2008 Award Winner Japan Podcasters' Exploration Award
Finding Japan started out with a few video episodes recorded during a vacation the host Christopher took in Japan. Within a year Christopher returned with a more traditional audio podcast format and revealed that he was moving from the US to Japan to work and study Japanese. He has continued to make occasional video episodes as well.
Finding Japan has really turned out to be a great podcast because the host has followed through with his plans to document what it is like to be a new arrival in exploration mode in Japan.
Experience and many years of living in Japan are assets for many Japan podcasters, but there is also a small loss of enthusiasm and wonder that naturally occurs when you have been in an alien environment for a very long period of time. Christopher maintains that new arrival enthusiasm in his program, and the feeling that you are "finding" Japan with the host is a very appealing aspect of this podcast.
Christopher does record a lot sitting quietly at home, but he also makes an effort to record out in the world on occasion. Those episodes where you really get a taste of Japan through sound and the host's movement through the environment are especially engaging.
I should mention that Finding Japan sometimes touches on topics that are a bit tedious for me. I purposely avoid most forms of caffeine and alcohol in life, so I am generally disinterested in Finding Japan's drug delivery method reviews. I know many are likely to find those segments much more interesting than I do. If Japanese coffee and alcoholic beverages do interest you, all the more reason to check out Christopher's show. And if you are less interested in those subjects, not to worry, enthusiastic caffeine and alcohol discussions make up only a small percentage of Finding Japan's total content.
Though many people start podcasting with the intention of doing what Christopher is doing, few follow through with it. As of this writing, Finding Japan really stands alone in this category of production.
I very much look forward to hearing more from Christopher and Finding Japan, and if you are excited about visiting or returning to Japan, or planning to move to Japan to live one day, I highly recommend sampling this podcast.
Finding Japan Website
Gaijin in Japan
Mike, the host of Gaijin in Japan, is married to a Japanese woman and living with his family in Kobe. He mostly records in his home, but he has recorded out in the world as well. Mike discusses any and all things Japanese in a casual and friendly conversational style. When he first got started I was hesitant to listen to many episodes because of audio quality issues, but Mike has made significant improvements on the technical end of things. The host has also experimented with video podcasts.
Though some podcasters may be a little cavalier with the subject of fair use copyright law, Mike seems even more unconcerned than most. In the past he has often included professionally produced, surprisingly long audio excerpts (often not related to Japan) from obviously copyrighted material.
Even with a broad interpretation of fair use copyright law, I find questionable material popping up in a podcast to be a little jarring. The host of Gaijin in Japan has made some cryptic references to his lack of concern over artists' rights issues, from which I could not quite decipher his meaning. In the end I would say Gaijin in Japan’s approach to copyright issues doesn't annoy me as much as it confuses me.
Mike comes across as a quick to laugh, not too serious guy, who very much enjoys his beer. If this is the kind of person you enjoy in your life, then this host’s personality may be one you will also enjoy in a podcast. Though he is generally upbeat, the host spends a fair amount of time candidly reflecting on his lack of employment and career prospects. This can sometimes be a bit of a downer, and Mike does seem to enjoy recording himself when he is rambling in a depressed intoxicated state from time to time. However, those facing similar challenges in life might enjoy the opportunity for commiseration this podcast provides.
Gaijin in Japan Website
Guzen Media Japan / English Teaching in Japan
Chaz is a long-term Japanese resident and an English teacher living in Shizuoka. He is one of the longest producing Japan podcasters on this list, and has had as many as 3 and 4 podcast feeds going at one time under the Guzen name.
English Teaching in Japan is one, obviously produced with the intention of being listened to by English teachers in Japan or those interested in teaching English in Japan.
Guzen Radio and Guzen Video were two other programs Chaz produced on separate feeds for a while. Those two programs covered more general Japan topics. Chaz has now combined those two Guzen titled efforts into yet another feed he calls Guzen Media. Chaz has not yet deleted the previous versions of Guzen from iTunes, though it seems that he is now committed to only releasing his new Guzen shows on the combined feed.
