Top 8 Japanese TV shows to watch on Netflix

As I’ve covered in a previous post, Netflix can be a really great place for Japanese listening practice, with new shows and films being added all the time. Unfortunately, sorting through the Netflix site to find Japanese shows can be a bit tricky. Here’s my list of some of the best shows to watch in terms of Japanese study, in no particular order:

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僕だけがいない街 Erased (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 12

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Satoru Fujinuma is a worker at a pizza shop who is also pursuing a career as a manga artist. Satoru also happens to have the strange ability to go back in time, known as ‘revival’. After finding his mother dead in their apartment, he ends up travelling 18 years in the past, just before the time of an attempted kidnap case which involved some of his classmates. Can he use this ability to change the past for the better, saving his mother and his classmates in the process?

This adaptation of a manga immediately draws you in and there are plenty of suspenseful moments to keep you hooked. Together with some cool special effects and strong acting performances particularly from the child actors, there is plenty to enjoy here. Having lived in Hokkaido, part of me loves this drama for partially being set there and portraying a part of Japan that isn’t often shown on screen.

Language difficulty: This is probably the easiest drama to understand on this list. The sentences tend to be short and mostly everyday language. The main characters are from Hokkaido, and some of the dialogue reflects this: examples include the ~べ(さ) ending, and the use of 「なした?」instead of 「どうした?」but aside from this is not too difficult to follow.

 

ファイナルファンタジーXIV: 光のお父さん/ Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light

No. of Episodes: 8

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Just seeing the title of this drama on Netflix may not instantly appeal to some, but I wouldn’t let the strong gaming theme put you off.

The main character Akio Inaba has always struggled to communicate with his father, who has always put his career first. When his father suddenly resigns from his job, Akio takes the opportunity to buy his dad a Playstation 4 and a copy of the online game Final Fantasy 14. Akio hopes that he can use his character in the game called ‘Maidy’ to not only help his father with the game, but also to get to know his father better.

Even though Akio and his father are hardly in the same scene together (as most of their interactions are via the game), you really get the sense that they do care about each other despite never properly putting it into words.

There are strong performances between the main characters, particularly Osugi Ren as Mr Inaba. Whilst a bit dysfunctional, their familial relationship comes across as very realistic and natural. As a result, the use of Final Fantasy 14 as a key part of the story doesn’t feel too forced and means you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy this drama. The supporting characters are also entertaining and help to lighten the mood of the drama.

Language difficulty: Most of the language used is every day with the exception of some gaming/ fantasy terms. Some of the scenes in the drama take place in an office, so there is also an opportunity to hear polite language which contrasts with the more casual language used in the game. Having Japanese subtitles helps to make the drama more accessible to Japanese learners which is always a plus!

 

南くんの恋人 My Little Lover (Drama, 2015 version)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Note: This drama is also available to watch on Viki for free!

This drama is based on a manga by Shungicu Uchida.Chiyomi Horikiri is a high school student living in a small town in rural Japan. After going out in a storm one night, Chiyomi ends up being shrunk to only a few inches tall. She is discovered by her neighbour and childhood friend, Shunichi Minami, who has been unusually distant with her recently. Can she get their friendship back on track, and find a way to grow back to her normal size before her family and friends find out?

I wasn’t expecting to like this drama, but I was pleasantly surprised by how the relationship between the two main characters develops. The premise of the show is linked to the story of 一寸法師 (Issunboushi, the inch high samurai), a traditional Japanese children’s story. Part fantasy, part school drama, the show manages to have a strange sense of realism despite its unusual premise. Whilst the performances by the two leads is strong, I really like the cast of supporting characters. In my opinion, they really help to balance the dramatic parts of the show with well-timed humour.

Language difficulty: Being a drama with mostly young people, this is another good drama to hear how young people talk to each other. Despite the rural setting, there aren’t any unusual dialects to deal with here. The drama mostly uses everyday language, so this is very accessible for students of Japanese.

