In the past I've written about using iOS apps to help study Japanese, and I even ended up writing my own Kanji flashcard app. But lately I've been trying something a bit different to help absorb vocabulary and the patterns of informal speech: watching a load of Japanese TV. And, as there's not much information online about how to do this when you're in the UK, I thought I'd jot down a review of sorts.
If you want to watch Japanese TV in the UK – legally* – you have three options that I've found:
2) Crunchyroll (anime / drama only)
3) Animax (anime only)
Only JSTV covers the whole range of TV programming, from news to sports to the occasional film. It's run from London, but backers include the NHK public broadcasting organisation. You can receive it in the UK and Europe for a fee of £30 / €50 per month – either via satellite (you'll need a special setup, not the same as Sky/Freesat), TalkTalk TV or the internet service JSTV-i, which I tried.
What You Get
JSTV-i allows you to view a livestream of the two JSTV channels: JSTV1 (24/7) and JSTV2 (from around 6-10am, and around 3-11pm). It's viewable via a website on PC/Mac – pictured above, this uses a Flash player to stream from an Adobe streaming server – or on iOS devices, where a MP4 stream is offered. Quality via the website is fine, but I found an iPad was the best way to watch.
The key advantage of JSTV-i for someone learning Japanese as a second language is the breadth of its programming. Although related to NHK, JSTV also runs shows from other networks (notably TV Tokyo and Fuji TV), and the overall service is broadly similar to a mainstream BBC channel: morning programming, kids' shows both before and after school, news broadcasts, documentaries (mainly NHK) and drama – including NHK's flagship asadora, if you have a couple of dozen hours to sink into one. There's some sport, too – including huge, multi-hour chunks of Sumo – although rights issues mean that sport clips are often missing from evening news broadcasts. You also get a few bits of wide-audience anime (Mainichi Kaasan, etc).
You can view the schedules online here (or English here) – and, much to my surprise, a printed schedule booklet is sent to your home every month as part of the service. As you might expect from a service catering mostly to Japanese citizens in the EU, the guide's all in Japanese and rather kanji-heavy – but then wrangling with that's good practice, too.
What You Don't Get
The key omission from JSTV-i's service is any way to record or catch up on programmes. Working at least five days a week, I found that I could often watch a bit of the morning programming, and then maybe some news at night – but nothing in between, when many shows that include less formal language (dramas, etc) are broadcast. It is technically possible to record a livestream of this type, but it's not simple and may well be in breach of the service terms anyhow.
If you invested the time and cash setting up a satellite receiver for JSTV, then using a PVR would solve this problem. But I found myself wishing there were something akin to the BBC iPlayer – even if it included only the previous 24 hours' programming, I'd have been able to watch far more.
Ultimately, as much as I enjoyed the JSTV-i service, I've decided to cancel it for now – £30 is a lot to pay when you're only managing to catch a few news broadcasts each week. I'll be keeping an eye on the service, though, and if it ever did get upgraded to something with on-demand options I'd probably sign up again. And if you're around during the day, £30 per month might be good value for the quantity and breadth of the programming that you'd get to watch – most of which isn't available to view anywhere else on this side of the planet.
Briefly, as I mentioned, there are two other services that offer legal streaming of Japanese TV to the UK: Animax and Crunchyroll.
Animax UK focuses on anime only, and to be honest I've never been tempted to try it – I'm too old, and too grumpy, to watch the programmes on offer. It costs £6 per month, here.
Crunchyroll is also focused on anime, but with a wider selection ranging from "I'd rather stick pins in my eyes" to "OK, this is watchable" (more of the former than the latter, but again maybe I'm too old and grumpy). It also runs some drama series – mostly Korean, but a few Japanese. It's all subtitled (and you can turn those off, if you watch on a computer) and the video streams are high quality if you're a paying member. It costs between £5 and £10 per month, here - but note that the UK selection of shows is far, far poorer than if you were in the US, so check before buying.
* There are all sorts of other ways, of course.