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Japanese Shows with Exact Subs: The List of Honour

June 22, 2007
By

As many of you are painfully aware, most Japanese-language movies, TV dramas and animes still have no subs on the DVDs. Foreign/Hollywood movies dubbed into Japanese generally do have subs, but these are almost never exact dialogue transcripts (at least, I have never seen one), rather they are a rewording or a paraphrasing.

But why? I needed answers. So I went to my local video rental store, and asked to speak to the manager. (Names changed to protect the innocent). And I said to him, I said: “Mr Nakamura, Double-U. Tee. Eff. Why are the subs so often inexact or nonexistent?”. And Mr. Nakamura told me that the thinking in Japan’s movie industry has typically followed two distinct lines:

  1. Hearing-impaired people can go in the general direction of heck.
  2. Subtitles on foreign movies are not merely intended to repeat dialogue, but to convey, clarify and expound on dialogue — in other words, to pick up perceived slack in the audio translation.

Which is all well and good, but that kind of thing can tend to leave an avid learner like you or me…cold.

But there is hope! For there are some Japanese shows that do have exact Japanese subs; right down to the pauses and bridges (the equivalents of “um”). Here are the ones I know about from my pavement-pounding research (I seriously went in the flesh, because the information on the web was on the unreliable side).

There it is. I am quite certain that these shows have exact subs — I checked every single one at my local video store. But, just to make even more sure, you might want to check with the vendor in question, especially since at least one major vendor (Amazon.jp) has a naughty habit of not listing any info at all about whether there are subs or not. So here is a sample email you might send them:

Subject: 【確認依頼】DVD・日本語字幕の有無/「Name of show」DVD-BOX

こんにちは。

「Name of SHOW」というDVDセットを購入しようとしていますが、
商品解説ページには明記していませんので、
日本語字幕が付いているかどうか確認して頂きたいと思います。

お取り計らいの程、宜しくお願いします。

[Your name]

Most Japanese dramas run for a single 10-12 episode season of 3 months; this makes it so the good shows end before ever jumping the shark, and the bad shows, well, end. Some shows do have sequel seasons, but this is rare. One thing to note is that just because one season of a show has subs, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any other seasons do. Very much a case-by-case thing.

Pricewise, buying a Japanese drama TV series box set will typically run you in the $120-$150 range, before shipping. In other words, the same price 2-3 normal university textbooks (or one chemistry textbook)…it is steep, but it’s worth it. If you can only buy one right now, buy Tiger & Dragon (タイガー&ドラゴン); I love that show! It has a really cool plot structure that makes it very re-watchable. Infinitely rewatchable. I’m watching it right now — I often just loop the DVDs.

This isn't extortion or anything, but if you donate to AJATT, I promise not to tell people about that thing with you and the dead rabbit.

The Emotional Sentence Pack
The MCD Revolution Kit

51 Responses to Japanese Shows with Exact Subs: The List of Honour

  1. Glenn on June 22, 2007 at 14:16

    Now I realize why I hadn’t seen this post before: it’s new! ^^;; Thanks for the work you put into that. And on a side note, it’s interesting that so much care is taken in helping out blind people, but deaf people are left to fend for themselves. I wonder why that bias exists.

  2. khatzumoto on June 22, 2007 at 15:22

    Yeah, you’re right…Maybe the deaf people haven’t lobbied enough? Maybe people figure that Japan’s culture is “visual enough”? Dunno…Perhaps it’s easy to take it for granted that every country will automatically be as conscientious in all areas about people with disabilities as, say, the US is by law.

    If nothing else, the gerontification of Japan might make adding good subs a commonplace thing.

  3. Alec on June 22, 2007 at 20:15

    By watching Japanese movies/dramas with Japanese subtitles, don’t you think one could become dependent on them and be practise reading rather than listening? I’m quite strong at reading but relatively poor at listening, so when I watch Japanese TV/movies, I try and make a point of ignoring the subtitles.