 

深夜食堂 Midnight Diner (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This is another show adapted from the best selling manga. The main character, the runs a small diner in the back streets of Tokyo. This place is unusual in that it only operates between midnight and 7am, hence the title. Each episode is named after a dish available at the diner, and focuses on different patrons to the diner and their stories, with a special focus on the relationships around them. There can be a lot of drama but the stories always end on a positive note, with tips on how to make the recipe from the title of the episode.

There is a really interesting mix of stories and characters in this series. Some examples include a man who is suddenly left to his son, a university professor who falls in love with a Korean woman, a girl who always knits a jumper for the person she has a crush on, and many more. The proprietor is mostly quiet but always lends a sympathetic ear and often offers quiet encouragement.You get the feeling that the diner provides a much-needed respite from the pressures of their lives in Tokyo.

Language difficulty: You will hear everyday language in the drama, which is made a bit easier by the availability of Japanese subtitles. Due to the nature of the show there is a variety of characters from different walks of life and so speak in various ways, so it is a useful series to watch for that reason.

 

名探偵コナン Case Closed (Anime)

No. of Episodes: 52 (episodes 748-799)

Subtitles: English available

Note: These episodes are available to watch on Crunchyroll for free!

Shinichi Kudo is a high school student who often works with the police to solve cases. After ingesting a poison which transforms him into a child, he begins working under the name Conan Edogawa and moves to live with his childhood friend, Ran Mouri. Ran’s father is a detective and so Conan often accompanies him on investigations, sometimes using tranquilizers and a voice changer to solve the case in Mr. Mouri’s place. The Netflix selection of episodes come from much later in the anime adaptation of the long-running manga.

Although each episode follows a similar format, there is quite a variety in the types of cases. Conan will sometimes be with Ran, or his school friends when he gets caught up in a mystery – the supporting cast help to balance Conan’s serious attitude in getting the cases solved. Some cases are resolved within one episode, although there are some which take two or three episodes, which helps keep the format fresh. There are often a few red herrings during the course of the case, but it all wraps up nicely by the end and is explained well.

Language difficulty: Despite being a mystery drama, the majority of the vocabulary is common everyday language. The background of each case is always explained in some detail, but in an easy to understand way.

 

和風総本化 Japanese Style Originator (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 54

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This TV show is all about Japanese culture, with a special emphasis on the cultures and traditions unique to Japan. Each episode is based on a certain theme, with a series of videos focusing on topics related to that theme. There is a panel of guests who watch and comment on the videos (if you’ve seen a Japanese panel-style show then you’ll know the drill here). Every so often there will be questions on the topics covered which the guests will have a go at answering.

Whether it be new vocabulary or the history behind things you see in Japan every day, you are bound to learn something new from every episode. With 54 episodes which are usually at least an hour long, there is plenty to keep you watching. This is highly recommended for Japanese learners!

Language difficulty: Due to the nature of the show, there is a fair bit of uncommon vocabulary relating to Japanese culture but are explained by the narrator in a way that is easy to understand. In typical style for a Japanese TV show, there is often text on screen which will help you follow what is going on if you are only using Japanese subtitles/ no subtitles at all. The discussions between the guests on the show is fairly straightforward to follow too.

 

テラスハウス Terrace House (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 46

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

NB: There are actually two seasons of this on Netflix: ‘Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City’ and ‘Terrace House: Aloha State’, which is set in Hawaii.

Terrace House is a reality TV shows where a group of young strangers live together in a share house in Tokyo. The show observes their interactions and how relationships develop when put in such a situation. Each character has a different background and over the course of the show, we get to see where they work and play outside of the share house, which gives a better insight into their personality.

Clips from developments within the shared house are watched by a group of guests (a mixture of presenters and comedians). They share their opinions on the clips at various points through each episode, which normally sparks a lively discussion.

This is definitely a guilty pleasure for me: as with any reality TV show, the longer you watch the more you become invested in what happens to them. I find it fascinating to observe how the dynamics change when new people join the show. I also find it interesting to see how the guests who comment on the show differ in their opinions on the developments in each episode.

Language difficulty: If you are looking for a show where young people speak Japanese as you would hear it on an everyday basis, this is the show for you. Everyone speaks in a casual way and mostly use everyday language. The availability of Japanese subtitles makes a bit easier to adjust to the casual language if you have trouble catching what is said.

