TV party – Netflix, Hulu and other TV streaming services in Japan

By Selena Hoy, Tokyo Cheapo

One small bummer of a thing when you’re living in a country not entirely your own is that YOU’RE MISSING YOUR SHOWS. Yeah, there are many strange and wonderful things about Japan: beautiful sights, amazing sounds, every day a challenge and an adventure! Bless. Which is all well and good but what about my shows? At the risk of sounding a bit bratty and obsessed, some of us just feel comforted by a spot of familiar TV. And let’s face it: the selection at Tsutaya can leave something to be desired. Plus, what’s up with their membership fees and weird strict rules and super expensive late fees?

The service that’s best for you will depend on your viewing preferences and your tech setup. Following is a roundup of some of the options available to you here in the archipelago.

So pull up a zabuton and whip out the snacks; we’re gonna have a TV party tonight. Alright!

Netflix Japan

Heralded by Japanese media commentators as a “black ship” on its opening in Japan on September 2, Netflix is the most compelling of the TV streaming services — especially for foreign residents who aren’t concerned that there is no anime smorgasbord.

However, it’s quite different to what you might be used to. On the minus side, a few Netflix original series are missing — no "House of Cards" and no "Lillehammer," also no "Walking Dead." While the US version of Netflix has a great range of BBC and other British drama, they’re almost completely absent from Netflix Japan. On the plus side, Netflix Japan has a few movies that aren’t available on Netflix elsewhere — such as "District 9," "Inception" and "No Country for Old Men." Netflix are also producing original Japanese programming — which they have generously subtitled in English. All other Japanese content is not subtitled.

While pricing for Netflix in the US is a flat $7.99, Japan has three different packages. Basic, for 650 yen/month, Standard for 950 yen/month and Premium for 1,450 yen/month. While all plans offer unlimited viewing, the cheaper packages have restrictions on HD content and the number of devices you can watch it on.

Hulu Japan

Hulu Japan is one of the few services that has support in English—you might have to hunt around for the English-language switch though. With an option to connect via Facebook the process is even more simplified. A single payment page needs to be filled out with name, vital details, and payment info. Also, make sure you don’t sign up on mobile. Bizarrely, the payment page is only available in Japanese on the mobile site.

The all-you-can-watch service costs 933 yen/month, and they claim to have 13,000+ movies, dramas, and anime choices. You can try it out with a free 2-week trial with option to cancel before the first month is charged.

While the TV overall TV selection isn’t quite as good as Netflix, they do have the "Walking Dead" as well as a much wider selection of BBC and other British TV programmes. So if you’re looking for "Doctor Who," "Utopia" or "Orphan Black," then Hulu is your best choice.

Hulu is also a good bet if you like anime, J-movies, and K-dramas, as their selection will likely be much better than an overseas-based service. Of course, many choices will not be subtitled in English. This is excellent if you speak/understand Japanese well or want to study; not so much if you don’t speak J/want mindless entertainment.

J:COM On Demand

J:COM says they have about 14,800 selections for viewing, and 6,500 anime and drama titles, but their set-up page is quite a bit more confusing than Hulu’s. Existing J:COM members can do a free three-day trial by entering the membership number on their cable box, then can join the on-demand service for 933 yen/month, but non-members will have to sign up for J:COM first — with cable packages costing about ten times the cost of streaming services. They also want you to install Microsoft Silverlight on your computer to be able to watch your selections.

Hikari TV

Hikari TV seems to have quite a large selection—they boast 30,000 titles. Their basic membership, however, lets you access about 9,000 selections and looks to include a heavy dose of porn.

This service first requires you to be either a Flets Hikari Next or Flex Hikari Premium customer. Once you are, you can add the on-demand service. The basic plan costs 2,700 yen per month (on top of the costs of your Flets service) and gets you either television OR video on demand (but not both) while the 3,780 yen gets you access to 9,000 film titles plus over 40 TV channels.

The set-up is rather complicated, so intermediate Japanese or higher is recommended.

Rakuten Showtime

Another confusing-looking page, Rakuten does seem to have a corner on large selection, boasting about 180,000 titles. The basic site fee is 302 yen per month, and then you can choose the type of content you’d like to access: an additional 100 yen gets you anime access, 300 yen gets you films, and for 200 yen you can access television dramas. The whole shebang, once you include tax, would clock in at a little less than 1,000 yen per month.

If you are interested in J-dramas, K-dramas, and anime, Showtime could be a good choice. Also, Rakuten allows payment in bitcoin.


U-Next is another one that has a decent selection, as they claim to have over 20,000 titles, including a respectable international selection (the landing page says they have 117,000 titles, but this included karaoke song selections). Sign-up is relatively painless, and they offer a free 16 day trial (though as with most trials, they do require you to give up your credit card details.

The monthly cost is 1,990 yen, but there is a point system that gives you about 1,000 yen worth of points per month, which can be used toward future bills, making it possible to decrease the cost significantly after a short time.

Tsutaya TV

Tsutaya is trying to enter the video-on-demand market but is still clinging to the video rental model. Their plan allows you to choose up to 20 titles per month from among 4,000 selections, which sounds suspiciously like going to the video store. Granted, 20 selections per month is probably plenty for most people, but is not conducive to binge-watching TV series or placating films buffs. The monthly fee is 933 yen, and at the time of writing, they are offering a free month’s membership at the outset. The service does require the download of a Tsutaya application in order to watch on your computer.


This service is a bit different, in that there is no membership fee or monthly fee. Sign up is free, and you basically pay per view. This means that the per-film fee may be a bit steeper (a popular new release was 540 yen/3 days, while an older release was 472 yen/3 days), but if you are not someone who regularly watches enough TV to justify paying a monthly fee, it may be a good option. They offer about 80,000 titles.