  4. Mighty Matt on June 22, 2007 at 20:31

    Ah, but Alec, for people who are just starting out on their journey down the path of Japanese the subtitles are an essential aid to working out what people are babbling about.
    From what you say you’re obviously not a beginner so basic grammar/vocab is under your belt. Perhaps you could watch something with the subtitles the first time, to understand what’s going on, and then watch it subsequent times without them to force yourself to listen. Obviously turning on the subtitles to check anything.
    Like any part of the journey, if you think you’re becomming dependent on any one part of the language (reading, listening etc) then focus on the others to let them catch up. The hardest path is the quickest path!!

  5. khatzumoto on June 22, 2007 at 20:32

    Hey Alec!

    Hmmm…the answer to that is “nes”. No and yes.

    First of all, Japanese learners who can read Japanese so well that they lust for subs? That isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    Secondly, reading subs can be a great vocabulary-building exercise. I pick up words that I would have just slipped by because I could follow the conversation without knowing exactly what they mean; as with one’s native language, it’s easy to (almost subconsciously) infer a stray word. But subs force it to your conscious attention.

    As long as the subs are in JAPANESE, I see no problem with it, because ultimately, it can only make your Japanese better. Knowing more words through parsing subs will reduce your need to look up words in the dictionary, and in turn reducing your dependence on subs. So, like the dictionary, subs may seem to bind, but in the end (used correctly), they set us free.

    English subs, on the other hand…are the devil.

    And, I know I’m repeating myself here, but so many foreigners in Japan are illiterate. Even what appeared to be a Korean girl I saw at immigration a couple of days ago couldn’t write kanji; filling in a form, she asked: “is romaji okay?”. For us non-Japanese to become a class of “super-literates” (more intimate with the Japanese writing system than typical people from Japan), then, can only be a step forward. Besides, if the worst comes to the worst, you can always ask someone to repeat, restate or clarify themselves in a conversation.

    So don’t fear the subs (as long as they’re in Japanese). Don’t avert your eyes from the subs (as long as they’re in Japanese). Because if you can read Japanese subs, Alec, that is a WONDERFUL state to have reached.

  6. khatzumoto on June 22, 2007 at 20:50

    Two more points–(1) there are plenty of great shows that are subless. Like ハンドック (slang for “half-doctors (半ドック), i.e. medical interns) and both seasons of ごくせん(short for “極道の先生”, a yakuza heiress turned high school teacher with kung-fu skills and a heart of gold). Those are two of the best shows ever made. A rewarding challenge for anyone wanting to go subless…although I guess you could just turn off the DVD subs where they do exist.
    (2) Subs provide a way to confirm that you heard what you think you heard. In a convo, it’s OK to misunderstand–that can be cleared up by confirmation. But when mining for sentences to enter into the SRS, unless you have absolute confidence (something you should avoid having too too much of all the time), you should get written confirmation that you indeed heard what you think you heard. Put another way, if what you heard is new enough to you that it warrants SRS entry…then it warrants confirmation by a third party of some kind.

    Having said all that, Alec…your question about becoming text-dependent is interesting, because I hear from my friends that a lot of older people are complaining that the young generation “are accustomed to getting too much text confirmation (as on TV), and are not good at listening anymore”…But you know what? Older people as a group whine too freaking much sometimes. They’re never happy with what the young people are doing. Either they’re not reading enough and forgetting kanji, or they’re reading too much and becoming visual-centered bookworms. Which is it? It can’t be both!! Text is a good thing. Text clarifies. Text is “solid” in a way that audio isn’t. So, get off our backs, older people!!

    Haha. Anyway, thanks for commenting, Alec. LoL, I hope you don’t feel flamed! Please feel free to comment any time.

