailing 24 hours in the life of the dedicated staff at Shinjuku station in Tokyo. More details here
* The Moaning Of Life Kids (S01E03), Sky One (2013) – Karl sets out to learn why people have children and in Japan he attends the Kanamara Matsuri a.k.a. the penis festival where he assists other men in carrying a large portable shrine shaped like a phallus. Karl has no kids or interest in having them but he decides to have his sperm tested to see if he is capable of fathering children.
* Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Tokyo (S02E08) CNN (2013) – Bourdain is back in Tokyo again and this time his aim is to seek out the city’s dark, extreme, and bizarrely fetishistic underside featuring some unique subcultures. More details here
* Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure (S01E04, S01E05), BBC2 (2013) – The British duo travel around Asia on their beloved bikes with two episodes in Japan taking in Tokyo, Fuji, Kyoto and Kobe whilst trying the local cuisine, meeting local people and cooking some native dishes themselves. More details here
* Tom Daley Goes Global (S01E02), ITV2 (2014) – The Olympic diver (and his best friend Sophie) takes six weeks off his training to go backpacking around the world to get life-changing experiences and to try some extreme sports to raise money for charity. More details here
* The Charlotte Crosby Experience – The Furisode-San of Tokyo (S01E02), TLC (2014) – The English reality TV star spends time in different extreme cultures living with some of the world’s unique communities and that of course includes Japan. More details here
* Grand Designs (S14E09) The Japanese House: Revisited (Revisited from S13E06), Channel 4 (2014) – Presenter Kevin McCloud revisits a unique Japanese-Welsh fusion home which was completely transformed from a damp old forester’s house.
* Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands (3 episodes), BBC2 (2015) – Documentary series exploring the wildlife of Japan’s islands and it’s extreme landscapes where animals’ and people’s lives often cross. Episodes look at the astonishing wildlife of Honshu, the Southwest Islands and Hokkaido. More details here
* Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Okinawa (S06E03), CNN (2015) – Bourdain returns to Japan but this time ventures to the far south-west to discover a different Japan to the one he knows. More details here
* Click BBC World (2015) – Two episodes of the BBC’s flagship technology show came from Japan and featured concept tech from the CEATEC expo as well as the robot hotel manned by a dinosaur and how bio-fuel is being used to power a DeLorean. More details here
* Joanna Lumley’s Japan (3 episodes), ITV (2016) – The Absolutely Fabulous star visits travels the length of Japan from north to south taking in Sapporo, the Fukushima exclusion zone, Tokyo, the Nakasendo Way, Kyoto, Nagasaki, Sakurajima, Okinawa and many more places. More details here
* Dark Tourist (S01E01), Netflix (2018) – Journalist David Farrier focuses on tourism involving places that are historically associated with death and tragedy. The Japan episode features a tense trip to an evacuated area of Fukushima where radiation levels are higher than expected. He then stops off at a the hotel manned solely by robots followed by suicide forest in Yamanashi and Gunkanjima in Nagasaki.
If you know of any more programmes which could be added to this list (and there are many!!) then let me know in the comments or tweet me using @tokyofox