I have not listened to all of Chaz’s English Teaching in Japan programs (separate feed), though as I recall from the English Teaching shows I did listen to, some of his content has appeared on both the Guzen episodes and English Teaching episodes in the past.
Chaz's programs have continued on for a long time indeed, with some of his efforts predating the current iPod and MP3 player phenomenon. The recordings have gone under different names with the last incarnation before the Guzen shows being 3 Monkeys Radio.
The Guzen programs are produced erratically (not a negative criticism - podcasting is a hobby for most and irregular episodes are par for the course with many programs).
Admittedly, some might consider the Guzen podcasts to be something of a train wreck because of the seeming lack of format and focus, while others may find them endearing because of the sincerity and conviction of its host, who seems to be a really nice guy. Chaz definitely works hard, seemingly in spurts, to bring a large variety of content to his listeners. To me, Chaz comes across as a fellow gaijin I would be very happy to have lunch and a conversation with one day if our paths ever cross.
Chaz has actively promoted his style of programming as “unplanned,” so I think it is worth pointing that out to potential new listeners. Even the name Guzen means "by chance", and guzen seems to be a very appropriately descriptive word for use in connection to Chaz's podcasting projects.
Things seem to be in flux quite a bit during the life cycle of Chaz’s shows. He enjoys experimenting in a lot of different directions. Taking a break from and then coming back to Guzen can often result in unexpected surprises.
Chaz’s projects may demand a significant investment in time to find the nuggets hidden within, but going on an expedition in search of content is part of the quirky charm of the Guzen programs. If you have some free time on your hands and a pickax handy, jumping in to the Guzen mine can sometimes yield a satisfying return.
Guzen Media Japan Website
Herro Flom Japan
The first episodes I ever heard of Herro Flom Japan were recorded while the host Rich Pav was experiencing a mental depression that he discussed very candidly, and that was apparently causing him to have a serious sleep disorder. It was a rather downbeat experience to say the least. I later discovered that he recovered, and I began listening to more of his programs.
I originally perceived Rich as someone that does not project a high level of energy or enthusiasm even on an up day, but also someone that sometimes offers interesting content in his podcast. Rich also speaks very earnestly and off the cuff.
I think Rich’s show actually has more to offer than many podcasts. I mention Rich’s “low key” personality in some episodes so new listeners will be prepared.
I have really enjoyed many of the lighthearted videos Rich started adding to his podcast. The giant Japanese beetle video episode he made with his kids a while back was especially memorable for me
One early criticism I had of Herro Flom Japan revolved around how Rich didn't always use the opportunity to “reveal his surroundings” as he could when he recorded out in the world, but that is because his show is more of a life journal than a guide to Japan. In fairness to Rich, he probably often recorded outside on the way to work simply because that was a window of time available to him, not because it was his intention to be giving listeners a tour of Japan.
My perception of Herro Flom Japan has really improved with the show's now semi-frequent inclusion of videos. The videos automatically "reveal" more of Japan and alleviate my earlier somewhat unfair complaint. Rich also seems to be a genuinely happier fellow when he is shooting video with his kids and when he is out on his own making videos in Japan.
Even more than with some shows, the level of appeal you find with Herro Flom Japan is likely to be determined by how much you identify with the host’s personality. The video episodes will likely give you a better first impression of the host, but don't let my review scare you away from sampling some of Rich's audio as well.
Herro Flom Japan has gone on hiatus more than once, but it always seems to resurface. Despite the host's "moodiness", there is substance here, and I highly value substance in a podcast.
Herro Flom Japan Website
The Japlish Podcast (also by Rich Pav of Herro Flom Japan)
I decided to connect Rich's "Japlish Podcast" to his main show review above, because it is not a serious language study program and it might be a little out of place on the Language Page here at JapanPodcasters.com. I might add it to the language area when that page gets a little more fleshed out.
