Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Documentaries & Programmes About Japan

This post is moving!!!!

All the information about these great TV programmes and documentaries about Japan is moving to the new Itsumo Japan site where it will be joined with even more listings and info.

Please come and visit us at www.itsumojapan.com where you can find these programmes on the  Watch Japan page.



There has been a wealth of TV documentaries and programmes produced about many different aspects of life in Japan and from many different angles. This is my attempt to create a list of these programmes:


Japanese Culture

Begin Japanology (2003~Present)
NHK World
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Image: NHK

I haven't listed any of the other programmes in any kind of order but I had to put this one right to the top of the list. Ever since I discovered this series I have been hooked on the scores of episodes covering all aspects of Japanese culture from traditional subjects like kimono, kaiseki ryōri, bentō and kendō to modern topics like plastic food samples, yōshoku, shinkansen and hi-tech toilets. Quirky presenter Peter Barakan explains a different subject in each episode supported by interesting and informative video clips. I have learnt so much about Japan from these programmes, even about topics that I thought I was familiar with, and the best thing is new episodes are still being made and broadcast.
A different episode is broadcast each week on NHK World on Thursdays. You can watch NHK World live online through the JibTV site.


In Search of Wabi Sabi with Marcel Theroux (2009)
BBC (part of BBC4 Hidden Japan season)
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Image: BBC
Marcel Theroux, son of Paul Theroux and brother to Louis, visits Japan in the hope of understanding wabi sabi, a key element in Japanese aesthetics and culture.  The undefinable nature of wabi sabi means that Theroux's search is ultimately unsuccessful but his journey and experiences in Japan offer an interesting and friendly insight into the country's culture and people.


Fish! A Japanese Obsession (2009)
BBC (part of BBC4 Hidden Japan season)
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Image: BBC

Author and BBC journalist Charles Rangeley Wilson spends 6 months in Japan to investigate the national obsession with fish from the high prices paid for specially bred koi, controversial whaling practices, tiny inner-city fishing ponds and sashimi so fresh that it is served still twitching. Rangeley Wilson seems to observe everything with a mixture of confusion and disdain making him difficult to warm to as a presenter but, that aside, the programme shows how Japan's love of fish infiltrates all aspects of the culture.


Japan: A Story of Love and Hate (2009)
BBC (Part of BBC4 Hidden Japan season)
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Image: BBC

This documentary tells the tale of Naoki, a 56 year-old ex-salaryman, who ended up divorced and penniless after Japan's economic bubble burst in the early 1990s. Today he lives in a tiny apartment with his 29 year-old girlfriend Yoshie who works several part-time jobs to support him. The programme shows their unusual relationship and the difficult life they lead in a change from the usual colourful and light-hearted 'quirky Japan' offerings.


Japan in Colour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn (2009)
BBC (part of BBC4 Hidden Japan season)
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Image: BBC

In an attempt to improve understanding between nations, French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn sent photographers around the world to document its people and cultures. During 1908, 1912 and 1926 Kahn sent photographers to Japan where, due to his contacts, they were allowed privileged access to places such as the royal palace. With images of silk-farmers, Shinto monks, schoolchildren, Kabuki stars, and geisha as well as the royal family the programme shows a fascinating, well-illustrated insight into a period of Japan's history that saw great change.


Dawn Porter: Extreme Wife (2008)
Episode 3: Geisha Girl
Channel 4
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Image: Channel 4

Journalist Dawn Porter gains a rare, privileged insight into a usually private world when she lives and trains as a Kyoto geisha. While the programme does offer a chance to see how their ancient and traditional practices continues today and what motivates young Japanese girls to chose the life of a geisha it is marred by Porter's reluctance to take the experience seriously. Instead she spends most of her time complaining about the tasks that make up her training in a way that could be perceived to be disrespectful.



Adam & Joe Go Tokyo (2003)
BBC
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Image: Hot Sauce

Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish of 'The Adam & Joe Show' visit Tokyo to offer an insight into the alternative side of Japanese culture looking at toys and gadgets, unusual pastimes like speed-eating and cosplay and featuring local bands. Adam and Joe attempt to become celebrities in Japan, with mixed success, try out being hosts in ladies-only host bar and interview Japanese personalities such as inventor Dr Nakamatsu, karaoke creator Daisuke Inoue and fish expert Sakana-kun. All of this is approached with the pair's usual humour  and the programme is fun as well as providing a glimpse at some of the more crazier aspects of life in Japan.


