A newbie’s journey through Japanese #3: All about Japanese podcasts


Hello again, everyone. Mike desu. Today I’m going to go over some of my favorite podcasts for practicing, hearing and learning the Japanese language, as well as learning more about Japan and Japanese culture in general. I am going to assume a few things in this post for the sake of simplicity: One, you have access to iTunes, and two, you are listening primarily to English-language podcasts and have an English-language account.  For many of the podcasts I am going to mention, it is as simple as typing in the name of a podcast in the iTunes Store search.

I like to  subscribe not only to language podcasts but culture podcasts about Japan. I believe in order to get a full understanding of Japanese, it is important to immerse yourself in the culture, history and news of Japan as well. Not only does this expose you to new words, phrases and ideas you might not otherwise discover, but it will also give you something to talk about if you ever plan on visiting the country or meet any native Japanese speakers.

English-language podcasts

JapanesePod101

The podcast I listen to the most for learning Japanese is JapanesePod101. Obviously, JapanesePod101 is far from the only podcast out there for learning Japanese. But it is the one I personally find the most useful. What I love about this podcast and website is the way it tackles Japanese from both grammatical and cultural perspectives. I also enjoy the repartee between the members of the cast; it almost feels like you’re spending time with friends, albeit friends with an excellent command of Japanese.

The learning levels are categorized by Absolute Beginner, Newbie, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. This allows people to quickly find the level at which they are most comfortable and explore at their own pace. However, the difficulty of the lessons can vary widely. Occasionally it feels like the podcast team has skipped whole lessons and jumped ahead to harder material in the space of one podcast, though this is not so much the case with newer episodes. There are plenty of side treks too, into things like Japanese children’s songs, culture, grammatical particles and idiomatic phrases, which are great for increasing fluency.

An important disclaimer: Though it is free to listen to the newest episodes of the podcast as they come out, for all intents and purposes, JapanesePod101 is not free. I pay a small fee each month to have access to all the lessons and PDFs of lesson notes. However, without access to the older material and the lesson notes, you are receiving a heavily curtailed learning experience.

Finally, for all that I love about this podcast, JapanesePod101 is not great for learning kanji. There are PDFs associated with each lesson that break down the meaning of any kanji used in the dialog, but stroke orders and the different readings are rarely explored. Additionally, the kanji is based on what you would see if you typed kanji on a computer, which is often subtly different than what someone will write by hand. (the same is true for kana — compare handwritten hiragana ‘sa’ and ‘ki’ to the same characters on a computer) The best way to learn the kanji, in my opinion, is to look it up here on Nihongo Ichiban and practice along with the stroke order animations.

A Short History of Japan

Hosted by an Australian teacher, A Short History of Japan is both informative and entertaining. The host obviously loves talking about Japanese history, and his exuberance is contagious. When I initially subscribed to this podcast for a test-run, I half-expected a dry and terse rundown of the most important highlights of Japanese history, similar to a professor, nearing tenure, reeling off facts and figures by rote to a lecture hall packed with university students barely able to keep their eyes open.

No way. This podcast is full of energy. It’s lively, witty and manages to humanize ancient history. Like any great story, the history explored in this podcast is full of heroes, villains, lovers and charlatans. You will hear about benevolence, double-crosses, family mutinies, bloody battles, backroom dealings and noble pursuits. And all of it is true. I feel less like I’m learning about history and more like I’m listening to the script of a great movie or television drama. I cannot recommend this podcast enough.

Japan Talk

I consider Japan Talk the modern-day corollary of A Short History of Japan. The host of this show also genuinely loves talking about his chosen subject: The latest news from around Japan from the perspective of an expatriate. Similar to A Short History, the podcast also explores great successes and great failures, winners and losers, politicians and regular people. All from the standpoint of recent news.

This show is a great antidote to cultural stereotypes of every Japanese man, woman and child being stoic, silent and eternally respectful. Japan has a population of more than 127 million people; it is unfair (and culturally ignorant) to apply a blanket statement to such a diverse population. In fact, the news out of Japan can be just be lively and controversial as anything you hear elsewhere. The one downside of this podcast is updates have become sporadic of late. I include this show in the hopes that it will start coming out on a regular basis again.

