When an individual arrives in Japan for the first time there are so many new and probably unknown things to take in and digest. A first trip to the supermarket, using public transport or witnessing your first matsuri (festival) can all be wonderful yet slightly surreal experiences. Everything smells, looks and feels different to what most visitors have experienced before in their own countries or indeed most other countries in the world. One thing that can bring a sense of familiarity and comfort after a day exploring Japan's exciting and unique culture can be watching one's favourite TV shows from back home or your go-to favourite movie which always helps you relax and unwind.
Photo: jun fukushima on Flickr
Now until very recently the only way one could get their drama fix would be a trip down to your local Tsutaya or Geo. These are large, sometimes huge DVD rental shops that also rent or sell CDs, Comics, used electronics, videos, snacks, stationary and other random goods that may or may not have anything to do with home entertainment. However in the last couple of years Japan has followed the lead taken by a large number of countries around the world by introducing a number of western owned media streaming services. These include Hulu, Amazon Prime and last year the market leader Netflix.
Photo: Shardayyy on Flickr
Now this is a big deal for everyone in Japan who likes watching the latest TV series and relatively recent blockbusters. It is a huge deal for those of us from overseas who have made our home in this beautiful country. This now means that we can watch the latest season of The Walking Dead like our friends back home or enjoy recent TV series like Suits, Breaking Bad or House of Cards. These streaming sites also offer huge libraries of movies from every genre including from Japan and other countries other than the U.S.
Photo: Compudemano on Flickr
These streaming sites can be accessed either via a smart TV, a computer connected to your television via means of a HDMI cable or through a digital media streaming device or dongle like the Google Chrome cast. These services are reasonably priced at around 1000 yen for a months subscription. All offer some kind of free trial period and signing up, joining and if dissatisfied, leaving is a very easy and painless experience. All have corresponding apps for your computer, tablet or phone where all this and more specific tweaking can be done.
Photo: Cyberfrancis. on Flickr
I personally joined Hulu about 2 years ago and have been very happy with the convenience, easy of use and choice available. As soon as Netflix was announced I signed up and currently have both, and am more than happy with what's on offer. My dual nationality children have masses of programmes to choose from both Japan and the States / U.K. The movies aren't always the very latest so you will still need to visit a DVD shop if you can't wait the 1 to 2 years until it surfaces on Netflix. I think most will find so much other content to occupy their entertainment needs that they will forget that movie they missed at the cinema until they receive an email one day informing then that it was one of the movies that has recently been added and it will go into their queue to be watched when they eventually get through the mountain of other stuff they have to see first.
Photo: kengo on Flickr
The release of these streaming businesses to the Japanese market is a game changer for those who live here, love the place and may well end up staying here forever. Japanese TV can be very entertaining, even to those who haven't mastered the language. But there are times when one wants to watch something that resonates that little bit more to what they are used to. I'm not sure if anyone has ever left Japan because they didn't like the TV but it's something we do everyday and as such is an important part of our downtime. A dislike of T.V mixed with other reservations one might have could combine to form a unfavourable impression of Japan as a long term option.
Photo: Logan Sakai on Flickr
For those of us here and planning on staying, having access to a large quantity of movies and television shows with the added bonus of being able to binge and watch back to back episodes, the arrival of Netflix and the like is massive. One doesn't need to worry about missing the shows they left behind when they said goodbye to their folks at the airport. Save some money and have a lazy weekend night on the couch with some popcorn and watch your favourite show just like you used to. Don't expect to see me anytime soon down at my local Tsutaya.