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Japan on air: The best podcasts about the Land of the Rising Sun

Keep up with news, delve into a personal interest or learn something new

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

Whether you’ve been on the podcast bandwagon from the start, or have only recently begun to listen, new shows pop up constantly. They’re a great way to keep up-to-date with the news, get a new perspective on a personal interest or simply learn something interesting. There’s a podcast for every topic under the sun and that, of course, includes Japan. Here’s a selection of Japan-related shows, covering everything from the day’s headlines to language and culture, to get you started.

News

Deep Dive from The Japan Times

OK, yes, we’re tooting our own horn. Hosted by editor Oscar Boyd, “Deep Dive from The Japan Times” is a long-form podcast that digs deeper into the stories behind the headlines and into Japan’s wider cultural trends. Boyd’s guest list includes the paper’s reporters, editors and other industry experts who bring the news to life while shedding light on the craft of journalism. Standout episodes include No. 20, “Fear and Loathing on Mount Fuji,” and No. 53, “Why Japan Needs Black Lives Matter.”

Japan on the Record

Started last year, “Japan on the Record” gives Japan scholars and academics a platform to reflect on contemporary news issues. Produced and hosted by Yale University’s Tristan R. Grunow, from the university’s Council of East Asian Studies, it’s refreshing to see academics get a more prominent platform to connect their research to the headlines. Check out the recent episode, “Blackface, Whitewashing, and Anti-Black Racism in Japan,” featuring Dr. John G. Russell of Gifu University, for a new angle on Black Lives Matter.

Disrupting Japan

Disrupting Japan” is one of the more well-known Japan-related podcasts. Self-declared “serial startup founder” and Head of Google for Startups Japan Tim Romero speaks with CEOs about the country’s startup scene. Romero is a knowledgeable and engaging host, making business content appealing even to the layman. New uploads have been less frequent due to COVID-19, but the content is as polished as ever. If the “What Makes People Pay for New Online Events” episode is any indication, the pandemic will be the catalyst for many interesting conversations to come.

Culture

Japan Eats!

Nonprofit Heritage Radio Network has been producing top-notch food radio for over a decade, and “Japan Eats!,” part of its regular programming, is no exception. Host Akiko Katayama expertly demystifies Japanese cuisine, and she brings a diverse cast of chefs, producers and Japanese food experts on the show to break down the ethos behind its dishes. You’ll come away from each episode both knowledgeable and hungry for more.

Uncanny Japan

Japan has a substantial canon of ghosts, ghouls and other things that go bump in the night that terrify, yet fascinate. Good thing American expat and author Thersa Matsuura uses her bilingual abilities to bring them all to life, complete with stunning background music, in “Uncanny Japan.” Want to know how to curse your enemies? Why tsukumogami (100-year-old objects that gain a soul) play tricks? Or how about the urban legend of the slit-mouthed woman? Matsuura has you covered. And her voice is so soothing, you’ll almost forget the shivers running down your spine.

History of Japan

Japanese history is an understandably fascinating topic, and “History of Japan” tells stories you know — and many more you don’t — in an easy-to-understand, engaging style. Host Isaac Meyer, a former doctoral student specializing in modern Japan at the University of Washington, doesn’t overproduce the episodes. In fact, there’s no music or other sound effects whatsoever, which only makes it easier to focus on the narrative.

Lifestyle

Tokyo Speaks

Originally known as “Raw Urban Mobile Podcast,” this self-described “inclusive” podcast was rebranded in January as “Tokyo Speaks.” Each episode, host and producer Terrence Holden (aka Cliff) brings on guest speakers from Tokyo’s international community to talk about their work and the realities of life in Japan. Recently, Cliff has also included a second guest host to help keep the conversation flowing. New episodes will be a bit irregular due to COVID-19, but there’s a substantial back catalog to work through in the meantime.

Voices in Japan

Hokkaido residents Ben and Burke get together each week to chat and “discover what everyday life in Japan is really like” on “Voices in Japan.” It’s a conversation-style podcast, so it’s much less scripted than most podcasts. Topics run the gamut from work, love, family, school and general life struggles, and although it’s clear Ben and Burke love Japan, they are appropriately critical (when the situation calls for it) without coming off as mere cantankerous expats.

The Tofugu Podcast

It’s no secret that an essential part of life in Japan is, well, Japanese, and we could all probably stand to get a little better. While “The Tofugu Podcast” doesn’t claim to teach you the language, it does dig into the confusing grammar nitty-gritty — what is the difference between na- and no- adjectives, anyway? — and language structures. But it does so in an inviting round-table format, featuring a panel of both native speakers and language learners. The vibe of each episode is of friends obsessing over language, rather than a dry lecture.

There’s also a plethora of niche options. Check out “8-4 Play” for in-depth discussions on Japanese video games; “Sake on Air” for biweekly news about your favorite alcoholic beverages; and if you just want to relax with some music, try “Japan Jukebox.”

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