TV Shows & Movies That Inspire Travel to Japan

Movies and tv shows that inspire Japan travel

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TV Shows & Movies That Inspire Travel to Japan

Have you run out of things to watch on Netflix and Hulu? We’ve got you covered!

We’ve created a massive list of TV shows and movies that inspire travel to Japan. Some you’ve probably seen before, but others will hopefully be new to you! There is something for everyone to enjoy from dramas to documentaries to cooking shows and some family-friendly movies too!

Psst, before we get started, most of these TV shows and movies set in Japan have English options but if they are originally in Japanese we recommend watching the subtitled version if possible. 😉


Drama Movies that Inspire Travel to Japan

SEVEN SAMURAI

This is the oldest film we have on our list but it’s still an amazing one to include. In this epic drama, you’re transported back to 1586. There you’ll follow the story of a farming village who hires seven masterless samurai to fight off a group of bandits who are stealing their crops. If you like historical dramas, definitely add this one to your list!

Where to Watch: Vudu


ISLE OF DOGS

Wes Anderson does it again with this unique stop-motion animated film, Isle of Dogs. In a dystopian future, all canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to Trash Island, fittingly named after the piles of waste and garbage found here. 

But, 12-year-old Atari is having none of that. He takes off alone to Trash Island in his Junior-Turbo Prop plane to find Spots, his bodyguard doggo. While on Trash Island he befriends a number of other forgotten dogs in a journey that takes them across the island, a journey that eventually determines the future of Megasaki City.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video / PURCHASE


LOST IN TRANSLATION

Lost in Translation isn’t a Japanese film but it is set in Tokyo and has been somewhat of an inspiration to American tourism to Japan. The movie explores modern Japanese society and the themes of loneliness and culture shock.

It stars Bill Murray as Bob, a “washed up” aging movie star and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte, a young newlywed who finds herself uncertain in her new marriage. Together, Bob and Charlotte form a meaningful bond.

Where to Watch: Hulu


SWEET BEAN

Sweet Bean is centered around Sentaro, a middle-aged man who owns a small dorayaki shop outside of Tokyo. When he begins looking to hire someone to assist with his workload he is approached by Tokue, a woman in her seventies that claims she has always wanted to work in a dorayaki shop. 

At first, Sentaro is uncertain because of her age but when he tries the sweet bean paste she makes, he realizes that it’s better than anything he’s ever had before. This film is very touching but pulls at the heartstrings too as it takes you through the twists and turns in Sentaro and Tokue’s lives.

Where to Watch: Vudu


Romance Movies That Inspire Travel to Japan

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

You’ve probably heard of Memoirs of a Geisha and already read the book or seen this movie, based on the book. I was hesitant to put Memoirs of a Geisha on this list because of the bad history between author Arther Golden and Mineko Iwasaki, who he interviewed when writing his book. Although the story isn’t a complete personal memoir of her life, he did use parts of her story which she told him in privacy.

However, I am including it because it is an inspiring film that features many beautiful places in Japan. But, when watching, disregard some of the sexual connotations in the film because that is NOT a part of geisha or maiko culture. For more issues with this story read more here.

The beginning of the film takes you to the 1920s when 9-year-old Chiyo and her sister Satsu are sold into a life of servitude by their father. Chiyo is taken to a geisha house in Gion that is run by Kayoko Nitta, the proprietress of the house.

The story follows Chiyo into her transformation into Sayuri, the most captivating geisha of her time and later to World War II plus the struggles during and after the war.

Where to Watch: Vudu

READ MORE: Japan Trip Planner


THE RAMEN GIRL

The Ramen Girl is a romantic comedy that stars Brittany Murphy as a young girl who becomes stranded in Tokyo after a rough breakup with her boyfriend. Unsure of what her next move is, she finds herself in a ramen shop where she then trains to become a chef. The movie is a little cheesy, but is still cute!

Where to Watch: Tubi


Documentaries and Docuseries That Inspire Travel to Japan

THE BIRTH OF SAKE

The Birth of Sake focuses on the Tedorigawa Brewery that is over 144 years old. It shows the behind the scenes of the intense labor and craft needed in order to produce sake – a brewing process that happens during the winter.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


JAMES MAY: OUR MAN IN JAPAN

If you want to see a number of unique places to visit in Japan AND enjoy some funny humor you’ll love James May: Our Man in Japan.

This travel documentary takes viewers from northern Japan to southern Japan featuring activities of samurai sword-making, karaoke, Kanamara Matsuri fertility festival, sumo wrestling, a traditional tea ceremony, and viewing the Shiki-shima luxury train where tickets cost $3,000-$10,000!

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is a touching documentary that follows survivors of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami as they prepare for Japan’s infamous sakura (cherry blossom) season which resembles hope and beauty.

