One of the things you will find yourself missing when you live in a country is media in your native language. Movies, television, books, magazines and newspapers will not always be as readily available in Japan as you are used to getting at home, and quite often this media takes on a different form in Japan. However, recent developments like Internet access and satellite TV have brought much of this media closer to home.
Movies: actually, movies will be the easiest kind of English media to get. Even if you don't live in a big city with tons of movie theaters, there will always be video rental shops, and luckily almost all English-language films in Japan are subtitled, not dubbed, in movie theaters and on video. Japanese video shops will typically be a lot smaller than rental shops back home, and the selection will not be quite as good, but they will likely carry most of the movies you'd want to see.
A few videos (especially animated films) will be dubbed, so you will want to watch out for that. If you think it might not have subtitles, you can go to the clerk, point to the video, and ask "jimaku suupah?" ("subtitles?"), and they'll tell you. You might even want to try to memorize the few characters on the box that indicate subtitles or dubbing. Most video stores will be OK with you returning the video and swapping it with a non-dubbed one in case you get one by mistake.
Television: You might wonder if you should even bother with Japanese television, but there is a reason, one word: "bilingual." That's what they call "SAP" in Japan. Essentially it's the same as in the U.S., where an extra audio channel is broadcast--except that in Japan there are only two audio channels, and when a program is shown in "bilingual" mode, they use one of the stereo audio channels. As a result, you can have shows broadcast in stereo or in two languages, but never both at the same time. Bilingual broadcasts almost always use English as the second language. How much bilingual programming is available changes from time to time. Sometimes you can see a few bilingual movies, a bilingual news broadcast and a bilingual U.S. TV show in a day, sometimes even more--but other days there will be practically nothing on. Also, if you like to watch TV, you learn to be less discriminating; usually the movies and TV series will not be what you'd have chosen if you were running things. Japanese TV stations seem to like violence-heavy U.S. imports, and their choices of TV series is often a complete mystery. Also, expect there to be more English-language media on TV well after midnight.
The average city in Japan only has about 4 or 5 broadcast television channels; at most you'll see maybe eight. Two of these stations will invariably be NHK General and NHK Educational. NHK is the government-run "public" broadcasting network. It is like PBS as it does not run commercials, but not like PBS as it is owned and run by the government. NHK General often has better programming than the usual fare on Japanese TV, but NHK Educational is a wasteland. NHK is not free, by the way; expect an NHK collector to come to your door and demand that you cough up about 2000 yen a month for the privilege of having NHK beamed into your apartment, whether you like it or not. They will insist you pay, but according to most sources in the know, there is no law saying you have to. (What are they going to do, stop broadcasting to your apartment?) You can either simply refuse to pay, or lie and say you have no TV or just don't watch NHK--any of these options made more convincing if you do not speak Japanese, as the collector will likely not speak English.
Cable TV is still not big in Japan, but might be available in some locations, and offers reasonable programming, including CNN and a few other English-only channels. The big thing in Japan, though, is broadcast satellite TV, officially referred to as "BS TV" (no, I am not making that up). These mini-dish services are just beginning to blossom, and also provide a good variety of programming. Be warned, however--it is likely the NHK collector will see your mini-dish, and come to your door demanding twice what he did before, now that you enjoy the privilege of picking up NHK's BS channel.
Books: This can be a tough cookie sometimes if you're an avid reader. If you live in a big city, there will be a few stores with fair-sized English book sections. Kinokuni-ya bookstores are known for the selections they carry, but also for the prices they charge. You might want to try a mail-order place called "the Foreign Buyer's Club" in Kobe; as of late 1995, they were importing English books for reasonable prices, delivering them to your doorstep along with bulk orders of food items otherwise unavailable in Japan. Amazon.com also delivers books internationally, but the only way it's really cost-effective is to have them ship by surface mail, which can take from "2 to 10 weeks."
Magazines: Magazines are in the same category as books in that there are few places in Japan that sell them and they are quite expensive. Unfortunately, they are usually not available via mail order houses. There are a handful of English-language magazines published in Japan, and English-language TIME and Newsweek are available in many bookstores that carry no other English magazines. Also, you may find some relief at work: English language schools usually have subscriptions to at least a few different English-language magazines and newspapers.
Newspapers: Naturally, it is not cost-effective to import actual foreign newspapers to Japan. You can find them, though; Tower Records in Shibuya, Tokyo, has a selection of imported newspapers, though they cost quite a bit more than a quarter. Fortunately, there are several English-language newspapers published right in Japan. You can get the Japan Times, the Daily Yomiuri, the Mainichi Daily, and the Asahi Evening News delivered; USA Today and The International Herald-Tribune are also available. The best and most expensive native paper is the Japan Times; the best native paper for a reasonable price (about $20 a month) is the Daily Yomiuri. Your tastes may vary.
Do not expect English-language newspapers to be what you are used to getting at home, however. Newspapers in Japan are usually just a dozen pages long, at most twenty. This is in line with Japanese newspapers, which are small and fragmented; there are news newspapers, sports newspapers, business newspapers, and a variety of other kinds. Buy a half-dozen of them and you might get the equivalent of one U.S. weekday newspaper--but you'll have spent perhaps $5 to put it together. Fortunately, the English papers have more variety, though they are short on volume.
Internet: After a slow start, the Internet seems to be catching on a bit in Japan. Despite the image of Japan being a computer-savvy country, few Japanese people have personal computers; most stick with long popular "wa-puro" (word processors), which are little more than glorified typewriters. Japan is beginning to catch up, though, and this is evident from the boom of Internet servers and web sites. While it is possible to get Internet accounts at a price comparable to the U.S., one major drawback is the telephone service. Japan does not offer the same free local call service that most of the U.S. enjoys. So while you could stay on-line indefinitely for free by calling a local node for your ISP back home, in Japan, even a call next door costs 10 yen every three minutes. While that may increase to five minutes under new pricing due to the breaking of NTT's monopoly, you're still looking at 200 yen (about $1.50) per hour. If you spend an hour a day on-line, that comes out to $45 a month, and suddenly you're paying way more for local phone charges than for your Internet account itself.
One answer to this is called "tele-houdai," a variation on "tabe-houdai," which means "all you can eat." Contrary to the name, it does not mean "all you can call." Rather, it is a service you buy for about $20 a month which allows "free" phone calls to only two telephone numbers of your choice (you must register the numbers); the real drawback is that it only allows you to make these "unlimited" calls between 11pm and 8am. So unless you're an insomniac, that means your net surfing must take place at pre-ordained times either late at night or early in the morning. It also means that almost every Internet service provider in the country is deluged with telephone calls at precisely 11pm every night--which means that many people will get busy signals for at least the first half hour. ISDN lines have also become available as of late.
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