7 Netflix Shows That Will Help You Understand Japan

An unmissable list of shows, films and documentaries about Japan

From Japanese idol culture to historic propaganda to informative trivia, this list has something for every binge-watching Netflix viewer looking to open their eyes to another side of Japan.

It’s that time of year again in Tokyo: the parasols are out, the air is sticky, the crowded trains are sweatier and more humid than usual, and that spot on the couch beneath the air-conditioner next to a box of popsicles is looking more and more appealing. Why not stay inside this weekend and deepen your understanding of Japan, its culture and its people? Here is a list of seven historic, informative and interesting shows that will help you do just that! We’ve included a wide range of Netflix favorites (with English subtitles) focusing on Japan and the Japanese people, all for your viewing pleasure. 

The Birth of Sake

This award-winning documentary explores the lives of sake artisans working in Yoshida Brewery. Here, a small group of employees aged between 20 and 70 brave unusual working conditions and the intense winters of northern Japan to preserve the 2000-year-old tradition of sake. However, in this industry of intense competition, where sake drinkers are overwhelmed by choice, Yoshida is under immense pressure to keep-up their world class quality and reputation. The documentary focuses on the lives of Yoshida’s workers—particularly Yamamoto (65), a veteran sake maker, and Yasuyuki Yoshida (27), the sixth-generation heir to the brewery—and gives a unique insight into the sacrifices of the workers who dedicate their lives to this time-old tradition.   

Tokyo Idols

AKB48, Nogizaka46, Momoiro Clover Z … idol music is a genre and culture largely unique to Japan: spend five minutes in Akihabara, and you will be inundated with posters and advertisements of pretty, young women and girls in matching costumes dancing and singing to pop music. Tokyo Idols is a documentary that explores this cultural phenomenon, and the superfans who devote their lives and personal finances to it. Filmmaker, Kyoko Miyake looks at the obsession with young female sexuality in Japan’s hypermodern society, and offers a critique of this changing industry where the internet is becoming increasingly influential but female idols are growing younger and younger.

Know Your Enemy: Japan

Now considered a culturally-insensitive piece of military propaganda, Know Your Enemy: Japan offers a look into the history of Japan from the 16th century up until the 1930s, and gives insight into the Pacific region during the time of World War II. Commissioned by the U.S. War Department, and directed by Frank Capra, the film was initially created to prepare US soldiers before their deployment in the Pacific. However, as the war ended shortly after the film’s completion, this did not come to be. If you’re a history buff, be sure to check this one out.

Terrace House: Opening New Doors

Terrace House: Opening New Doors is an addictive reality TV show about six young people who, despite being total strangers, all move into a beautiful house in Karuizawa. There is no script. Just a camera crew, six strangers and the stories and interactions that unfold. Released in 2017, Opening New Doors is currently the most recent Terrace House season. While the immensely popular original Terrace House: Boys and Girls Next Door is also on Netflix, it does not have English subtitles. But, if your Nihongo is A+, feel free to check that out as well!

Chef’s Table Season 1: Niki Nakayama

This episode of Chef’s Table explores the life and career of Niki Nakayama. Born in the US to Japanese parents, Niki is a highly successful chef and restaurateur who runs the award-winning Los Angeles restaurant N/Naka. N/Naka serves modern kaiseki: a multi-course dinner that is artfully constructed, and carefully brings out the ultimate flavors in every ingredient with different cooking techniques. The episode follows Niki’s career, the day-to-day duties of running a Kaiseki restaurant and the adversity she has had to overcome as a woman working in the food industries of both Japan and the US.     

Japanese Style Originator

Want to learn more about a wide and miscellaneous variety of Japanese traditions? Japanese Style Originator is the perfect show for you. From the correct etiquette to use at a tempura restaurant, to the proper way to wear yukata, to tips for making the best miso soup: this show has a little bit of everything. Those who like trivia, history and bringing up interesting factoids at dinner parties should definitely check this out!  


This is a romantic, reality TV show with a premise like no other: 18 men and women looking for love are placed in beautiful Okinawa with the hope of finding a significant other. Sound uncomplicated? It’s not. Each contestant is burdened by a dark past and a harrowing secret. From criminal history to addiction, to previous affairs, these contestants must reveal their secrets and accept the flaws of others in order to find love. Hosted by comedian Atsushi Tamura, REA(L)OVE is an unconventional dating show with moments both heartbreaking and hilarious.  

Happy TV binging!

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