Where to Watch: Vimeo


JAPANESE STYLE ORIGINATOR

Japanese Style Originator is originally a show on Tokyo TV but has been adapted for Netflix. It’s a great intro to Japanese TV and walks viewers through Japanese traditions, cuisine, culture, and the arts. I like this one because each episode is very specific and it has fun facts and trivia along the way!

Where to Watch: Netflix


PRIME JAPAN

If you are interested in learning the basics about Japanese culture, cuisine, and more, Prime Japan walks viewers through many concepts such as aesthetics, ramen, technology, confectionery, ryokan and more. Although I found the Western narrator is a bit rigid, the rest of the show makes up for it!

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


Food Related Shows & Movies That Inspire Travel to Japan

CHEF’S TABLE

Each episode of Chef’s Table concentrates on a different world-renowned chef as they share personal details from their lives and inspiring culinary skills and cooking styles. Episode 4 is all about Niki Nakayama, a Japanese-American chef that owns n/naka, a Michelin starred restaurant in Los Angeles that focuses on kaiseki style dining.

Where to Watch: Netflix


MIDNIGHT DINER: TOKYO STORIES

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories focuses on human connection through food in the late evening at Meshiya, a small diner in Tokyo. Despite the strange hours of this diner (12am-7am) people flock for the comfort food and companionship of the restaurant’s owner. Though the stories are fictional you’ll find yourself laughing with the characters and wanting to follow their journeys.

Where to Watch: Netflix


JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI

If you’re already considering a trip to Japan, you’ve probably heard of world-renowned chef Jiro Ono. Jiro is a 94-year-old chef that owns Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi restaurant with three Michelin stars (the highest honor a restaurant can achieve). 

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary that follows Jiro’s restaurant and life along with his two sons, who have followed their father’s footsteps and are also sushi chefs in Tokyo. Even if you aren’t a sushi fan, you’ll find yourself entranced with this film.

Where to Watch: Netflix


STREET FOOD: ASIA

Street Food is centered around chefs, their specialty dishes, and even gives a sneak peek into their lives. The entire street food series is absolutely amazing but episode 2 is all about Osaka, Japan’s kitchen. We’ve spent a lot of time in Osaka and eaten at a ton of different restaurants but not the ones that are in this episode! 

Where to Watch: Netflix

READ MORE: Where to Eat in Osaka: Dotonbori Street Food & Restaurants


SAMURAI GOURMET

Based on an essay and manga of the same name, Samurai Gourmet is a slice of life series that revolves around Takeshi Kasumi, a retired man who seeks meaning and rediscovers the joy of eating and drinking. In doing so, he discovers his inner persona – a samurai living freely in the age of Japan’s civil wars.

Where to Watch: Netflix


SACHIE’S KITCHEN

Sachie’s Kitchen takes views on a culinary journey through Japanese cuisine including dishes like Japanese BBQ, ramen, sweets, pickled vegetables, rice, and more. Throughout each episode, Sachie shows highlights of a foodie area of Japan and then takes a break in her kitchen in New Zealand to show you how to prepare a few specialty dishes.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS

Anthony Bourdain will always be an inspiration for us to travel more and step out of our comfort zone. In No Reservations, he goes on a global quest for culinary hotspots and interesting travel spots. During the series, he gives perspective on local culture, customs, and dining.

List of Episodes Featuring Japan

  • Asia Special: China & Japan – Season 2 Episode 1
  • Osaka – Season 2 Episode 7
  • Tokyo – Season 4 Episode 16
  • Hokkaido – Season 7 Episode 8
  • Japan Cook it Raw – Season 8 Episode 5

Where to Watch: Hulu or YouTube TV


ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN

After his successful series, No Reservations Bourdain hosted a new series titled Parts Unknown. As he explores the world the goal of No Reservations is to “eat and drink with people without fear and prejudice … [and] open up to you in ways that somebody visiting who is driven by a story may not get.”

He tries to open viewers to places that they may have never seen before on television or considered visiting in real life while also rediscovering popular places.

List of Episodes Featuring Japan

  • Tokyo – Season 2 Episode 7
  • Okinawa – Season 6 Episode 3
  • Japan with Masa – Season 8 Episode 7

Where to Watch: YouTube TV


Reality TV Shows in Japan

So I’ll have to admit, none of these may actually inspire Japan travel, but they’re interesting, touching, and funny nonetheless so I simply had to include them!

TERRACE HOUSE

Similar to the concept of the hit TV series Big Brother, Terrace House follows the lives of six strangers that move into a house together for a summer. Members of Terrace House discover romances and friendship as they live their everyday lives. This one has become super popular and there are a number of seasons to watch!

Where to Watch: Netflix


QUEER EYE: WE’RE IN JAPAN!

The “Fab Five” style experts travel to Japan to explore Japanese culture and spread joy. This is such a nice feel-good show that gives you glimpses of Japanese culture but mostly focuses on four Japanese men and women finding the confidence they need to be themselves.