  7. Glenn on June 23, 2007 at 00:22

    One thing that I always have trouble with when listening is that when I hear a word I don’t know, didn’t quite catch, or am not very familiar with I spend time on that word and miss the ones that come after it. And if there are too many of them I’ll quit paying attention. Having something to look at helps focus that attention, and also allows me to pick up words that I wouldn’t have just from listening due to various reasons, including it being pronounced differently than I’m used to or mumbled (that seems to happen way to frequently with Japanese). Also, seeing a word written also gives clues to its meaning, as it’s not always what I would expect. It also cuts down on the guesswork and time that takes when listening (“which ‘chou’ is that, I wonder,” etc.) Not too much new information here, but I figured I’d share my experience for what it’s worth.

  8. anders on June 23, 2007 at 01:31

    One great way to use exact Japanese subs is to go through them and add ALL sentences which contains words you don’t know to your SRS. I did this with the movie リリイ・シュシュのすべて. I does take some time though, (at least for me, at my current level of Japanese). I added around 400 sentences (~1600 total) when going through リリイ・シュシュのすべて, and it took me 15-20 hours (over a couple of days).

    I’m also considering doing the same thing with タイガー&ドラゴン. I watched it some time ago, with English subtitles (I was studying casually at the time, and didn’t know how “evil” they were), and it was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. But it was very frustrating not being able to understand the stories fully in Japanese.

  9. khatzumoto on June 23, 2007 at 01:36

    Yeah, タイガー&ドラゴン has a huge vocabulary range, from the hippest modern youth slang, to words and phrases that are now archaic (in the classic rakugo stories), and everything in between. Maybe that’s part of its charm. I didn’t understand it fully until I saw it with J-subs, so I can understand your frustration. But like you said, it’s such a cool show..

  10. Jim on June 23, 2007 at 01:53

    Wow Khatzumoto, you are a pro! That is a long list of Japanese shows.. I don’t suppose you can recommend any good Chinese shows / movies with accurate subs?

    Are the subs always just displayed as images on the screen, or sometimes available as separate text that can be processed on the computer?

  11. khatzumoto on June 23, 2007 at 02:00

    Hey Jim

    DVD subs (as far as I know), are images.

    Most Chinese shows come with Chinese subs (they are the rule, rather than the exception), assuming you buy a release intended for a Chinese audience, as opposed to, say, an American or Japanese release (sometimes, foreign releases come without Chinese subs…there are exceptions, but you need to be careful). Ebay is a good place to get Chinese shows. Check these out for starters (I don’t know that many Chinese shows yet! Haha…):

    Moment In Peking
    Chinese Paladin

  12. Charles on June 23, 2007 at 12:11

    Thanks Khatz!
    You answered my question! I was planning on writing you about the woes of inaccurate subtitles. I’ve been using them with Japanese Audio American Movie DVDs. They are a great quiz to try to tie the audio together and to quiz myself on kanji, but don’t work so well for SRS entries. Thank you so much for the list. I’m heading to Tsutaya this afternoon!!

  13. Glenn on June 27, 2007 at 22:06

    I found a movie with exact subs sort of by accident. It’s called 日本沈没. It was made in 1973, so the special effects are pretty dated, but the story’s fairly interesting and the acting is pretty good.

    I just rented タイガー&ドラゴン today, so I’ll be checking that out in the following week.

  14. John B on June 29, 2007 at 16:27

    For what it’s worth, the copy of 結婚できない男 that I bought in Shanghai has exact Japanese subs. I assume that it was … uhm … borrowed from a Japanese version that had exact subs, and then just had Chinese subs slapped on as well, so that might be worth checking out. It’s a pretty cute sitcom.

  15. Marshal on August 18, 2007 at 20:03

    I took your advice. You can pick up the first couple seasons of Sopranos here in Japan for really cheap, and can watch it dubbed in Japanese with Japanese subtitles. Its sweet!