The Japlish Podcast is a cute show and delivers a lot of bang for your buck time wise. The episodes are typically under 3 minutes and primarily feature Rich delivering a slightly rude or funny line in English for one of his young sons to translate into Japanese. It seems like a fun father/son project and though not recommended for serious language study, The Japlish Podcast could be interesting for a beginner or intermediate level Japanese student, who might want to see if they can understand some components of the silly translated phrases.
The Japlish Podcast Website
2008 Award Winner Japan Podcasters' Cornerstone Award
Formerly the Japundit Podcast, Japan Talk is hosted by JP who also manages the Japundit blog. Japan Talk is one of the shows I discovered as it was launching, and though I thought it started out with a “better than average” quality level right out of the gate, it has been nice to see this podcast grow and evolve in real-time while the host worked through different issues on the show. JP’s commitment to his production schedule has been very impressive throughout this show’s run. Japan Talk is all home studio recordings with current news items, and reflections & thoughts from a US expat who is a very longtime Japan resident. JP’s voice grows on you over time and though you may not always agree with his opinions completely, he comes across as thoughtful and worth listening to.
“Dependable with consistent quality,” are the words that come to mind to simply describe this show, and those are good words indeed to apply to a podcast.
I want to make a point here about reliability in a podcast. Japan Talk is a very simple show, that seems to rarely if ever stray from its format. It doesn't go out in the world and explore (as is my preference for a podcast), and it doesn't ever mix things up with unexpected guests or other surprises. But Japan Talk is intelligent and reliable, and it is very comforting to have programs you can look forward to, knowing when to expect new episodes.
It takes a level of responsibility and commitment that few podcasters have to do what Japan Talk's host does almost each and every week. Kudos and thanks JP.
Japan Talk Website
Japanese and More
There is no way to deny that this is a one-of-a-kind program. The host is a black girl from the US studying Japanese in Japan. Hearing Daiwu’s American ethnic or thick and stylish hip hop accent blended into her Japanese when she tries to offer language lessons can be cute and something you will not hear on any other Japan podcast.
Daiwu (I think that is her self-assigned moniker) is full of energy and very upbeat. Unfortunately for me she sometimes plays rather vulgar rap music on her program. Daiwu flags many episodes of Japanese and More as explicit within iTunes, and she does courteously make a point to warn listeners at the beginning of her explicit episodes.
For now I have decided to keep Japanese and More in the Main Directory. I may eventually move this podcast to the language page here at JapanPodcasters.com, because language learning discussions do make up the majority of Japanese and More’s current episode content.
The biggest problem with the Japanese and More podcast is simply that the show is primarily built around the premise of teaching the listener Japanese, but the host is probably one of the last people in the world you would want to learn Japanese from. Despite Daiwu's enthusiasm and upbeat personality, tragic pronunciation and beginner level knowledge of the language does not make for a good Japanese tutor. Admittedly, beginners may enjoy hearing someone struggling with the basics like they themselves are, but hearing that person reveal more of their life and the adventure they are on in Japan would be much more compelling, even for fellow language students.
After listening to more episodes of the Japanese and More podcast, I began to realize its true value, and that is the value it provides to the host herself. “Teaching is learning,” as my Japanese college professor friend Hiro reminds me of often.
The host of Japanese and More has found an effective way to augment her studies by creating podcasts where she discusses and explains aspects of the Japanese language. This is an admirable and very powerful method of helping the host's own progression, whether there is much of an audience for it or not.
So does that mean you should avoid this podcast at all costs? Absolutely not. Daiwu is charming in many ways, and definitely unique in the Japan Podcasting world. You cannot (or should not) use her lessons for language study, especially with the great podcast options that exist for that already, but some people might have fun listening to Daiwu, and she occasionally does offer a bit of content that strays from the language learning arena.
I enjoyed hearing Daiwu’s short energetic episode explaining her exasperation with her attempt at taking the low level 3 Japanese Language Proficiency Test, since I had just taken the even lower level 4 test myself shortly before hearing her episode on that topic.