 

おくりびと Departures (Film)

Film length: 125 mins

Subtitles: English available

The main character, Daigo finds himself having to move back to his hometown in Yamagata Prefecture when he loses his job as a cellist in Tokyo. He finds a highly paid role, which happens to be preparing the deceased for funerals. He keeps this new job a secret from those around him, including his wife Mika, due to the stigma surrounding his new line of work. Whilst he struggles at first, he soon finds himself getting used to the intricate processes of the 納棺 (のうかん/ encoffining ritual).

We very much learn about the 納棺 process as Daigo does, having taken the job without knowing anything about it. You can tell that there was a lot of effort spent on portraying this ritual in a respectful way and it does not surprise me that the film led to a revival of this increasingly rare ritual. One thing I didn’t expect before watching おくりびと is that despite the theme of the film, there are some funny moments too. I think the main actor does a great job of conveying the mix of emotions he experiences having moved back to his hometown.

Language difficulty: With the exception of some funeral related terms and the Yamagata dialect, it is mostly everyday language used in the film. The funeral related terms are explained as these terms are mostly new to the main character.

 

This ended up being a much longer post than I was expecting, but I hope you find something interesting to watch if you are a Japanese learner with a Netflix subscription. Are there any shows that you would include on your own list? Please let me know in the comments!

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Manga Recommendation: 夢色パティシエール/ Yumeiro Patissiere

Author: Natsumi Matsumoto

Genre: Shojo

No. of volumes: 12

Recommended for: JLPT N4

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime (50 episodes)

 

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I have briefly covered this manga before in my What I’m Reading post from October but thought it deserved its own recommendation!

The protagonist Ichigo Amano is a 14-year-old who, on merit of her extraordinary sense of taste, is admitted to the prestigious Saint Marie Academy. Unfortunately, she has no experience of actually cooking the delicacies she enjoys so much, unlike her highly gifted classmates. The manga follows Ichigo on her journey to becoming a pastry chef, making friends and learning a lot of important lessons along the way.

As you might expect from the shoujo genre, this manga is strong on the themes of never giving up, following your dreams and the power of friendships. This makes for a wholesome and enjoyable read, with a nice moral behind it. I recommend reading it when you are having a bit of a tough time with something and need some motivation.

In terms of language, I would put this at around JLPT N4 level. Aside from some French culinary terms, this manga is full of everyday vocabulary and expressions. I have not found Yumeiro Patissiere to be too heavy on slang or casual language in general. Together with the fact that furigana is provided, this shouldn’t be too difficult for upper beginners to try reading.

There is also an anime adaptation which can be found on Crunchyroll or YouTube – if you can follow the Japanese used in this, you will have no problem with the manga it is based on.

As always, you can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website.

If you like this manga, you may want to check out my other food-related manga recommendations:

Happy Reading! 読書を楽しんでね!

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on in the comments.

 

Image: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24925343

Do I need a textbook to study Japanese?

Do I need a textbook to study JP(3)

This is a question that comes up quite a lot. Most people are told that in order to study Japanese they should make their way through Genki textbooks 1 and 2, and then focus on immersion and vocabulary building. There is of course nothing wrong with this method (it is tried and tested after all).

Unfortunately, Genki books are not cheap at around £40 for the textbook (not to mention the costs of the workbooks) and so are not an option for people studying on their own with little money to spare. On the other hand, the internet is a rich source of Japanese learning resources, so I thought I would introduce some websites to help those looking to study Japanese without the use of a textbook. When I think back to the Japanese language classes I have attended, textbooks were never used so I definitely think it is possible to self-study without using a textbook.

Having said that, I believe textbooks are useful because they provide a methodical framework in which to work your way through learning the basics of a language. Online resources do not always provide this same framework to follow (fortunately most of the ones I mention do), in which case I recommend looking at grammar lists for JLPT N5 to give yourself an idea of which aspects of the language to focus on learning first, even if your intention is not to take the JLPT. If you are new to Japanese your focus should be on essential words and phrases, sentence structure and how particles work.

