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How to Legally Watch Japanese Dramas and Movies

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.

Part of Viki's Japanese drama catalog

Part of Viki’s Japanese drama catalog

Streaming:
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):

Yesasia sidebar

Yesasia sidebar. English-subtitled option is under “Quick Links”

Buying stuff:
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.

Adrienne

Adrienne

Current News and Trends Writer
Writer/photographer obsessed with villains and megane. Hobbies include watching anime and dramas, gaming, eating Korean food, and reading.
Adrienne

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9 Comments

  • I must admit that I was very surprised that DF didn’t have more of a JDrama selection, and I do subscribe to the service. Viki is good and I noticed they have more of a selection but I’m still a free user. Netflix as of now (July 2017) has broadened their programs and I’m noticing a lot more Asian dramas including JDramas. Hopefully, in time, it will become the norm to have access to these programs. I will say that while it’s an inconvience for us not living in Japan, I really can’t get mad at them for wanting to keep their dramas to themselves. I’m guessing they have their reasons but I can’t say that I’m not disappointed. The talent is purely amazing and imo deserves to be acknowledged globally.

  • AS of this days (june 2017), Dramafever is still pathetic with the Japanese offerings, which is why I don’t subscribe. IF an alternative to Viki or Dramafever showed up with HD plethora of current/ongoing and past j-dramas, I’d pay to subscribe. But for a handful (and most not all that new), naw.

  • The possible reason it’s hard to find Japanese sites with dubbed is because for some reason Japan doesn’t want its drama’s watched outside the country. Back in the late 90’s there was a station called the international channel. For about a year they played jdoramas subtitled. In fact they played they from around the world. Korean dramas came on after. However, Japan networks came down on them saying that they didn’t want their series having subtitles and that they were for Japanese. They stopped. When crunchyroll started back in the early 2000’s they were not legal and you could watch some dramas there. Then they became legal and stoped having so many. So, I’m assuming that is why it’s hard to find legal ways of watching Jdoramas. Which I don’t understand because there is a huge market for them. I like Korean but their seasons are longer and I just perfer Japanese.

  • There’s a site http://kissasian.com/ where you can watch j-doromas including other asian countries like taiwan, phillippines, china etc …

    • Yes, you can watch them there, but is it a LEGAL site or a pirate site? Do they pay for a license to stream those? NO. They state on their site that:

      “KissAsian doesn’t host any content. All KissAsian does is link or embed content that was uploaded to popular Online Video hosting sites like Veoh.com / Megavideo.com / Youtube.com / Google Video. All youtube/veoh/megavideo/googlevideo users signed a contract with the sites when they set up their accounts which forces them not to upload illegal content. By clicking on any Links to videos while surfing on KissAsian, you watch content hosted on third parties and KissAsian cant take the responsibility for any content hosted on other sites.”.

      All they do is link to other video sites. Much of that content is not uploaded with copyright permission even if the users agree to that when they sign up. They basically covered their butts saying, “hey, the content is not on our site, so we’re not responsible if the content is illegal”. So essentially, it is not a LEGAL means to watch the asian dramas.

      It really surprises me how some people don’t even realize that what a site is doing is illegal. Just like with manga sites that host links to scanlations. That is not a LEGAL way to access the content, folks. If the site pays for the content and has an agreement to provide it with the original publishers, then it is LEGAL. If not, then the content has been provided illegally.

      • If they want the content accessed legally, make it available. I am astounded how these Japanese corporations don’t take advantage of the global fandom. It’s not expensive to sub dramas (piece of cake, chump change, hell, some folks would volunteer just for a free DVD). And they could link to the mp3s of the music (anime and drama music). That’s how you start to build a new market and you make some money (guaranteed they’d make money by making the music links on the pages with the dramas/anime).

        Not making content available easily, HD, and affordably is what makes for pirating enthusiasts.

        They need to get on the ball. They’re missing out on a money-making machine. Global J-fandom.

  • I’ve somewhat been interested in watching K Dramas, but I’m on the fence about it. I do agree about the money thing. It kind of annoyed me about Shojobeat’s post about supporting mangaka’s by purchasing Japanese manga. Not everyone knows Japanese. I do want to learn Japanese, but I feel like it’s a cop out telling someone to support that way, especially to an American market.

    I probably wouldn’t mind to watch the action live, but I definitely think that I’m more drawn to anime.

    • I would highly recommend you give the live action adaptations for Orange, Ao Haru Ride, and Library Wars a chance. These are very well done and made me a huge fan of Japanese entertainment.

      And this is easier for people who aren’t sure where to start since their based on manga.

  • A J-drama, Good Morning Call, just got added to Netflix (at least in Canada, where I live). I’m hoping to see more on there in the future!!

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