Japanorama (2007)
BBC
Watch Series 1
Image: BBC

Japanophile Jonathon Ross hosts three series' of programmes about Japan's film, TV and culture with themes like 'science fiction', 'nerd culture' and 'legends'. In each colourful programme Ross talks to film directors like Takeshi Kitano and Hayao Miyazaki, explains Japanese etiquette and customs and considers Japanese art and entertainment.


Justin Lee Collins: Turning Japanese (2011)
Channel 5
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Image: Channel 5

Presenter Justin Lee Collins spends three weeks attempting to experience life in Japan. Collins visits Edo Wonderland, attempts stand-up comedy, views one of Tokyo's tiny apartments and tries ultra-fresh squid sashimi. Collins fails to fall in love with hectic, big-city Japan and seems unwilling to approach most new experiences with an open mind. As with Dawn Porter's programme about geisha, if you can overlook the constant moaning and irritating presenter then the programme is an opportunity to see some interesting aspects of modern Japanese culture.



Geisha Girl (2009)
BBC4
Watch programme (NB Listed as 'Becoming a Geisha' on YouTube)
Image: BBC

A fascinating and sensitively filmed documentary about Yukina, a 15 year old girl from a small town in Northern Japan, who moves to Kyōto to begin training as a maiko (apprentice geisha). The programme follows Yukina through training to her debut as a Kyōto maiko, shows the day to day life of the hanamachi (geisha district) and her mother's thoughts about her daughter's decision. The programme shows the very touching story of Yukina achieving her dream of becoming a geisha and how she adapts to her new life, not only at the okiya (geisha home) but in the big city.


Coming Here Soon (2012)
Episode 3: Japan
BBC
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Image: BBC

As part of BBC3's 'Coming Here Soon' series examining how various countries have dealt in the aftermath of an economic crisis Stacey Dooley visits Japan. The programme sees her meet young people coping with homelessness by living in 24hr internet cafes, struggling to find work in an insecure job market and long work hours that affect relationships. However there is some hope in the creative and innovative ways that some young people have found to live. 


The Secret Life of Japan: Ah So Graham Norton (2001)
Channel 4
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Image: Channel 4

Graham Norton travels to Japan where is bemused by the array of pornography and adult products on offer in ordinary shops, entertained in a host bar and joins the dancers at para para club. For me, however, the nicest moments of the programme surround Norton's experiences with the Hoshis, the family that he stays with in Tokyo. Though he seems to mock most of the things that he encounters the ending to the programme is genuinely heart-warming.


Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa (2004)
PBS
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Image: Karin Muller

American documentary maker, travel author and judoka Karin Muller travels alone through Japan in search of the heart of the country and her own enlightenment resulting in this short series of 4 programmes. Along the way she meets geisha, sumo wrestlers, a Buddhist sect and undertakes the Shikoku pilgrimage all the time filming and working alone. Though I found her narration style a little unnatural the series does offer a fascinating insight into some rarely seen parts of Japanese culture and the task of successfully filming, editing and narrating the documentary alone is an impressive one. There is also a book to accompany the series.


Discovery Atlas: Japan Revealed (2008)
Discovery Channel
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Image: Radio Times

This episode of the series showing the cultural, sociological and natural features of various countries focuses on Japan. It describes Japan's love of the seasons and how traditions are kept alive in the modern world and shows geisha in training, tuna fishermen, a group of Ama divers, two fashionable schoolgirls, a robot fighting competition and a tattoo artist.


Travels in Virtual Japan (2000)
Channel 4
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Image: Channel 4

In this programme writer and critic Waldemar Januszczak looks at the Japan where past and future collide meeting robot monks, virtual bonzai, otaku, toilets that measure body fat as well as visiting an artificial beach and seeing the first karaoke machine. The programme looks at technological innovation as well as Japan's past.


Sumo: East Meets West (2003)
PBS
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Image: PBS

This documentary shows the closed and secretive world of sumo and the place of Western wrestlers in the sport. Since the 1970s bigger, heavier Hawaiians have enjoyed great success and caused controversial change in Japan's national sport. The associated PBS website also has lots of extra information about the sport, its wrestlers and the film.


Marked: Death of the Yakuza (2010)
History Channel
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Image: History Channel

One episode of this series about the use of tattoos in various world cultures looks at Japan's yakuza. The programme looks at history and significance of the tattoos and interviews yakuza about the pain that they endured to gain their full-body artwork.



Japanese Wildlife & Nature

Satoyama (1999 & 2004)
BBC/NHK
Watch 1st programme
Watch 2nd programme
Image: NHK

This 2 part documentary shows the way that people in rural Japan live in harmony with nature and the changing seasons. The 1st programme Satoyama: Japan's Secret Garden shows the creatures that thrive in flooded rice fields while the 2nd programme Satoyama: Japan's Secret Water Garden shows how residents of a rural village live alongside the surrounding nature. With breathtakingly beautiful photography accompanied by the soothing tones of David Attenborough's narration this programme shows how a stream forms the centre of village life, koi help with the washing-up and diverse wildlife thrives side by side with their human neighbours.


