Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Experience Japanese culture with NHK World and Japanology Plus

Reading about Japanese culture is a great way to learn about Japan's customs and traditions, but sometimes it's nice to be able to kick back and watch something about it on TV. While it hasn't always been easy to find consistent programming on the topic outside of Japan, if you have an internet connection, you're in luck!

NHK World: a Japanophile's favorite channel
Japanese public broadcaster NHK has not only made hours of on-demand content in English available free of charge on their website (not to mention live streaming!), but has also created the NHK World TV channel via a smartphone/tablet app and a Roku channel. If your native language isn't English, you can enjoy browsing their website in your choice of 18 different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish, Russian, Thai, and more.

NHK World offers a multitude of programs about Japan, including hourly news updates, cooking shows, travel programs, science and technology features, nature documentaries, and slice-of-life encounters. Narration is in English; Japanese dialogue is either dubbed or subtitled, depending on the program. I enjoy all of these shows, but as a Japanese culture otaku, one of my favorite programs is Japanology Plus.

Radio personality and Japan resident Peter Barakan introduces various aspects of Japanese culture in NHK World's Japanology Plus

In Japanology Plus, London-born host Peter Barakan draws on his decades-long experience of living in Japan to take viewers on an engaging tour of Japanese culture. Exploring a breadth of topics including running, product packaging, silk, and moving services, Barakan takes what might initially seem like a mundane topic and frames it in the context of his Western perspective while also examining its place in modern Japanese society.

Each episode of Japanology Plus features in-depth information about the topic at hand as Barakan travels to various locales throughout Japan and meets with experts and professionals. The program blends interviews with first-person experiences as Barakan himself tries his hand at an activity related to the episode's theme. Suddenly, grating katsuobushi (commonly misreferred to as "bonito flakes"--it's actually made from skipjack tuna) isn't as effortless as the seasoned chefs make it look in the "Katsuobushi" episode; taking a walk through a uniquely Japanese haunted house shows just how jarring and unsettling it is in the "Haunted Houses" episode (no. 3 on this page); and attempting the Japanese cleansing regimen many women swear by shows just how much patience and care goes into the process in the "Quest for Perfect Skin" episode.

Plus One, Matt Alt's featured portion
Another key element of each episode is Matt Alt's segment, Plus One. An American expat, author, and translator, Alt is never afraid to get his hands dirty--sometimes, quite literally--as he dives in to activities related to the overarching theme of the episode. Memorable experiences include trying a Japanese "beauty witch's" exhaustive skincare routine in the "Quest for Perfect Skin" episode; performing an esoteric song and dance in the "Noh Theater" episode; and putting his olfactory nerves to the test with licensed odor investigators in the "Smells" episode.

As a conclusion to each program, Barakan typically summarizes his thoughts and experiences in the company of the particular episode's subject matter expert. His background as a seasoned freelance broadcaster lends itself well to his thought-provoking narratives and reflections, and masterful video editing allows the episode to flow from Japanese to English dialogue without missing a beat. Japanology Plus is a wonderful, entertaining introduction to what makes Japanese culture so unique and alluring to the rest of the world.

Check out NHK World on Facebook and Twitter, and enjoy learning about Japan and its culture through its entertaining and educational programs!

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