Ainori Love Wagon: Asian Journey
It’s the OG of Japanese reality TV, having debuted way back in 1999. The concept is part dating show, part travelogue, with young hopefuls looking to fall in love while hopping on and off a pink wagon that travels around the world. Watch as they get to know one another, embracing new cultures and experiences along the way. The first season, which spanned four years and 37 countries, saw the pink bus begin its around-the-world trip in Japan before ending in Canada. Find the latest edition of Ainori as contestants make their way around Asia, on Netflix.
Japanese Style Originator
You’ll be learning more than just the right way to hold chopsticks with this eye-opening, informative variety program that travels across Japan in search of the origins of Japanese culture — from tempura dining etiquette (not all plates are created equal!) to traditional shrine craftsmanship. In each in-depth episode, follow a panel of actors and comedians who take turns guessing why things are made the way they are. Our favorite episode has to be Episode 30, which gives a rare insight into what goes on behind the scenes of Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market. Find it on Netflix.
An Outside-in Perspective
James May: Our Man in Japan
See Japan through the eyes of the wry and witty James May from Top Gear, as he explores the country from northernmost Hokkaido down to southern Shikoku island. In between, he visits a cat café in Tokyo, joins a biker gang in Kyoto and tries to win over a comedy audience in Osaka. Catch this delightful firsthand account of Japan on Amazon Prime Video.
Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!
The Fab 5 are back but this time, find them on the streets of Tokyo as they continue their quest to transform the lives of everyday people with food, fashion and design. Get ready to laugh (and cry) in this special Netflix spin-off of the wildly popular, Emmy-winning American series.
Food, Glorious Food!
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
At the stroke of midnight, a nondescript izakaya in a quiet alley in Shinjuku opens for business, welcoming all those weary from a long day’s work. That’s the setting of this understated series that perfectly balances the lives of the stall’s quirky patrons — who make custom culinary requests as there’s no set menu — with mouthwatering montages of recipes dutifully whipped up by the shop’s owner, known only as “the Master”. Find it on Netflix.
Gorgeous scenes of Kyoto in summer? Check. Bright-hued kimono in contemporary designs? Check. Dreamy shots of (literal) eye candy? Check. This slow-paced TV show somehow manages to pack not one, but three romantic storylines into 12 episodes — follow three sisters whose family run a 450-year-old wagashi (traditional sweets) shop, as they try to balance modern love and responsibility in a city steeped in tradition. You’ll be inspired to witness the dignified beauty of Kyoto yourself, just 15 minutes by bullet train from Osaka. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.
Dramas with an Edge
This powerful, women-led Netflix series about a group of ambitious creatives making a living in modern-day Tokyo is the buzzy capital city in a nutshell — bright and shiny, fast and furious. Veteran fashion photographer Limi and budding actress Natsume (played by Filipino-Japanese star Elaiza Ikeda) strive to build and maintain their careers in a social media-obsessed society, while struggling to remain true to themselves.
Originally from Akita prefecture, Aya moves to Tokyo to begin her new adult life in the big city, in this uplifting comedy series on Amazon Prime Video. The show tracks her life from ages 23 to 40, as she discovers what it means to be an independent career woman and makes unforgettable connections. Eagle-eyed viewers will pick up that each episode is set in and named after a different district in the city.
Bonus: Underrated Ghibli films
From Up on Poppy Hill
Teenager Umi (“sea” in Japanese), lives in the coastal city of Yokohama (just 40 minutes by train from Tokyo). When plans to demolish a run-down yet beloved school building are set in motion, she joins hands with schoolmates to save the institution, unwittingly uncovering a family secret in the process. Find this gentle coming-of-age film on Netflix.
Set in a farming village in Yamagata, 300km north of the capital city, this 1991 sleeper hit was one of Studio Ghibli’s first “realistic” films. Tokyoite Taeko escapes her hectic city life for the summer, traveling to a relative’s rural hometown to help out with the local harvest season. Childhood memories, puppy love and a wistful tinge of adolescent regret — it’s everything that’ll make you fall in love with the simple life. Watch it on Netflix.