Listen to a little of Daiwu’s podcast and decide for yourself if this is a show worth your time. The Japanese and More podcast Is definitely a little, um… different, but difference can sometimes be more interesting than sameness. Just be ready to scan past the gutter music (unless you like that sort of thing), and maybe even scan past the language lessons (which constitute the bulk of each episode), and hope that Daiwu one day starts adding more commentary on Japanese culture and her personal stories from Japan.
Stories of Daiwu’s experiences in Japan, not language lessons, are the real potential gifts she possesses for subscribers to this podcast. Hopefully those stories will be shared more liberally on the Japanese and More podcast one day. I will continue to check in from time to time to see how this podcast evolves.
Daiwu has some interesting Japan videos on her website. I cannot find a separate video feed for her show, and she does not include the videos in her regular podcast feed. So if you like the host’s personality, be sure to check out the videos she has worked quite hard on, and that are only available on her website. Even if you do not like Daiwu’s Japanese and More podcast, you still might want to check out some of her interesting videos.
Japanese and More Website
General Note about Language Learning with Podcasts
Essentially, if you are studying Japanese, you should run away from Japanese lessons provided by non-native Japan podcasters with low-level Japanese language abilities. You definitely don’t want to model your speech after someone non-native AND with limited Japanese language competence.
To all current and future podcasters out there...
An occasional short reference to a word or phrase is always fun, but if you are not qualified to teach Japanese on your podcast, your poor pronunciations and lack of ability is likely to be perceived immediately by listeners as soon as you try to morph into a Japanese teacher. People that are really trying to learn the language will likely not be impressed or amused for very long by your attempts. Why would anyone want to learn Japanese from someone who cannot speak Japanese?
Recapping: A few interesting words and expressions now and then, the occasional longer phrase - fun. Attempts at serious and ongoing language instruction from someone who does not know the language - not fun.
Daiwu from the Japanese and More podcast reviewed above, might be a slight exception to this rule. Listening to her distinctive conversation style and thick cultural accent blended with Japanese can be aurally intriguing for a few minutes, but unfortunately still not good for learning from.
The legendary Josh in Japan podcast (out of production now) is the perfect example of a podcaster losing perspective and inappropriately taking a brief stab at teaching Japanese on his show.
Language instruction is a specialized field. If not a native speaker, common sense tells us that a language teacher should at the very least be highly skilled and accomplished with the use of the language being taught.
For a directory of all the Japanese language study podcasts currently available, please visit the Language Study page here at JapanPodcasters.com.
Metropolis Magazine Podcast (Tokyo MetPod)
2008 Award Winner Japan Podcasters' Outstanding Quality Award
The Metropolis Podcast is the most professionally produced and highest technical quality Japan podcast by far. The program is very Tokyo specific, but Metropolis does offer content of interest to the general Japan enthusiast. The Metropolis Podcast is a Metropolis magazine production, and is expertly helmed by US expat Kamasami Kong, a radio DJ and highly skilled voice professional. Kong is joined by cohost Jordon Cheung along with a large and lively group of show segment presenters.
Metropolis calls itself Japan’s #1 English language magazine. I remember seeing the magazine on previous trips through Tokyo. Metropolis is a free publication and readily available in the city. The paper product might be best described as a lifestyle magazine for English speakers in Tokyo.
The Metropolis Podcast seems designed to supplement and draw attention to Metropolis the magazine, often featuring interviews with people connected to the articles in the magazine. However, the show also seems to stand well on its own as a valuable Tokyo resource.
I always find some content of interest when I listen to the MetPod, but a good portion of the podcast is very directly targeted to people living in Tokyo, or on their way there. Concert dates and local events are thoroughly covered. Western artists are also interviewed and featured on the show, along with general interest commentary like movie reviews.
If you are in or will be in Tokyo, the Metropolis Podcast may be a very beneficial podcast for you. And if you are someone who sometimes struggles with the lack of focus, general lack of professionalism, and rambling style of some amateur podcasts, you may appreciate this slick and tightly produced, very professional program.