Here is a list of various resources that I think could either be worked through like a regular textbook, or could be used as supplementary material to a textbook or class that you may already be making use of:

 

Websites

Tae Kim – Probably the most well known on the list, Tae Kim’s website offers a comprehensive which tries to take a different approach to a lot of textbooks. It is being updated all the time

Imabi – This is a great place to start if Tae Kim isn’t for you. This online grammar guide starts from the beginning of learning Japanese right up to advanced level and each level is split into a number of lessons, enabling you to work your way through the website just like a textbook. Best of all this is entirely free – needless to say, this is a must visit resource!

Erin’s Challenge – if you’re a visual learner you may find supplementing your study with this website useful. Erin’s challenge is a website put together by the Japan Foundation with a series of videos featuring Erin, who becomes a school exchange student in Japan. Each short video covers a different topic as she gets used to her new life in Japan, which also comes with explanations of key grammar points and phrases used which you can then test yourself on.

Marugoto – The Japan Foundation website has a number of free online courses aimed at those self-studying Japanese called Marugoto. If you aim is to build practical communication skills in Japanese then I recommend the ‘Katsudoo’ course, but if you want to study Japanese in more depth then choose the ‘Katsudoo & Rikai’ course.

 

Apps

Human Japanese – Whilst not free in its entirety, the ‘lite’ version of this app is free and gives a pretty good indication of the app’s approach to learning Japanese. I’ve written a separate post on this app as I think it is worth the cost of entry for complete beginners to Japanese.

Lingodeer – this (free!) app is more like Duolingo than Human Japanese in that you follow a series of lessons covering different aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Having said that, it covers topics in a way that makes it very accessible for Japanese learners – you can then follow up the lessons with some of the sites below to reinforce your understanding of the content. It also does a pretty good job of testing you on the content of the lessons in different ways, which is really important when self-studying.

 

Grammar Reference sites

It’s always good to have somewhere else to check out grammar explanations if they are not making sense straight away. Here’s a list of places you might find useful:

Jgram – I think of Jgram as a database of Japanese grammar points which the community contributes to. You can search for grammar points by the (old) JLPT levels or use the search function to look up something specific. Each entry has notes and example sentences which is helpful for getting a new perspective on a grammar point.

Maggie Sensei – Everything on the website is presented in a really fun and easy to digest way. As well as explanations of grammar points, you will also find posts on aspects of Japanese culture. I also like that vocabulary is listed by theme rather than difficulty.

Wasabi – Wasabi’s online grammar reference is similar to Tae Kim in layout and style. I think Wasabi’s guide is particularly good for learning to distinguish between grammar points which have similar English meanings.

Japanistry – The Japanistry grammar guide works quite similarly to the Tae Kim guide but is a great reference site for the foundations of Japanese grammar.

日本語の森 (Nihongo no Mori) – This YouTube channel has lots of videos on grammar points aimed at all levels of Japanese learners. The playlist that I’ve linked to called ‘Ekubo Basic Japanese Lessons’ starts from the very beginning, but there are a number of playlists focused on different levels of the JLPT.

 

Worksheets and Quizzes

MLC Japanese – full of handy printable worksheets and quizzes. There is a lot of content for JLPT N5 & N4 in particular, but you can find study plans and JLPT material for the upper levels (old levels level 2 and level 1).

Memrise – has a number of electronic flashcard decks, including decks on the main textbooks including Genki, Tae Kim’s guide and at the JLPT

 

These are all the sites I am currently aware of, but I will add to this list as and when I come across other new resources!

Podcast Recommendation: Bilingual NY Learn Japanese

The Bilingual NY Learn Japanese podcast (not to be confused with the Bilingual News Podcast!) is a regular podcast covering the latest news articles in Japanese. Inspired by the Bilingual News Podcast, the articles covered are given in Japanese, followed up with an explanation in English.

I believe the format has changed somewhat recently, but I am basing this review on the most recent format as described below which I think works well.

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The articles covered are usually from NHK News Web Easy, so if you make use of this website already, then this podcast is a nice companion resource. Each episode focuses on one article in depth. The article is first read out in full in Japanese, then English definitions are given before a line by line English translation by Ben, the presenter.