AcTVila are running a couple of free trials right now so you can check out a few things at no cost.

Of course if you want to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer as they are in the US or UK respectively, as we’ve written before, you can use a VPN to bypass the restrictions.

© Japan Today

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I had Hulu for a year - was dreadful. Friends have told me that Netflix JP is much the same, with Softbank taking over. Netflix without its original programming - I'll pass, thanks!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Why do they cut out shows like House of Cards and Walkingdead? Isnt that the whole purpose of netflix to access unaccessible shows easily? What an idiotic move.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sigh clops your friends are wrong, Netflix jp has all of its original sows except HOC which is still on hulu jp but Im guessing will be back to Netflix soon.

The first month is free so you can check it out and if the selection isn't good enough quit without paying anything.

Btw Amazon Prime TV Japan is starting up also later this month

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Have all the streaming services you want, if you don't offer what people want and just the local crap, then no thanks.



3 ( +3 / -0 )

Ho hum, as expected.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I was so frustrated this weekend. I went to all the big electronics retailers in my city just to find a simple streaming box- something I can just plug into my TV, and then stream things like Netflix, YouTube or content off a HDD without involving another computer. These things are everywhere in the US, dirt-cheap, and even are just part of the firmware of many blu-ray players. Here in some of the biggest electronics retailers I could hardly find anything that advertised those capabilities. Why should I spend 30,000円 on a shiny Sony or Toshiba Blu-ray player when a $60 Roku box will give me everything I want?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

katsu78: something I can just plug into my TV, and then stream things like Netflix, YouTube or content off a HDD without involving another computer ...

Sony BDP-S3500U Blu-Ray player is $88 at Walmart.com.

Enjoy over 300 streaming entertainment services1, including Netflix®, YouTube®, Hulu Plus™, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, and more. Bring your mobile media to the ...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"TV party tonight!"

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thermae Romae... love it.

Never understood why people would prefer to watch low res videos on their PCs rather than a high quality DVD or Blu Ray disc. Maybe I'm just old fashioned :D

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You can watch Netflix from any region with a Japanese account.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Its too bad Netflix Japan does not have House of Cards and much of the BBC content but it could be that the BBC already has agreements with other Japanese broadcasters. I just hope these online media delivery companies are successful in Japan... I'm tired of the Variety / Geinojin Japanese programming. I used to think American's saying "oh my God" was annoying but it can't hold a candle to "eeehhhhhhhhh", which is constantly heard on Japanese variety shows.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

turbotsat: Sony BDP-S3500U Blu-Ray player is $88 at Walmart.com.

But same player is Y31,800 at amazon.co.jp!

Could always smuggle one back .... guess the price difference is about 25% of the cost of airfare to USA ... bring some for the neighbors and you've paid for your ticket!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

turbotsat SEP. 08, 2015 - 01:06PM JST Sony BDP-S3500U Blu-Ray player is $88 at Walmart.com.

Thanks for the attempt to help turbosat, but I'm in Japan and there are no Wal-Marts in Japan. If I have to ship it from the US, that increases the price. The purpose of my rant was to point out how one way or another, I'm paying extra in Japan to get technology that is fairly mundane and ordinary in other countries. And given how Japan is in such a push to revitalize their economy, that's just sad.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Is it the Netflix and Hulu companies themselves that offer such bad, inconsistent programming, or is it the producers of the shows that decide to say no (to get more money from DVD sales, etc. later)? I am curious.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


something I can just plug into my TV, and then stream things like Netflix

I use Chromecast for YouTube and my Netflix JP subscription. Plug the Chromecast into your TV's HDMI port. Select the shows from a smartphone, then stream them to your TV in HD. 4000 yen if I remember correctly.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Apple TV can also do this. It's around 8000 yen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Guess there are no Black Flag fans here then.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

katsu78 something I can just plug into my TV, and then stream things like Netflix

If you have any game systems like a PS3, Xbox, or Nintendo Wii you can use those as well. I'm not 100% sure on the Xbox because I don't have one but I have the other game systems and they work.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just you and me, I guess, Alistair.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Alistair & Selena - "Don't talk about anything else, we don't wanna know! We're dedicated to our favorite shows!"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

About 2 years ago I signed up for Tsutaya and it was a waste of money. The free content is ancient TV programs and movies. I have been using Hulu Japan for as long as they have been in Japan and it is Ok. The others I can't really comment on except the cable services. They are pretty much like anywhere else, they have package deals, but they're a lot more expensive thay sreaming services. I want to give netflix a try.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Netflix is worth it but only because I'm getting access to Netflix's GLOBAL catalog through my VPN provider (http://www.vpnworld.org/ipvanish). Otherwise the choices are quite restricted if you can only watch Netflix's Japan version. So my suggestion is: you can still sign up for Netflix Japan, but then use a VPN to access all of Netflix's catalog.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I agree with Natasha. I'm using OverPlay to access the whole of Netflix's catalog. It's pretty cool! And works on all my devices. http://www.overplay.net/netflix-japan?a_aid=OVRPLY&a_bid=f22a0ee2

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Normally, Netflix subscribers can only stream the entertainment content that’s available in their region. For example, Australian Netflix subscribers are limited to what’s available in Australia, Japanese residents are restricted to Netflix Japan offerings, Americans cannot access content outside of the U.S. — you get the picture...

The safest and most reliable method to access any Netflix catalogue in the world, whether you live in Japan or elsewhere, is through a proper VPN connection.

You can get a good discounted deal from several providers here: https://www.facebook.com/vpnpromos/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

what about the geo restriction. in japan we can not watch programs and seasons that are broadcaster in US

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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