You could say this is a “thumbs up” review for the Metropolis Podcast, but much more so for those who have a need or interest in Tokyo specific information.
Though Tokyo is not where I spend the majority of my time when I am in Japan, I do still find time to listen to some of the Metropolis Podcast episodes. It definitely makes for a fun diversion when one has overdosed on a few “less lively” programs.
The Metropolis Podcast has been expanding in length and has reached a point where it was decided to split the weekly show into two parts. The shorter segment provides a rundown of current events in Tokyo and short teasers for the lengthier stories provided in the second half of the podcast. The two portions are provided in 2 separate files within the same podcast feed. This strategy seems to be a reasonable solution for those who do not have time to listen to the entire podcast each week.
Being a corporate podcast, the Metropolis program is produced like clockwork. New weekly episodes are very reliably available.
Metropolis Podcast Website
2008 Award Winner Japan Podcasters' Ichiban (#1) Award
This podcast was a delight to stumble across. I found it relatively early on in my exploration of Japan podcasts. Planet Japan gave me hope that there would be tons of focused, well-produced Japan podcasts waiting for me to discover. I quickly realized that I was being overly optimistic concerning the possible abundance of equally satisfying programs.
Planet Japan is a fun podcast with very likable, clever, and humorous hosts. Doug DeLong and Amy Chavez interact exceptionally well and they are a good example of how a “two host” show does have the potential to bring extra energy to a podcast. Even when they drift from the subject of Japan, Doug and Amy always remain enjoyable to listen to.
Many podcasts are sometimes painfully endured because of the desired subject matter, so it is nice to find a program with people that are pleasant to listen to in addition to covering topics I am interested in hearing about. The high technical quality of Planet Japan and its consistent, reliable production schedule is also to be commended, especially considering that this is a not-for-profit undertaking.
Planet Japan is produced out of Okayama where Doug lives and works. Amy is based just a short ferry ride away across the inland sea on Shiraishi Island, where she runs the beach front Moooo! Bar.
Planet Japan has proven its commitment to listeners by remaining in production even when one of the hosts has to be away. The past 2 winters, efforts were made to bring in a great replacement host, Japanese native Junko, while Amy temporarily relocated to Hokkaido.
In 2007, Planet Japan made a change from a weekly to biweekly program due to scheduling constraints of the hosts. I am sure many listeners like myself are hoping Planet Japan will be around for a long time to come, even if in a reduced output form.
Planet Japan Website
Longtime Japan podcaster Scott Lockman seems like such a sincere and nice guy, it is hard to say anything even slightly less than positive about his show. Though I may not be able to continue listening to all of his audio podcast episodes, I know I will check back in on Scott to see how he is doing from time to time. He does sometimes offer very interesting observations about Japan.
I do have to give Scott a little grief for his rambling in some episodes. He is very much a conversationalist, day in the life kind of guy. His observations sometimes have little to do with Japan, and he often gets deeply sidetracked in very obscure territory as he is recording. Scott is aware of this and has acknowledged it on his show, so I hope my observations don't seem too mean spirited.
Scott is an admirable character, and you may very much enjoy his pleasant laid back podcast. I know there must be many who do enjoy and many more who would enjoy listening to Scott regularly. As I said, I will not be able to resist stopping back in myself occasionally, even though the content of this program on average may not really be what I am seeking.
Oh that the world could be filled with people as seemingly nice and polite as Scott; An undoubtedly better place this would be. I really do wish for continued happiness and success for Scott and the Tokyo Calling podcast. Please give him a listen and decide for yourself if he belongs in your list of keepers.
Video Note: Scott has experimented with video episodes quite a bit. One flurry of videos in the first half of 2007 offered many different glimpses of Tokyo scenes and destinations, often with narration. Those video podcasts add a lot of diversity and intrigue to the Tokyo Calling collection of programs. I thought Scott may have indeed found Tokyo Calling’s true “calling” with his latest video pursuits, though he does seem to have stopped regular video episodes as of this writing. You may find it worthwhile to go back in time and pull up some of Scott's video podcast episodes.
