Sigh. As much as I love Korean dramas, I’m a little sad that Japanese dramas don’t get the English-subtitle treatment as much. It’s even more true for movies. It’s surprising considering how popular anime is in the United States, but perhaps people just don’t care as much about the live-action stuff. There are ways to watch dramas and movies from Japan, but it will cost you.
Viki and DramaFever are the go-to sources for legally watching Japanese dramas. There’s not much else to say about it. Neither site has as many J-dramas as K-dramas, although I’ve noticed that Viki is more willing to stray away from K-dramas and include dramas outside of East Asia. Viki currently has 95 J-dramas in its catalog and usually has more recent dramas than DramaFever. DramaFever has a measly 25 J-dramas. There’s also Crunchyroll, but the content of their catalog of live-action stuff is lackluster in comparison to Viki and DramaFever. Crunchyroll did create a separate K-drama streaming website at Kdrama.com, but apparently, it was eaten first by Soompi, which in turn, got eaten by Viki. Viki updates its non-Korean shows more frequently than DramaFever, and has 15 dramas that aired in 2015. That leaves you with really only one other option (besides begging the above sites to try to license more Japanese shows and movies):
You can buy movies and shows from Yesasia, Amazon Japan, CD Japan, and Japanese websites (with the help of forwarding services for Japan-oriented websites). Amazon.com might have some titles that are sold by third-party sellers from all over the world – so just make sure to check if it has English subtitles. You may have to expand your shopping network, but a good place to start is on Amazon U.K. I’ve noticed they have Asian films that aren’t always licensed in the United States. You can also search on Yesasia for movies with subtitles on the sidebar. The downside is Yesasia feels like a rip-off with their prices, on top of their shipping. It reminds me of eBay seller selling old copies of J-magazines for $40 with $20 EMS shipping. If you try Amazon Japan or any other website that caters towards Japanese-speaking people only, you’ll need to know the kana/kanji name of the movie. CD Japan and Amazon US/UK let you type the romaji or English name.
The common theme is to check for subtitles – or learn Japanese. If you are, like me, willing to learn the language, you’ll have a bigger selection including newer releases. Unfortunately, female-friendly movies (like Ao Haru Ride) often come without English subs. If you choose to buy DVDs from overseas, you’ll need to make sure your hardware is compatible. If you bought your DVD from your local Best Buy, but bought a Japanese DVD from overseas, your DVD player won’t read it. However, either a region-free DVD player or one with the region code for Japanese DVDs will do. The region code for the United States is 1, whereas it’s 2 for Japan.
So what does this mean?
It sucks. I’m not going to lie. You try to support the industry and the artists, but you’re not sure if it’s worth shelling out money for something you can’t understand. Maybe times will change, and Crunchyroll will add more to their catalog, for example. I do suspect, based on their previous attempt, they don’t have a large audience of drama watchers. Now and then, they’ll put something in their drama catalog. Hopefully, Japanese dramas and movies will gain more popularity and demand getting companies to license more in English. In the meantime, if you study Japanese, you might be fluent in Japanese by the time that happens anyway.