Updated November 2020 – Since I first wrote this six years ago, a few things have changed so I’ve tested out the JSTV-i service again and updated this post accordingly, below.

If you want to watch Japanese TV in the UK – legally* – you have four options that I’ve found:

1) JSTV (via satellite) or JSTV-i (streaming)

2) Crunchyroll (anime, with a handful of old drama series)

3) Viki – around 40 drama series, very infrequently updated

4) Netflix – quite a lot of anime and also drama series, including some exclusives, alongside an assortment of Japanese cinema

Only JSTV covers the whole range of TV programming, from news to sports to the occasional film. It’s run from London, but backers include the NHK public broadcasting organisation. You can receive it in the UK and Europe for a fee of £30 / €50  per month – either via satellite (you’ll need a special setup, not the same as Sky/Freesat) or the internet service JSTV-i, which I tried.

JSTV-i: What You Get

JSTV-i allows you to view a livestream of the two JSTV channels: JSTV1 and JSTV2, both of which now broadcast 24/7. It’s viewable via a website on PC/Mac or on iOS devices.

When I first reviewed the service the browser-based stream was a bit poor, but in 2020 this is very much improved. You can choose from a range of video quality settings, with the best being decent HD quality, and on my Mac I was able to view both fullscreen and as a picture-in-picture window. The interface is similarly good on an iPhone – again, picture in picture worked well for me – and it’s possible to stream via Airplay to an Apple TV; the result is good quality.

The key advantage of JSTV-i for someone learning Japanese as a second language is the breadth of its programming. Although related to NHK, JSTV also runs shows from other networks (notably TV Tokyo and Fuji TV), and the overall service is broadly similar to a mainstream BBC channel: morning programming, kids’ shows both before and after school, news broadcasts, documentaries (mainly NHK) and drama – including NHK’s flagship asadora, if you have a couple of dozen hours to sink into one. There’s some sport, too – including huge, multi-hour chunks of Sumo – although rights issues mean that sport clips are often missing from evening news broadcasts.

You can view the schedules online here.

What You Don’t Get

The key omission from JSTV-i’s service is any way to record or catch up on programmes. Working at least five days a week, I found that I could often watch a bit of the morning programming, and then maybe some news at night – but nothing in between, when many shows that include less formal language (dramas, etc) are broadcast. It is technically possible to record a livestream of this type, but it’s not simple and may well be in breach of the service terms anyhow.

If you invested the time and cash setting up a satellite receiver for JSTV, then using a PVR would solve this problem. But I found myself wishing there were something akin to the BBC iPlayer – even if it included only the previous 24 hours’ programming, I’d have been able to watch far more.

And So..

Ultimately, as much as I enjoyed the JSTV-i service, I’ve decided to cancel it for now – £30 is a lot to pay when you’re only managing to catch a few news broadcasts each week. I’ll be keeping an eye on the service, though, and if it ever did get upgraded to something with on-demand options I’d probably sign up again. And if you’re around during the day, £30 per month might be good value for the quantity and breadth of the programming that you’d get to watch – most of which isn’t available to view anywhere else on this side of the planet.

* There are all sorts of other ways, of course.