Thanks to the affordable price of online streaming video services these days, great international content has never been more accessible. Here are some highly recommended Japanese series you can watch on the popular international streaming service, Netflix.
1. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
This is the tidying show by well-known Japanese tidying consultant, Marie Kondo, also known as KonMari. Published in 2010, KonMari’s bestselling book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" has sold over one million copies, and translations have even been published in more than 40 countries around the world. I actually bought the book and read it right after it came out, but never imagined it would be turned into an international series.
In this series, KonMari and her interpreter visit the homes of people who have trouble tidying and instruct them in the KonMari Method of keeping only items which “spark joy” in the home, as well as specific methods of tidying such as her sock folding technique, drawer organization, and storage tricks. Through tidying, underlying issues such as the household’s storage problems and family’s troubles are brought to the surface and resolved. The various household situations and patterns of human relationships are fascinating and the homes in their tidied and cleaned state are invigorating. It’s set in the US, so it shows living situations different from those in Japan, which was refreshing for me to see as a Japanese person.
2. Hibana: Spark
This drama is an adaptation of the Akutagawa Prize-winning novel "Hibana," written by Japanese comedian Naoki Matayoshi. Set in the comedy world, the series is a spot-on human drama that depicts the lives of a pair of manzaishi (manzai refers to a type of stand-up normally performed by a pair who make the audience laugh through witty comical dialogue. A person who performs manzai is called a manzaishi). The main character, Tokunaga, an entertainer in the manzai duo “Sparks,” is drawn to the charisma of Kamiya, part of the manzai duo “Ahondara” who he met while working. The two form a mentor-apprentice relationship. The highlights of this series are the changes that the two experience as they aim for success and the various stories that occur surrounding them.
Some other high points of the series are the detailed portrayal of the comedy world by an actual performer and the footage that captures the feeling of genuine Japanese settings such as the Atami Fireworks Festival in episode one, as well as the Koenji and Kichijoji neighborhoods.
3. Samurai Gourmet
This is a live-action drama adaptation of a manga by Shigeru Tsuchiyama called "Samurai Gourmet," which is based on a gourmet essay by Masayuki Kusumi, who happens to be the author of the popular Japanese manga, "Kodoku no Gourmet (Solitary Gourmet)."
Samurai Gourmet is a story in which the protagonist Kasumi, who is a retired businessman, casually visits restaurants and borrows the power of an imaginary nobushi (a word which refers to a member of an armed group that did not serve any particular master during the Sengoku Period (1467 - 1615) but here, it is used to symbolize the protagonist's freedom) to eat what he likes how he likes without letting fixed ideas get in the way. I was quite surprised the first time the wandering samurai appeared while watching for the series.
There’s a lot to enjoy about this series: the protagonist’s thoughtful spirit as he has a meal; the depiction of delicious dishes such as a dried fish set meal, oden (fish cake soup), and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers); and the atmosphere of the Japanese streets and restaurants.
4. Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
This is a live adaptation of Yaro Abe's manga, "Midnight Diner." The series is set in a diner in a back alley of Shinjuku, Tokyo, and each episode portrays a complete story about the interactions of the "Master”(a common way to refer to the owner-chef of a small bar or restaurant) and his customers. The diner called "Meshiya" is open from 12:00 am to 7:00 am and the menu consists only of alcohol and pork soup. Beyond that, the customers can also order whatever they want as long as the Master has the ingredients to make it.
The episodes flow from something that happens to a customer through to the final resolution with the diner as the setting. It’s a very human drama that follows just a few customers, covering all sorts of themes such as gender, age, and even a cooking episode. Each episode is interesting to watch, but my favorite is one titled "New Year's Eve Noodles, Again" where all the regular customers gather together to eat New Year’s Eve soba (buckwheat) noodles and New Year’s ozoni (a soup containing rice cakes and vegetables, made especially for the New Year). The best part is the warm end of year mood and that we get to see a little of the Master's own drama.
5. Terrace House: Tokyo 2019 - 2020
This is the latest season of the reality show "Terrace House," which has been airing in Japan since 2012 and has now become an international sensation. Set in a stylish house in Tokyo, this is an unscripted drama that unfolds between six men and women. Various incidents and dramatic moments occur due to the formation of romances, the building of friendships, and the changing of house members (when members “graduate” at a self-appointed time).
A popular part of Terrace House is when the show cuts to a studio audience of Japanese celebrities who make interesting comments and give their opinions about the show. I love hearing their input during each episode, such as their concerns about what’s going to happen between two members or their quips about the somewhat questionable behavior of a Terrace House member.
Aside from the rapidly developing story that you won't be able to look away from, the series also captures the gorgeous everyday scenery of Tokyo during the dates and shopping scenes, so you should definitely check it out.
So, what do you think of these suggestions? Next time you're looking for a show to watch on Netflix, check out one of these great Japanese series!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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