This is then followed up by a more difficult version of the same story, normally an article taken from one of the main newspapers. I think this is a great idea for showing the difference in style between the kinds of articles you find on NHK Easy as opposed to actual Japanese newspapers, as there is often a difference in formality which affects the vocabulary and grammar you come across.

At about 10-15 minutes each, the episode length is not as long as the other Bilingual News Podcast. However, given the structure of each podcast episode, I think this works quite well to study from in short bursts.

At the end of the podcast, there is a segment on English to Japanese translation practice. I didn’t really like this part as the sentences and vocabulary unrelated to the article itself. It was also pronounced by the presenter who is a non-native speaker, which some people may not like. This is a minor negative as it is only a couple of minutes long and of course, easily skippable.

Overall I do like this podcast for when I have less time to listen to the Bilingual News Podcast. There is a certain level of assumed knowledge in terms of vocabulary and grammar, so I would recommend this for upper beginner to intermediate learners. If the Bilingual News Podcast is a bit beyond your current level, I recommend giving this podcast a try instead.

You can find the episodes on Soundcloud, iTunes or on a podcasting app of your choice.

Looking for another Japanese podcast in simpler Japanese? I have also covered the wonderful News in Easy Japanese podcast which you may also be interested in 🙂

Have you tried out this podcast? Do you like it? Let me know in the comments!

Manga Recommendation: しばたベーカリー Shibata Bakery

Author: Rin Ukai

Genre: Slice of Life

No. of volumes: 5

Recommended for: JLPT N3

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This manga is about a father and son who have recently started up their own bakery shop. There’s one small difference, both father and son are Shiba Inu dogs!

32-year-old Taro Shibata quit the salaryman life to pursue his childhood dream of running his own bakery. His son Kotaro is just 4 years old but helps out a lot at the bakery. As with all new businesses, getting the word out about the business is not easy and the manga focuses on the pair doing their best to make the bakery a success. Taro soon finds himself taking on a bigger role in his local area as he has an uncanny resemblance to a 神 ‘kami’ calledしめなわ五郎 who is meant to bring prosperity.

This is a slice of life manga with a lot of the humour coming from the characters who visit the bakery, as well as the fact that the shop is run by a dog. It also has its heartwarming moments, particularly between Taro and Kotaro. Taro’s wife does also appear in the manga, but the circumstances in which she left are not immediately clear.

In terms of language, I would recommend this to JLPT N3 learners (people close to N3 might find it difficult although not impossible to read). I think that whilst most of the vocabulary is everyday language, the manga is more suited to those who have a solid foundation in grammar and are familiar with a bit of casual language.

There is also furigana provided for some words (eg. 偉い・えらい) but not for others (eg. 謙虚・けんきょ) which adds a bit of extra difficulty. I suggest trying the manga out through the link below to see how easy you find it.

Each chapter is pretty short which makes it a fun, light manga to read – this is highly recommended. The only downside is wanting to eat copious amounts of bread while reading this!

You can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website – at the time of writing, the whole of Volume 1 is available to read for free!

 

Image source: http://kc.kodansha.co.jp/product?isbn=9784063872507

Japanese Author Spotlight: Niimi Nankichi

As evidenced by how much I tend to write about reading resources on this blog, I love to read. Whilst I am getting better at reading in Japanese thanks to Tadoku, reading native materials can sometimes be a long and arduous process. So when I get frustrated with trickier books, I like to switch to easier stories. This is where Niimi Nankichi comes in.

Niimi Nankichi was one of the most prolific children’s writers during the 20th century and is often compared to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote his most famous work ごん狐 (ごんぎつね) when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at just age 29, but during his time as a primary school teacher, he penned a great many stories for his young students.

Fortunately, these stories are not only accessible for Japanese learners but are also available for free on Aozora Bunko. As with a lot of children’s literature, whilst the vocabulary used may be a bit dated or less common (such as names of plants and animals), the grammar used is straightforward. For this reason, I recommend reading these armed with a dictionary or a lookup tool like Rikaichan to make the whole process a bit quicker!