Natural World: 'Hokkaido: Garden of the Gods' (2009)
Natural World: 'Snow Monkeys' (2009) 
BBC
Image: BBC

Two episodes of BBC nature documentary series Natural World which feature Japan; 'Hokkaido: Garden of the Gods' looks at the unique wildlife of Japan's northernmost island and the few remaining members of the Ainu race who consider all animals sacred while 'Snow Monkeys' depicts Japan's famous onsen-loving monkeys that live in a harsh, mountainous landscape.


Mutant Planet: Japan (2011)
Discovery Science Channel
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Image: Discovery Science

An interesting programme centred on evolution in Japan and how the shifting fault lines, volcanic activity and ice ages of pre-history have shaped the nation. Footage of the famous macaques of Northern Japan who enjoy bathing in the hot water of natural onsen is shown as well as details of how this species and others from mainland Asia walked across ice bridges to become part of Japan's fauna.


River Monsters (2011)
Series 3: 'Cold-Blooded Horror'
Discovery
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Image: Discovery

Extreme fisherman Jeremy Wade travels to Japan in this episode of River Monsters to discover the truth behind the myths of Namazu, a giant fish thought to cause earthquakes, and the Kappa, a river sprite believed to snatch children. Part of his search leads him to the Giant Salamander, a protected species that lives in the rivers of Japan and can grow to up to 5 feet long. The programme provides an interesting insight into some Japanese mythology and possible real life explanations.



Japanese History


Channel 4
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Image: Channel 4

In this episode of the 'Back From the Dead' series experts use forensic techniques on some of the thousands of skeletons found at burial grounds dating back to 1333 at Kamakura.  The programme sees the story of 6 sets of remains unfold through forensic clues including those of a husband and wife that died in a sword fight and members of the ruling family whose decapitated heads were displayed as trophies. Scientific techniques and dramatic re-enactments are used together to show the story of the battle and those involved as well as the fighting skills and killing techniques used by samurai.


Japan's Tsunami: How it Happened (2011)
Channel 4
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Image: Channel 4

This programme, first broadcast just weeks after the devastating event of March 2011, examines the science behind the event in an attempt to explain why it happened, its effects and how it has changed the country forever. Journalist Colin Mcrae also travels to the affected towns of  Sendai and Ofunato to view the effects first hand and speak to locals about how they are coping with the aftermath.


What the Ancients Knew: The East (2007)
Discovery Channel
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Image: Discovery Channel

Another documentary from Discovery Channel this time looking at the technology of ancient cultures and how they have changed our world. The 'East' series features a programme about Japan and how, despite being a modern superpower, it manages to hold on to it past. Traditional crafts are shown as the foundation for modern Japan's technological success.


Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire (2004)
PBS
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Image: PBS

Charting the history of Japan from 16th century to the start of the modern era this program is separated into 3 episodes; The Way of the Samurai, The Will of the Shogun and The Return of the Barbarians. The associated website also has lots of further information and resources.



Japanese Food & Cooking


Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador (2006)
BBC
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Image: BBC

After having his sushi technique criticised by the Japanese ambassador Rick Stein decided to set off to Japan to learn all about the country's cuisine before, on his return, cooking a special banquet for the ambassador and his guests. The programme follows his enthusiastic culinary journey through the modern and traditional foods of Japan before he returns to prepare a menu inspired by his trip with the help of a team of very talented Japanese chefs.


Feasts (2009)
Episode 2: Japan
BBC
Image: BBC

In a series where food writer Stefan Gates travels the world to experience extraordinary feasts and festivals, episode 2 takes him to Japan.  In Tokyo he witnesses a festival where a Shinto priestess carries a six-foot wooden penis through the suburbs before joining the Baby Sumo Festival where new parents attempt to bring their children good luck for the future. The highlight of the programme however is Gates' involvement in the Naked Man festival where he joins a group of salarymen as they eat sushi and get drunk before joining hundreds of other near-naked men at the celebration.


World Kitchen (2012)
'Kyoto' and 'Osaka'
ITV
Watch clips.
Image: Radio Times

New Zealand chef Nici Wickes travels the globe learning about world cuisine including a trip to Kyoto where she learns about traditional kaiseki ryori and a visit to Osaka to taste a variety of tasty street foods and snacks. In each episode Wickes returns to her own kitchen to try out some of the recipes herself including tempura vegetables, inarizushi and teriyaki chicken.



