Best Japanese Podcasts for Beginner Learners

For those of us studying Japanese, listening can be one of the hardest skills to improve. Like with most things, the only way to improve is through practice; however it’s easy to try and jump into some native material and then get discouraged or overwhelmed when you can’t understand it. Luckily, there’s a lot of Japanese language podcasts out there for learners hoping to improve their listening skills. In fact, maybe too many! How can you know what podcasts are worth your time, or best suited for your needs?

In this article, I’ve rounded-up 10 of what I think are the best beginner-level podcasts for Japanese learners. I’m sorting the list roughly from the easiest at the top to the most difficult at the bottom, based purely on my experience and impressions. I’m also including a table with helpful information about the podcasts, like what they talk about and how long episodes usually are, as well as if they have one host or multiple, for example. Hopefully this all helps you find just the right podcast for you: one that’s interesting enough to keep you listening, while still being well-suited to your current Japanese abilities.

Ready to take your listening skills to the next level? Let’s dive in!

What Makes a Good Podcast?

First, some ground rules. What makes a podcast worth listening to in the first place? For this article, I wanted to focus on listening practice, which I feel is best improved through immersion. That means sticking as closely as possible to only Japanese, though since these podcasts are meant for beginners, many of them will pepper in a translation of a word or phrase in English now and then. Additionally, I did my best to pick podcasts that are either currently active, have a large back-catalog of episodes, or ideally both; nothing worse than finally getting into a podcast only to have it abruptly end.

One of the best ways to stay motivated and diligent with your practice is to find something that interests you, while not being too difficult to turn you away.

While I did have those criteria in mind while I was searching for podcasts, I wanted to be sure to cast a wide net. After all, one of the best ways to stay motivated and diligent with your practice is to find something that interests you, while not being too difficult to turn you away. Some of these podcasts have specific topics they tend to cover, while others are more scattershot, focusing more on making the Japanese easily-comprehensible rather than covering anything particular in depth. Additionally, there are a ton of different types of podcasts: from shorter ones and longer ones, to monologues and group conversations — and the lengths they go to help Japanese learners varies, too. Some offer transcripts, vocabulary lists, or just try to break down difficult words when they use them, while others are more casual.

If you find a host or a series that clicks with you, stick with it! It’s best to dive deeply into something than to bounce around and only scratch the surface.

What Makes a Podcast Beginner-Friendly?

Next, how can we define what it means to be a beginner? This is tricky, of course. In general, these are podcasts that are intended to be accessible to the widest number of people. Thinking in JLPT terms, I think beginners usually range from the N5 into the start of the N3 level. These learners are probably working through a beginner textbook like the ever-popular Genki series, maybe taking an intro class, and are just starting to get a feel for what the Japanese language has to offer.

Since podcasts focus on listening, you technically don’t need to be able to read hiragana, katakana, or any kanji to engage with these items. However, I think learning the kana syllabaries and starting to learn kanji should be the start of anyone’s Japanese language learning journey, so don’t skip that step! Even more, it’ll help a ton with deciphering what the hosts are saying, checking a transcript or vocabulary list, or even just being able to look up words you don’t know and read the episode titles.

Additionally, listening practice is just inherently a bit more advanced than something like cracking open the first page of Genki, doing the first three levels of WaniKani, or otherwise getting your feet wet in Japanese. For listening practice in general, I think using the audio included with a textbook like the Genki series and the dialogues the lessons focus on should be your first step. Or, absolute beginners can get started with something that uses visual cues to help convey information, like the excellent Comprehensible Japanese videos.

That said, I think the first few entries on this list are even easier than the audio from Genki, so even for absolute beginners, it shouldn’t be long before you’re able to get started with these as well.

Absolute Beginners: Slowed Speech and Ample Pauses

As I mentioned, these podcasts are suited for beginners, but there are a number of different ways to accomplish that. This first section includes podcasts that take probably the simplest approach: slowing down the speaking speed. Japanese is among the fastest spoken languages in the world, and for beginners just starting to do listening practice, it can be daunting to jump into something they’re unable to understand.

With these podcasts, that’s not an issue. Whether they pause between words or after particles, or even just slow the pace of each syllable down, even beginners should quickly begin to realize they’re able to comprehend, and with that, improve.

Slow Japanese by Mochifika

slow japanese by mochifika

Slow Japanese by Mochifika is a Japanese podcast aimed at providing even beginners with comprehensible listening practice material. The way it does this is as the name implies — it’s very slow! The host, Akari, breaks sentences down into pieces, and pronounces words at a near syllable by syllable pace at times. After starting in September 2021, Mochifika has released episodes at a weekly pace, building a comprehensive library. Additionally, transcripts are offered through the series’ website, allowing students an even more comprehensive look at the language.

Episodes tend to be very short, mostly around 5 minutes. This, coupled with the relatively slow release schedule makes it easy to get caught up quickly, but also easy to run out of episodes to listen to. Thankfully, the consistent schedule means you probably won’t be waiting for too long. Like many Japanese language podcasts, the topics covered vary, but there’s a little something for everyone.

Slow Japanese is a great first step into adding some listening practice to your Japanese study routine, and it’s nice that even beginners can listen and comprehend. However, the pace really is slow, and most students will outgrow the content pretty quickly. Additionally, because the pace is so unnatural, it’s really only a stepping stone rather than something more evergreen. Still, it’s hard to find a better place for Japanese beginners to get their feet wet in listening comprehension.

What sort of topics do they cover? Various, from “Japanese Green Tea” to “Weather
Is it scripted or unscripted? Scripted
Is it a monologue, or conversation? Monologue
Is there a transcript or accompanying material? Transcripts (Paid)
What’s the average length of an episode? ~5 minutes
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