5 Japanese Podcasts for Immersion (JLPT Level N3+)
Podcasts are a great way to get familiar with natural Japanese. In this article, we introduce you to some of our recommendations for different language levels. Let the Japanese wash over you and soak up as much as you can!
Podcasts as a Learning Tool
If you’ve been learning a foreign language, you’ve probably heard about immersion. Immersion is the act of exposing yourself to something as much as possible to both actively and passively absorb new information. It’s one of the main reasons why language learners go abroad to study.
Now, listening to a podcast certainly isn’t a 100% substitute for a long-term stay. But especially if you’re not in Japan (yet), podcasts are probably the best way to effortlessly expose yourself to “real” Japanese every day. Unlike some TV shows or anime, the Japanese used in podcasts is very close to what you encounter in real life. Even outside of “study time,” you can always just leave them running in the background and slowly get used to the language.
Another merit of podcasts is that they come without “training wheels” in the shape of subtitles or visual clues (unless you use transcripts). They force you to home in on the language itself, figure out the meaning of words you don’t know on the fly, and build your skills of retaining information short-term. This makes them an ideal preparation tool for the listening part of the JLPT, but these skills are also essential for everyone who wants to live and work in Japan.
Below, you can find our podcast recommendations for different types of content, Japanese levels, and episode lengths. All of the podcasts here are active and updated regularly. Pick one that suits your personal taste and listen away!
The Real Japanese Podcast
“The Real Japanese Podcast” is hosted by Haruka, a Japanese teacher. For the most part, the episodes consist of Haruka casually talking about the topic of the week, including anime, other kinds of pop culture, fashion, travel, food, and many more. Occasionally there are also guest episodes, which tend to be a bit longer (around 40 minutes). Although the host is a teacher, the episodes come in a “stream of consciousness” format instead of being “proper” lessons.
The contents of the podcast differ in difficulty/complexity, indicated in the episode titles. It goes as low as JLPT N4 and as high as N1 level, with most episodes falling into the N3~N4 range. The homepage features free transcripts for each episode.
Let’s Learn Japanese From Small Talk!
Content: Daily Life
Japanese level: Intermediate
Episode length: 20 ~ 50 minutes (most episodes are around 30 minutes)
Update frequency: 1 ~ 3 times per month
Links: [Homepage/Blog] [Spotify] [Apple Podcasts] [Google Podcasts]
As the title says, this podcast mostly consists of various small talk, covering topics such as job hunting, travel, and favorite songs to sing at Karaoke. The hosts are Mizuho and Kayuko, who started the podcasts as university students on their year abroad in the UK in 2019. Over the course of the years, they have returned to Japan, graduated from university, and have now started their first job. The podcast gives a lot of insight into everyday life as a young person in Japan.
Since the podcast is targeted at Japanese language learners, the two hosts speak relatively slowly and make efforts to explain words and phrases they think listeners might not be familiar with. There are no transcripts, but vocabulary lists are provided on the accompanying blog for each episode.
4989 American Life
4989 American Life is hosted by Utaco, who talks about her experiences of living in California with her (Japanese) husband and two cats. The “4989” in the title is a Japanese wordplay on the term 四苦八苦 (“having trouble”), referring to the difficulties of everyday life in a foreign country. Each year, Utaco goes down a list of 100 things she’d like to do, reporting about them in the podcast.
The content of the episodes is very casual and doesn’t use a lot of difficult vocabulary. There are also free transcripts of each episode on the homepage, which makes this podcast a good candidate for learners that are just getting into immersive content. That being said, unlike the first two examples on this list, “4989” isn’t specifically tailored to Japanese language learners – if there’s something you don’t understand, you have to do your own research.
Bilingual News is hosted by Mami (Japanese) and Michael (American). As you can probably already tell by the (very straightforward) name, this podcast covers news in both Japanese and English. After reading out the news in both languages, the hosts comment on and chat about them, with Michael speaking English and Mami speaking Japanese.
Most episodes cover multiple pieces of news. The content can be quite complex, often featuring scientific topics. However, the bilingual nature of the podcast makes it able for intermediate learners to follow along without getting lost. Episode length varies but is usually somewhere between one and one and a half hours.
Transcripts are available as a monthly paid option on a mobile app (available for both iOS and Android). The subscription costs 240JPY per month.
Ogiue Chiki: Session
Formerly known as “Session 22”, this podcast/program is a mainstay on national TBS Radio. Hosted by critic/commentator/author Ogiue Chiki and announcer Nanbu Hiromi, it mostly covers everyday news on society and politics. On the major podcast sites, you can listen to the different segments separately. The longest segment (the daily feature) is around 40 minutes long. In total, the podcast clocks in at around 1hour and 30 minutes. Since it updates daily, it’s a wellspring of immersive, high-quality audio material.
“Session” is my personal favorite podcast on this list. Out of all the Japanese podcasts and news broadcasts that I’ve listened to in my 10+ years of learning Japanese, this one comes closest to the “BBC-style” serious reporting and analysis that’s otherwise pretty hard to find in the Japanese radiosphere. However, there are no transcripts and the topics can be quite complex (for example, one segment features audio snippets from discussions in the national diet). JLPT N2 level is a minimum requirement.
Exposure is everything
When you first start listening to Japanese-only podcasts, chances are that you’ll only pick up on a fraction of what’s being said. Maybe it’s 50%, maybe 30%, maybe even only 15. When I started listening, I remember destroying the rewind button, trying to make out every single word. But even if you take it a bit easier, just exposing yourself to the language you’re learning will help with memorizing common words, phrases, and speech patterns. Most podcasts are free – so give it a try!
However, if you’re thinking about a future in Japan, in the end nothing beats a long-term stay and professional support. Linguage Japanese Language School in central Shinjuku specializes in Japanese language education for students whose goal is to work in Japan. In addition to Japanese lessons, it offers job hunt support (CV check, interview preparation…) as well as career counseling. For more info, check out our feature article or click the button below to visit the school’s official website.