There are rather a lot of Nankichi’s stories at Aozora Bunko so I thought I would highlight a few stories here:

ごん狐/ ごんぎつね

Nankichi’s most popular story had to be on this list. This story is all about a mischevious little fox called Gon. Whilst it may not have the ending you would expect from a children’s story, it does have a very important message (much like the rest of Nankichi’s works). It is not the quickest read for Japanese beginners but is split into chapters which allow for a natural break between reading sessions.

There are also a number of videos on Youtube for the reading of this story, but the one below is my favourite (not too fast or slow and no distracting background music!)

狐のつかい /きつねのつかい

This is a much shorter story than ごん狐 which also happens to have a wolf as the main character. A wolf is entrusted with an important errand, but things do not quite go to plan. I’d say this is a fairly straightforward story – I would recommend it to JLPT N4 learners, but N5 learners may be able to give this a go if you’ve covered nearly all of the grammar.

ひとつの火/ ひとつのひ

In this story, the narrator discusses the impact of a simple favour he carries out for a cattle farmer. Like きつねのつかい, the language used in terms of grammar and vocab isn’t too difficult aside from a couple of phrases (eg. ~てゆく= ていく, ~てくれ = instead of ~てくれる).

二ひきの蛙/ にひきのかえる

This story is about 2 frogs who start off on the wrong foot – can they learn to settle their differences? This story is short and has a cute ending. In terms of grammar, I’d say this is more difficult than the above two stories. This is due to the dialogue between the two frogs being more casual in nature (eg. sentence ending ~だぞ; わすれるな as a more manly way of saying ‘don’t forget’ instead of わすれないで(ください)). Fortunately, the vocabulary used is straightforward – so overall, it is still accessible for N4 learners.

Have you read Nankichi’s stories before? Which stories would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

3 More Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

They say you can learn anything from YouTube, and Japanese is no different. I have done a post on this previously, but since then I’ve found three more channels you might find useful on your language level journey.

Good for beginners: Bond Japanese

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Bond Japanese is a very good resource for newbies to Japanese, I certainly wish it had been around when I was a beginner. The channel has lots of helpful bite size videos on learning hiragana as well as basic grammar, common phrases and greetings. The language videos are presented by Marina who speaks clearly and does a great job of covering basic grammar points.

I find that at times, the spoken conversations can be quite a step-up in difficulty from the grammar or vocabulary covered but all dialogues have the Japanese on screen together with the English translations. At the very least this means you get used to natural conversation sooner rather than later.

My favourite videos to watch are the ‘Stroll Around’ series which focuses on different places in the Tokyo area. Through this series, I’ve certainly discovered a few places I’d like to visit next time I am in Japan.

For intermediate learners: Chop

Chop is a bit of a strange one and is a fairly new channel, but I am oddly fascinated by it!

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This channel focuses on super short videos which introduce Japanese, perfect for those looking to build their vocabulary. Each video has a short skit which can be summed up in one Japanese sentence containing the new word at the very end, along with furigana and an English translation. These skits are funny and often a bit strange, but I think this is what helps the vocabulary to stick in your head.

Whilst the type of humour will not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you do find them funny then this could be an entertaining way of getting in a couple of minutes’ study when short on time. Each week there is a ‘Weekly Chop’ which is a compilation of the skits from that week (there tend to be 3-4 videos uploaded per week).

The accompanying website has a full vocabulary list for all of the words that appear in each skit.

For intermediate/advanced learners: Talk in Japan

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Talk in Japan has a large number of videos aimed at Japanese learners from JLPT N5 right through to N1. I would be hesitant to recommend the grammar/ vocabulary videos to those just starting out as all videos are entirely in Japanese with English subtitles which could feel a bit overwhelming.

Having said that, if you are working towards the JLPT (especially for N3 and above) then I can recommend their videos on each aspect of the test which is targeted towards each level. I like the grammar point videos as they are normally less than 5 minutes long, do a pretty good job of explaining usage and are accompanied by example sentences and a short dialogue at the very end. There are also some videos on business Japanese etiquette in addition to Japanese culture and cooking videos which you may find useful as well.

All of these channels are up and coming rather than established channels but I hope you find them useful and can support them as they continue to grow!