  16. Nathanael on December 2, 2007 at 03:59

    Just as I was lamenting the lack of exact subtitles in the 新スター・トレック ボックスセット that I picked up last week, I stumbled on the U.S.S. Kyushu TOS/TNG Episode Guide where the some people to whom I am greatful have compiled exact transcripts of 37 of the 178(?) TNG episodes. Granted, it’s not all 178, but 37 episodes is still a lot of material.

    Khatzumoto, thanks for all your work, publishing some of your thoughts on language learning, and maintaining this site!

  17. mark on December 12, 2007 at 10:44

    Hi Khatz,

    Another very useful article – thanks.

    As you have mentioned elsewhere on this site, there is often a problem with (specifically) American movies in that the dubbed Japanese dialogue often doesn’t match the Japanese subtitles.

    I have the Aliens 2 and a few of the Star Wars movies and this seems to be the case.

    Do you, by any chance, know of any American TV drama series or movies where the dubbed Japanese and Japanese subtitles do match?

    Any chance of a blog post on this??? I seem to remember that you have 24 – does that have matching J dubbed & J subs?

    Thanks again for answering my questions…And apologies if I have missed a previous blog post on this :-)

    Mark

  18. khatzumoto on December 13, 2007 at 12:05

    @mark
    >Do you, by any chance, know of any American TV drama series or movies where the dubbed Japanese and Japanese subtitles do match?
    I have not so far come across any such show. The typical thinking thus far has been that the subtitles exist to explain the English dialogue, not to explain or transcribe the Japanese dialogue.

  19. mark on December 15, 2007 at 23:25

    Thanks for the answer, Khatz.

    And I obviously get zero points for missing the words,’… but these are almost never exact dialogue transcripts (****at least, I have never seen one****)…’ in the 2nd paragraph of this article :-) doh!

    Anyway, keep up the great work.

    Mark

  20. vgambit on September 15, 2008 at 17:55

    I just ordered the Blu-Ray of Prison Break Season 1 (it has Japanese dubs and subs) and I wanted to know if (since I’m pretty sure you at least have the DVD) the subs and dubs are exact.

  21. khatzumoto on September 15, 2008 at 18:30

    AFAIK, no…I rented seasons 1&2, and it was no dice in terms of exactness…but some subs are better than no subs. Plus it’s just a great show.

  22. vgambit on September 18, 2008 at 19:56

    It is a great show; I’ve seen seasons 1 and 2 in English, and some of 3. However, the Blu-Ray just arrived, and much to my dismay, it has absolutely no Japanese whatsoever, contrary to what it says on the box (Japanese audio and subtitles).

    I did a bit of research and exactly two Japanese people had the same disappointment I did. And of course, I can’t seem to find the Japanese dubbed version anywhere online. I would make an exception to my rule and just order the Japanese Blu-Ray, but then it won’t play in my American PS3.

    The US version of the DVD box set is $30, but only has English dubs. The Japanese version is $108.

  23. Zerina on October 15, 2008 at 19:29

    Katzumoto/ Any member,

    with info about how (-which page, etc.) I can sign into some japanese virtual library, where I could read books (history, culture related) in japanese, please enlighten me. Please. I’m studing Tokugawa period with special emphasis on works of Suzuki Harunobu and there’s a scholar Nishiyama Matsunosuke (西山松之助 ) with brilliant input…that I can not yet reach in japanese! I read most of his stuff in eng, but I want it in jap. as well.

    Anyhow, I’m probably posting this way out of proper section (studing binge, sleep deprived,etc),Khatzumoto, sorry if you’ve already given this info-I browsed FAQ,didn’t find it there,so…

    どうもありがとうございました! Blessed is the day I stumbled upon your page, keep up the good work! Oh, I really need the “virtual version”, not printed book, no Amazon, just something along the lines of Questia (online library, very easy to use).

    Najlepša hvala!

  24. Lisa on October 18, 2008 at 21:50

    Most of the Japanese DVDs I own are music-related so they don’t have any subs at all, but I checked the few Japanese movies I have for subs.

