As Covid-19 coronavirus has made travel just about impossible right now, we’ve turned to podcasts to fill the void. One of our favourite ways to discover more about the multilayered, mystical land of Japan – without having to deal with crowded trains and language barriers – is through podcasts. So many local customs and traditions can remain hidden beneath the surface of everyday life in Japan, whether you’re an aspiring tourist or a long-term resident.
Why are spider lily flowers found around graveyards and rice paddies in Japan? Who were Japan’s pioneering feminists? These podcasts dig deep into Japanese food, history and even ghost stories, answering the questions you never even knew you had.
So if you’re wishing for a trip to Japan, or even just wishing you could go outside, let these podcasts take you on a 15- to 60-minute sound journey through Japan.
Recommended: These top Japanese shows on Netflix have English subtitles
Listen and learn
Learn about: Japanese cuisine
Japan Eats is a podcast from the food-focussed Brooklyn-based Heritage Radio Network, hosted by Akiko Katayama, a Japanese native who's a food writer and also the director of the New York Japanese Culinary Academy. It covers everything from types of Japanese cuisine to trends, drinks and more. Recent episodes include ‘A Vegetarian Life in Japan’, ‘The Art of Yakitori’, ‘In Pursuit of Perfect Sushi’ and ‘Unique Kitchen Tools of Japan’. The podcast has over 180 episodes, with new releases weekly.
Learn about: Japanese myths, folktales and superstitions
Uncanny Japan is hosted by Theresa Matsuura, an author and American expat who has lived over half her life in a Japanese fishing village. She covers parts of Japanese culture that are often inaccessible or invisible to non-Japanese speakers, but that give an insight into local customs and perspectives – legends, folktales and superstitions. Some of our favourite episodes are: ‘Haunted Artifacts (Tsukumogami)’, ‘The Ghost of Oiwa’, ‘Japanese Superstitions II: Spider Lilies and Ghostly Trees’. There are plenty more spooky, whimsical and uncanny tales, too.
Learn about: Japan then and now
Isaac Meyer, a teacher and former PhD student specialising in modern Japan, leaves no stone unturned in this history podcast spanning ancient and modern Japan. Poets, political scandals, economic boom and bust, famous women, samurai, homosexuality, environmental crime, abductions, war, geisha and more all get an in-depth look through each roughly half-hour-long episode. The informal yet informative style makes for fascinating listening, with more than 300 episodes to keep you busy.
Learn about: Daily life in Japan
Expats Ben and Burke, who live and work in Hokkaido, share their experiences of life in Japan, from working and studying Japanese to learning local customs, watching Japanese sport and more. Weekly episodes include topics like the Japanese healthcare system, Japan’s love of old technology, sumo wrestling, and the potential benefits of a Japanese diet. Whether you’re living in Japan and want to know if someone shares your expat experiences, or you’re just curious about daily life in the Land of the Rising Sun, give this podcast a listen.
Learn about: the world of sake
Japan’s leading sake and shochu experts host this podcast on everything related to these quintessential Japanese tipples. With multiple hosts on each episode, the laid-back discussion makes you feel like you’ve joined them at the dinner table. Each episode focuses on a different topic, such as trends in brewing, stories from sake brewers, types of rice, and how to discern the aromas of sake when drinking it. Episodes are a jam-packed, intoxicatingly hour(ish)-long listen, which are best accompanied by a glass of your favourite sake.
Do more indoors
In Japan, there's now a word for that: on-nomi, which literally translates to ‘online drinking’.
No Nihongo? No problem. Learning Japanese has never been easier thanks to a vast array of online resources including websites, videos, podcasts and even apps to help you speak and understand the language.
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