May 23, 2019

Watching Japanese in English

I noted previously that localized programming is the province of NHK World, with English-speaking hosts and subtitled or dubbed content. Prime-time news aside, TV Japan ("NHK World Premium") localizes little of its content. There are a few exceptions, starting with sumo.


When I first started watching TV Japan, it devoted two hours of NHK coverage to the makuuchi sumo bouts every afternoon during the tournaments, along with the nightly wrap-up shows. Now it's limited to one wrap-up broadcast and two hours of live coverage at 1:00 AM MDT.

But sumo is obviously a big draw internationally. During the fifteen-day tournaments, NHK World carries the thirty-minute wrap-up show four times a day and live coverage on weekends.

On TV Japan, a subtitled version of the weekly Taiga drama is broadcast on Saturday afternoon. Cool Japan is the same on NHK World and TV Japan. The international members of the studio panel all speak (often impressively fluent) English. The Japanese is subtitled.

On NHK World, domestic NHK documentary series like The Professionals are show with the on-screen Japanese subtitled and the off-screen narration redone in English, which works fine. Infotainment shows like The Mark of Beauty and Lunch On are dubbed in their entirety.

While the documentary segments of The Mark of Beauty work okay dubbed, when a charismatic actor like Masao Kusakari hosts a program, even if he's only on screen for about five minutes total, I want to hear Masao Kusakari, not a dub.


Especially with shows like Lunch On and Somewhere Street, though never shown on screen, the narrator is a participating character in the show, which requires decent acting skills and a well-translated script. Otherwise the dub can sounded forced and overacted or too cute.

It's a lot easier to overlook hits and misses in subtitles than in dubs. And subtitles don't color the quality of the original voice acting.

As you might imagine, I'm not a fan of dubbing. The same goes for languages I don't understand. I mean, one of the great things about watching Inspector Montalbano is just listening to Luca Zingaretti take on the role of the great Sicilian cop. It'd be a crime to dub him!

Unless, like Jackie Chan, he dubbed himself. Though I will admit that Disney and GKids often do a very good job. Having the heft in Hollywood to recruit quality actors and quality writers really makes a difference.

In any case, Japanese beginners will be more comfortable with NHK World. But if you are serious about learning Japanese, a good first step is getting out of your comfort zone with TV Japan or dLibrary Japan. And NHK Radio. Along with, of course, a whole lot of subtitled anime.

Related sites

dLibrary Japan
NHK Radio
NHK World
TV Japan

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