    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — non-exact Japanese subs
    木更津キャッツアイ 日本シリーズ — no Japanese subs at all
    木更津キャッツアイ ワールドシリーズ — exact Japanese subs

  25. SadlyEnlightened on November 28, 2008 at 02:20

    Ah, thank you for your post. I’d just e-mailed CDJapan asking about Japanese subtitles and they said generally Japan had none, and this served as a confirmation of my fear. I do agree though that subs are a great confirmation tool, and great for vocab, considering that I picked up a ton of words from translating text that I can hear easily now, that otherwise I never picked up on.

    So I figured maybe the solution is, to target Japanese DVD’s that are outside of the Japan region, and bet on them having JP subtitles instead…

  26. [...] who have looked will know that Japanese/East Asian movies and TV shows that have same-language subs at all, let alone subs that exactly match dialog, are a rare and precious thing indeed. Like, I bet [...]

  27. Andrew on January 1, 2009 at 21:47

    Does anyone know where I can get hold of any of these series in the UK for a reasonable price? Everywhere seems to be charging around £150 for drama boxsets which is a little steep….

  28. Chris on January 13, 2009 at 09:15

    Khatz,

    If I may ask, how did you deal with this not-exactly-matching-subs problem when you were still learning Japanese? You mention watching movies in Japanese a lot as an important part of the method, so was it a major problem for you?

  29. khatzumoto on January 13, 2009 at 12:05

    @Chris
    Not really. I just came to accept it. I reasoned that if Japanese people had not needed it to achieve fluency, then neither did I. It would help, but it wouldn’t make or break the situation. Also, I found the subs to be helpful in that they showed me different/terser ways to phrase the same thing. Finally, subs may not always match speech, but they are usually close enough to serve as something to check against if and when one does decide to transcribe a some character dialog for entry into an SRS.

  30. burtholomew on March 11, 2009 at 21:08

    Man I am glad I stumbled across this again before purchasing another set of DVDs from amazon. Last time I bought all english movies dubbed in japanese, so this time I tried to get a list of japanese movies… now I found out only one of them has subtitles haha, whew. canceled !!! :p

  31. Morticia on April 5, 2009 at 17:57

    Aaah… 女王の教室 is my most absolute favourite tv show ever!! Before I saw the list, I was thinking about how the subtitles are pretty good and how it should be up there. So, I’m glad it’s up there!! Now I’m going to check out some other shows on this list, I think!!

    ps – and Amami Yuki is awesome. She is my “Japanese mother” in terms of learning the language…

  32. Mlee on April 21, 2009 at 06:23

    I’ve just been watching quite a funny movie called warai no daigaku which has exact subs which are amazing D: Even where people say suimasen instead of sumi D: It’s quite a cool movie… just to add to the list…

  33. ranma on June 19, 2009 at 02:02

    All of the Crayon Shin-chan movies have EXACT Japanese subtitles with furigana for the kanji! (Unfortunately, the TV shows do not have ANYTHING extra on it except for the show, which I can see on regular TV!)

    I also have noticed that most of the Studio Ghilbi productions do have subtitles and audio in both Japanese and English, but you go through those very quickly. As a fan of anime, I am deeply saddened that only few of them have Japanese subtitles. I think they are missing out on a big market for students of Japanese…

  34. Nessarose on June 24, 2009 at 19:44

    I found another show with exact subs, オレンジデイズ. Also, it has a deaf main character and whenever people talk to her they speak kind of slowly because they’re using sign language at the same time, which gives you more time for processing and reading the subs.

    Also, I’d recommend this show to anyone who knows BSL (or other sign languages, I imagine). After a while it gets easy to pick up signs and the structures of spoken Japanese and signed Japanese (and BSL) appear to be very similar (unlike BSL/English), so with those characters who sign and talk at the same time (Kai, mostly, but he has lots of dialogue), what they’re signing is usually what they’re saying, as far as I could tell. I found that very helpful for picking up new vocab.