Tokyo Calling's feeds or access options are a little messy at present. Scott seems to have 4 feeds now: Original Feed, Audio Only, Video Only, and Combined Feed. He doesn't list the Original Feed on his website, though he does seem to be keeping it updated as well. For simplicity, if you are considering adding his show to your podcast download list, the Combined Feed would seem to be the best choice.
Tokyo Calling Website
TUJPod (Temple University Japan)
As I understand from his show, Scott Lockman of Tokyo Calling (coincidentally placed alphabetically just above) had some involvement in helping to get this student podcast underway at Temple University’s Japan campus. I avoided listening to this podcast for a long time, expecting a student podcast series to be a tiring ordeal to get through. However, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the episodes. Specifically, I have been enjoying the recordings from the “The Meaning of Yasukuni” symposium. I have long found the Yasukuni Shrine issue to be an interesting exploration of the overall banality and ignorance of mankind (on both sides of the issue), more than a real insight into political and cultural differences in Asia. But I do believe it is a topic worth familiarizing yourself with if you have a strong interest in Japan or the world at large.
The early episodes in this podcast series are not likely to be of interest to most. They are dealing with specific school topics and administration interviews.
Most recently I stumbled on an architectural series on the TUJPod dealing with Frank Lloyd Wright's work in Japan. I enjoyed listening to author and film critic Donald Richie discussing his memories of Wright's original Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Donald Richie also provides the commentary for Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, the very first film I reviewed at Savage Japan Movie Reviews. (got to get those plugs in wherever I can).
If you are interested in hearing some intelligent commentary on the Yasukuni Shrine issue, I really recommend the five Yasukuni recordings available through Temple University Japan's podcast.
You may want to keep an eye on this program in the future. At last check there seemed to be quite a big lull in programming, but something else interesting might pop up unexpectedly at any time. I have decided to keep this podcast in the main directory for the time being.
What's Happening in Tokyo
What's Happening in Tokyo has a strong music emphasis. Its target audience would seem to be those interested in the independent music scene in Japan, and those who might also like hearing some stories about living in Tokyo from the show's host, "Tokyo Dan", a long time Japan resident.
Tokyo Dan sometimes gets out of his house and records in outdoor environments, including parks and other interesting locations around Tokyo. My interest level perks up quite a bit for some of those segments. Though I do appreciate many home studio based podcasts as is evident from the reviews here, in general I am of the opinion that the outside world offers a lot more excitement for recording Japan themed shows. I always appreciate it when hosts like this one sometimes make an effort to take you with them “into Japan”.
What's Happening in Tokyo covers a wide range of topics, but often focuses very much on the Tokyo music scene and smaller clubs and venues in the Tokyo vicinity. Since I tend to view Tokyo as only an exciting place to pass through for short term thrills before heading out to more personally appealing parts of the country, and because I'm not particularly a Japanese indie music enthusiast, I may not be an ideal listener for much of the content in this podcast.
One oddity worth mentioning in What's Happening is the host’s fairly regular habit of pitch shifting his voice and the voice of a regular guest to try to create the impression of having more people on the show. This is not very effective, and I have to say I find it more than a little annoying. At first one would assume this is being done as an attempt at humor, but I am not sure. The host acts as if he expects listeners to believe these segments feature other guests. I don’t know what to make of this aspect of the show really. Maybe “chipmunkish” voices don’t seem as strange and disruptive to other listeners.
What's Happening in Tokyo definitely has a few interesting segments sprinkled throughout its episodes. You may want to give this podcast a chance, especially if you are interested in the music of independent Japanese musicians, or if you are planning to spend time in Tokyo.
Recently Tokyo Dan has been making regular appearances on the Metropolis Podcast, sharing his Japanese music scene expertise with MetPod listeners as well.
What's Happening in Tokyo Website
Comments or Questions about the reviews here?
Please write to Dan Savage Dan@SavageSnow.com
If you have a Japan podcast (or know of one) releasing current episodes, and it is not listed here, please email me to let me know.