Japanese Religion


Around the World in 80 Faiths (2009)
Episode 2: The Far East
BBC
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Image: BBC

Episode 2 of the series documenting 80 different religions from around the world visits the Far East where Church of England vicar Peter Owen Jones experiences the cleansing rituals of the Shinto Oto Matsuri in Shingu and the fertility celebrations of the Buddhist Naked Man Festival in Wakayama. The BBC website also includes a clip, not previously shown on TV, of monks practicing Shingon Buddhism at Kyoto's Daigo-ji Temple which you can view here.



Travel in Japan


Around the World in 80 Days (1989)
Episode 6: Far East and Farther East
BBC
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Image: Palin's Travels

Episode 6 of Michael Palin's Phileas Fogg-inspired journey around the world takes him to China where he catchs a ferry to Yokohama. Whilst in Japan he experiences many typical aspects of modern Japanese culture including riding the shinkansen, visiting a sushi bar, staying at a capsule hotel and singing karaoke before leaving to cross the Pacific Ocean.


Full Circle (1997)
Episode 2: Japan/Korea
BBC
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Image: Palin's Travels

Episode 2 of this series, where Michael Palin journeys around the rim of the Pacific Ocean, sees him visit Japan and Korea. In Japan he meets the famous Kodō drummers on Sado Island, spends time in Tokyo with a Monty Python fan, watches a punk rock concert in Yoyogi Park and experiences zen meditation at a buddhist temple before visiting the dutch-themed park Huis ten Bosch in Nagasaki. As with all of Palin's travel programmes, his amiable and inquisitive nature makes his journey through weird and wonderful new experiences engaging and entertaining.


Waterfront Cities of the World: Tokyo (2012)
Discovery Channel
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Image: Discovery World

This 13 part series looks at the port cities around the world including, in this episode, Tokyo. Photographer and presenter Heidi Hollinger meets  various residents of the city to discuss town planning, the very efficient public transport system, space-saving architectural ideas and life in Japan's capital. The beautiful cityscapes and innovative graphics make this a really enjoyable and interesting programme to watch.


Between Two Worlds: A Japanese Pilgrimage (1992)
Joanne Hershfield and Susan Caperna Lloyd
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Image: J Hershfield and S Caperna Lloyd

A documentary about the Shikoku pilgrimage, a 1000 mile route around the island that is believed to have been undertaken since 9th century. The programme combines images of modern and traditional Japan with the writings of Kobo Daishi who is believed to be the first person to make the journey and asks why the pilgrimage is still so popular today.



Language


BBC
Watch all clips
Image: BBC

These short clips were shown between programmes as part of BBC 4's 'Hidden Japan' season. Each one explains the meaning of a Japanese word or phrase in a quirky or fun way. The words and phrases chosen are often themselves funny or quirky as in, my favourite, bakku shan a phrase used to describe a woman who looks beautiful from the back but not from the front. The series also attempts to explain the meaning of the often heard word domo.

7 comments :

Hello there, new watcher dropping by to comment :) Just wanted to say thanks for compiling this really handy list - I managed to catch a couple of the programmes when they were shown but didn't realise there were so many others I had missed! Am going to have a lot of fun catching up on them now :D

Hi Laura, I'm glad that the list was useful to you, one of the aims of my blog is to provide a good source of information on where to find all things Japanese. Though I haven't watched every one of these programmes I've seen most and they're mostly very good, especially the BBC ones. Have you watched 'Satoyama'? I really recommend this one, it is absolutely beautiful as well as interesting.

Hello Itsumo, it's lovely to hear back from you and thankyou for your recommendation - I'll make sure it's the first one I watch :)

I managed to catch Justin Lee Collins and Marcel Theroux's programmes when they were on, but can't recall seeing any of the others. BBC four also had a wonderful documentary a while back about a young woman's journey to become a geiko - you can still catch it on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrDGTUm2vBc if you haven't seen it already - have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it when I saw it :)

I think I saw this a while ago, it seems familiar but thanks for pointing it out, I can't believe that I forgot about it. Thanks so much! I will definitely re-edit this post to add it to the list plus a couple of new programmes that I saw on TV recently.
Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog ^_^

Post updated:
3 new programmes added including BBC4's Geisha Girl - thank you Laura Ratscuttle for the recommendation ^_^

You're welcome! It's a pleasure reading and commenting on your blog - it's so nice to find such a comprehensive list of Japanese-ness from within the UK :)

Thank you, that it is a big compliment! m(._.)m

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