Tokyo Podcast

Tokyo Podcast  is a recent addition to my library. The host is Canadian-born, having moved to Japan after residing in Thailand for several years. As of this writing, the show is still in its infancy; it only launched three months ago. However, even in that short time, I find this podcast valuable and insightful. The host is apparently excellent at networking, because unlike the other podcasts I have mentioned so far, he regularly features guests on his program. They can range from people who know the inner workings of the Japanese cell phone business to those who offer tours of historic Japanese castles. I love the variety of viewpoints and experience, and it gives an intimate, patchwork impression of Tokyo and Japan.

Japanese-language podcasts

I find it very helpful to listen to Japanese-language podcasts. While I definitely do not understand everything — or even most — of what is said, these podcasts have helped with both my pronunciation and my vocabulary. For example, if you are still learning how to say the months and days in Japanese, you will quickly absorb their pronunciations when you are listening to Japanese podcasts that start the show by listing the current date. Also, if you hear a phrase thrown around often enough (“chotto matte!”) you will probably learn it even before you fully understand it. Listening to Japanese podcasts are also a great way to benchmark your progress. Maybe one week, a podcast will seem almost unintelligible. Then, after a few weeks of studying, you return to find you understand more of the words and grammar.

Finally, Japanese podcasts are invaluable for learning how to actually speak the language. Often, in spoken Japanese, vowels are slurred together or dropped entirely, the “n” consonant can sound more like someone saying “ng” and consonants that end in “u” rarely sound like the way English-speakers would pronounce  a u. All of these nuances would be difficult to explain in a textbook, but they are right there, to listen to over and over again, in a podcast.

There are hundreds of podcasts available in Japanese, just like there are in English. However, finding these podcasts can be difficult, especially if you are unable to type kanji or kana on your computer when doing searches. One way around this is to go into your iTunes account and switch your home region to Japan. This will show you all the podcasts available, but I do not really like this method; the moment you click on anything other than a podcast, a warning will pop up saying you cannot buy anything without a Japanese credit card, and you will immediately be returned to your previous region. I prefer a different method for finding Japanese language podcasts, and while it does not give me access to everything available, it gives me a nice slice of podcasts.

The easiest method, by far, is to type “Japanese” into your iTunes search. That is how I found several Japanese-language podcasts through the English-language iTunes storefront.

Japanese

Produced by SBS Radio, “Japanese” is the bare-bones name for a news podcast geared toward Japanese speakers in Australia. What I like about this podcast is the length (averaging 10-15 minutes an episode) and its variety of content.  In one episode, the host may interview circus performers. Another week, he may talk to organizers for a charity fundraiser or discuss the date of an important anniversary in world history. Whatever the subject, each episode is perfect for concentrated listening.

Japanese Classical Literature at Bedtime

Since this podcast deals with classical literature, I am certain there are many archaic phrases and grammatical constructions that may not be directly applicable to modern-day Japanese language learning. That said, this series is still a pleasure to listen to. The podcast features a female host whose voice is calm, soothing and perfectly suited to reading bite-sized excerpts from Japanese literature.

Other podcasts

Finally, there are several podcasts I listen to that are hard to find unless you know the correct terms to search. Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), Iwate Broadcasting Company (IBC) and Nikkei Inc. are among the Japanese broadcasting and journalistic companies that offer podcasts. The easiest way to find these in iTunes is simply to search for TBS, NHK, IBC and Nikkei respectively. You will find that there are a huge number of podcasts available from just these companies. The ones I listen to regularly are Nikkei Trendy and Iyaa Maitta Maitta (which you cannot search for directly by name, you need to look under IBC and find the podcast with an icon of an older Japan man and woman laughing).

When searching for Japanese podcasts, you will see links to additional Japanese-language podcasts under the “Listeners also subscribed to” category. It creates a wonderful snowball effect, until soon you might find yourself following more Japanese podcasts than English ones. However, do not let yourself become overwhelmed or burned out. Do not let it become a chore. Just explore and play around.

As always, I am interested in what you have to say and your experiences as well. Are there any podcasts you recommend for learning about Japan and the Japanese language? Let me know.


Did you like this post? Click here to read more from our Guest Writer Mike.

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Comments

  1. Nicolas says:

    Mike,
    Thanks for introducing these Podcasts. I also follow a few of them and also used a few Japanesepod101 videos in the fun section. I think the biggest advantage of Podcasts is that you get a much better idea about pronunciation.
    Nicolas

  2. Thanks for the review and for sharing these other great Japan podcasts!

    • Thanks, Anthony. You must have your hands full with the Tokyo Podcast, so I really appreciate that you took the time to respond to my blog post. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. Arigatou gozaimasu!

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