Learning Kanji from Japanese TV shows

I’m back on the old Japanese study wagon, and decided to share  some stuff as I make headway with my new steps in immersion. Japanese TV shows, like a lot of things in Japan are quite colourful, filled with bright graphics, an extremely animated host, and also, loads and loads, or oodles and oodles of Kanji. This is a golden opportunity for people to learn new Kanji, in context, spoken at native speed. Also, if you are watching this on DVD, you can pause, read what they are saying if its too fast, and voila! Fluency! :p

I’ll give an example from a TV show I was watching today. In this section people are walking around asking, “What’s the most expensive thing you bought this week?” or

kono ishuukan de katta, ichiban takai mono wa nan desu ka?


or as its gloriously written on screen in the pic below:

What’s cool about these question and answer shows, is that basically EVERY Japanese TV show of this kind follows this format in some way or another, walking around asking people these questions, and flashing the Kanji of what they are asking as people are talking. Granted you understand the question, then you can start actively interpreting the answers. Here’s an example of someone answering randomly, and what they said.

This guy was speaking RIDICULOUSLY fast, but from what I gathered, especially in this screenshot, what he buys mostly are DVDs of idols from a store in Akihabara. In this specific shot, he’s saying something like, “Buying two dvds is about  a hundred dollars, so it says.” I’m guessing “it” is a referral to his receipt. It was also funny when a lady said,

“I don’t have an expensive thing because I run a 100 yen shop (dollar store)”. See the picture below.

pic 1:

watashi ne kaimono shinai no. – > I don’t buy anything expensive.

dakara  takai kaimono ha 100 yen desu – “Because I own a 100 yen shop the most expensive thing I buy is only 100 yen!”

Then the person interviewing her asks her about something else she bought and it turns out she shops at a kind of “scratch card lottery place”, and guess how much she claims to spend on that? She basically says :

“For everything, the total is about 800 Dollars after I buy!”

zenbun goukei suruto hachi man en kurai kaichata.

全部 (ぜんぶ)合計(ごうけい)すると8万円(まんえん)くらい 買いっちゃた


Naturally, this makes the audience laugh, including me. Now, I didn’t know “合計”properly when watching then. I knew 全部 from hearing/using it all the time, and I knew pretty much all the other kanji in this sketch. Seeing that it means “sum total” is a pretty cool word to learn. From Heisig I can recognize the two Kanji as “fit” and “plot” but i’m not sure how that adds up to “sum total” hehe. Either way, as the same skit when on, I learned some more cool new Kanji, in context, at native speed.

I can’t paste all the pictures here, but these two ladies were pretty funny. They repeated a word I actually learned today “食事” which means “eat somewhere”. So they were about to go eat. They say they are sisters( kyoudai ,きょうだい、姉妹 ). With a lot of swag, the one in the glasses says “You didn’t know?” (shiranakatta?) Then she says, “In Kita Sen Jyuu we are famous.” Then in the last picture she says “We are fat people’s sisters.” I’ll write the translation as best I can to accompany pics.

We are sisters.

Kyoudai nan desho.





What? You didn’t know?




(for give me if this isn’t 100%) But I think they are saying:

In Kita Sen Jyu we are famous/the famous ones. Or “your famous ones”

きたせんじゅう あんた ゆうめい なんですよ わたし たち

北千住 であんた 有名なんてすよ 私達。

Of course this post is taking effort, so i’m constantly revisiting these Kanji as I check the frames. what was interesting for me was learning two meanings for “sisters” in context.

Together the two Kanji : 姉妹 can be “kyoudai” – sister

e.g        kyoudai nan desho.

but when the lady said

“fat people’s sisters” she said “debu Kanou shimai itte”

It might be an expression that uses a grammatical pattern i’m not aware of yet, but it just shows that watching these shows (and pausing and researching a bit can help with a lot of Kanji comprehension). I usually have this playing in the background, but breaking down an episode or two can teach a lot of different things as you progress in your language learning. Naturally, you’d need to do Heisig or another system to learn the 2,000 or so basic Kanji you need to understand to do what i’m doing, but even so it’s a great excercise in getting exposed to dozens of kanji over the time period of the show.

How I check for Kanji is also just as important. I’m lucky to have gotten probably a few thousand hours of listening time to native Japanese so I’m getting much better at picking out what people “might say” on TV, unfortunately, i’m not always correct, nor am I fluent yet:P so I use my Iphone and and app called Kotoba (free) to reference words. This is pretty much the best dictionary I can recommend anyone having for free. I rarely look up something I can’t find. Here is a shot of me making sure that I had my words correct for this post.

I also use Excite.com’s Japanese translator to get a better understanding of things.

Excite’s translation site:


Kotoba app for Iphone


More to come soon on my methods and madness!

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
This entry was posted in Heisig Method, learning Japanese, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Learning Kanji from Japanese TV shows

  1. Paul Nogas says:

    Hey man, I’m sad to hear you left. Looks like it might be hard to buy you that beer I owe you. However, glad to hear that you’re still studying. Keep up the fight. 頑張ってね。
    I haven’t posted anything since early February but I have been studying A LOT (I’m hoping to pass the JLPT Lv2 in December. I know it’s probably not going to happen, but I think I will learn more trying that and failing than if I were to take an easier level and pass it). I’ll try to make some posts sometimes as I have learned so many tricks and discovered so many tools. Also I’ve been trying to keep my engineering skill sharp by writing my own software which I’ll happily share with you when / if it’s ever finished. Hopefully some of them can help you out.

  2. marcusbird says:

    Awesome man, glad to hear you are pushing for it. I’ve been doing a lot of immersion and reading sentences, manga & so on. I have a lot of JLPT practice tests but i’m not going to tackle those just yet (I am not sure if I want to take the test either, although its a nice gauge for learning). But I feel you can do it, most people who study Japanese seriously for a year can pass JLPT2 it seems, so I don’t doubt that you are one of those people. I think passing that will basically confirm that you are “high level conversational” or whatever that means hehe, but looks GREAT on the job resume! Glad to hear you doing it meng!

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