Where to Watch: Netflix


Anime Shows & Movies That Inspire Travel to Japan

There are obviously a number of fabulous anime TV shows and movies that aren’t listed here, but I wanted to focus on the ones that I felt would best inspire you to visit Japan. However, if you are looking for more Japanese anime to watch, we’d be happy to give you lots of recommendations! 🙂


AKIRA

Akira is a Japanese cult classic film that is considered to be one of the most highly regarded animated films ever made. The beginning of the film is set in July of 1988 when the Japanese government drops an atomic bomb on Tokyo as a cover-up for their ESP experiments on children. 

By 2019, Tokyo is rebuilt but is plagued by corruption, gang violence, and protests. The film centers around Kaneda, a bike gang leader and his friend Tetsuo who has been taken in for testing of supernatural abilities and secret government projects.

Where to Watch: Hulu / Vudu


KIMI NO NA WA (YOUR NAME)

Kimi No Na Wa is one of the most beautiful animated films of all time. It surrounds the stories of Mitsuha Miyamizu, a teenage girl living in the mountainous Itomori area of Japan and Taki Tachibana, a teenage boy living in Tokyo. 

Mitsuha is bored with the monotony of her seemingly isolated country life and makes a wish to become a handsome city boy in her next life. Her and Taki begin switching bodies intermittently (kind of like a Freaky Friday situation) and they discover that they are falling for one another but when they decide to meet in person, things get really complicated.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


SPIRITED AWAY

Spirited Away is one of my favorite Ghibli films. It features Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who is moving from her home with her parents. On the way to their new house, they find what is seemingly an abandoned amusement park. 

While exploring the park, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro then meets Haku, who tells her that the park is for spiritual beings and in order to save herself and her parents she must work for Yubaba, the witch that owns the bathhouse resort.

Where to Watch: Vudu


MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO

My Neighbor Totoro is the beloved animated tale that follows two sisters Satsuke and Mei as they move to a mysterious country cottage with their father while their mother recovers from an illness in the hospital. While exploring the woods by their home, they find Totoro a massive cuddly forest spirit.

Also, if I can add, ALL Ghibli films are phenomenal so if you find yourself wanting more after watching Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro, here’s a list of more favorites.

Where to Watch: Vudu


IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD

This is a sobering, yet beautiful love story set in Hiroshima 10 years before and after the atomic bomb. Though the story is fictional, it has many real stories and facts weaved into the narrative. The plot revolves around Suzu, an 18-year-old girl quiet, kind girl who loves drawing. 

While working for her family business she is told that a young naval officer named Shusaku from a nearby city is planning to propose to her. Though he appears to her as a stranger, he remembers her from a time when they met as children and has always wanted to return to her since. 

The two are married and navigate through their new love, war, death, and many other hardships. Suzu finds strength in herself in many ways and the film has a very beautiful message – this is one of my favorites.

Where to Watch: Netflix


THE GARDEN OF WORDS

The Garden of Words is a Japanese drama film that focuses on 15-year-old Takao Akizuki, an aspiring shoemaker and Yukari Yukino, a mysterious 27-year-old whom he finds himself always runs into at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo.

The two form a unique connection and friendship as they begin sharing their struggles, goals, and accomplishments with each other. Each element of this movie has been beautifully chosen from the art to the music.

Where to Watch: Netflix

READ MORE: 5-Day Tokyo Itinerary


MISS HOKUSAI

The beginning of Miss Hokusai is set in 1814, during the Edo period of Japan. It centers around the life and works of Japanese artist and ukiyo-e painter Katsushika Hokusai, from the viewpoint of his daughter, Katsushika O-Ei.

Where to Watch: Netflix


ANOHANA

Anohana is the story of six friends that grew apart but are reunited due to one special person. The story focuses on mainly Jinta Yadomi who is a recluse that skips school to stay home and play video games. But, things change when his childhood friend Menma appears and asks him to grant a forgotten wish.

He believes he is hallucinating due to the summer heat because Menma died a few years ago and decides to ignore her request. His mind is later changed when he continues to see her ghost. He begins to convince the rest of their childhood friends to help fulfill her wish so her spirit can finally rest.

Where to Watch: Netflix


So there you have it! Just a few options to get you crushing on Japan. 😉 Let us know which ones you enjoy!


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Looking for movie and tv show ideas to watch while in quarantine or social distancing? This massive list includes TV shows and movies that inspire travel to Japan! There are documentaries, cooking shows, Japanese reality TV, and even family-friendly Japanese movies.
Looking for movie and tv show ideas to watch while in quarantine or social distancing? This massive list includes TV shows and movies that inspire travel to Japan! There are documentaries, cooking shows, Japanese reality TV, and even family-friendly Japanese movies.

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