    Thanks for this amazing site, Khatzumoto!

  35. mikeycp on December 3, 2009 at 05:41

    i just want to give a supporting recommendation for ドラゴン桜. it’s seriously an excellent drama. the acting may not be the best all the time, but it’s definitely worth it. it’s currently one of my favorite things to watch ever.

    just throwing that out there.

    ;;>_>

  36. 葉未 on April 4, 2010 at 18:38

    I found one more Japanese TV drama for the list:

    離婚弁護士 season2 「りこんべんごし 」

  37. プレプレ (that other black guy) on May 7, 2010 at 10:47

    Khatzumoto,

    I found a much cheaper way to get Japanese shows with exact subs. The process for obtaining them may be a little tedious, but it saved me tons of money. So here we go:

    Usually when I buy J-Dramas I buy the Chinese version because they are much much cheaper, but I was getting tired of the Chinese and English subtitles… So today I decided I wanted to buy the Japanese version of 電車男 for the original subs. However on Amazon, the lowest price for the DVD was around $150 (YesAsia was asking for a freakin’ $280!) So I was like, “Okay, there’s gotta be a cheaper way…,” and sure enough there is!

    Here’s what I did:

    1) Found the episode (in a movie file) with no subs.
    2) Looked for the .idx and .sub files for that episode together.
    3) Made sure VobSub was installed to my computer.
    4) Placed the episode, idx file, and sub file all in the same directory.
    5) Made sure that all three files named the same before the “.” (i.e. Densha_123.avi, Densha_123.idx, and Densha_123.sub)
    6) And then I played the movie file in Windows Media Player, and I saw J-subs!

    Disclaimer: I just figured this out and haven’t really messed around with it too much. And also, this discovery may have been already mentioned on other posts so sorry if I’m repeating them…

    Anyway, I hope this helps someone, man.

  38. プレプレ (that other black guy) on May 7, 2010 at 12:22

    Oh yeah, if the subtitles timing is off, then it can be kind of annoying…

  39. プレプレ (that other black guy) on May 7, 2010 at 12:46

    Sorry, it’s me again… Yeeeah, don’t bother listening to my idea. The J-subs and the audio won’t match unless you have the exact video file to match the exact sub timing.
    (sigh) Looks like I’ll be saving up for 電車男 after all…

  40. メタリカが大好き on June 26, 2010 at 03:53

    @プレプレ
    I like your idea, as tedious as it may be :P
    My only problem is finding the links of japanese shows without subs. My best luck is usually with spanish subs. Do you know a good site to get japanese subs or no subs at all

  41. メタリカが大好き on June 26, 2010 at 03:57

    @ プレプレ
    Can’t edit my post so i’ll post again: know any good sites w/ japanese subs or no subs, especially for the dramas 電車男 and ドラゴン桜? Thanks a lot!:)

  42. ビニボン on August 2, 2010 at 17:40
  43. tjenelle on November 27, 2010 at 03:30

    www.youtube.com/user/alfaexpress

    This may have exact subs, I don’t know what kind of Chinese it is.

  44. Cathryn Mataga on November 28, 2010 at 14:19

    www.youtube.com/user/hamatimejirotubasu

    These aren’t great, but they do have subs in Japanese — and they’re close to the original dialog, far as I can tell.

    And I confess. I’m another one of those people whose reading ability is light years ahead of my listening comprehension. It is very frustrating. With subs I get the gist, and sometimes I completely understand. With audio only, I fall asleep.

  45. [...] のだめ is one of those shows with exact subtitles, so in addition to being pretty damn funny, it’s also especially 為に成る。 Front: DP: [...]

  46. Lindsay on May 20, 2011 at 03:50

    Ah I wish I could afford that 花より男子! So expensive…
    I have seen them all but I want it with those subs~

  47. Bo Laurent on December 4, 2011 at 06:23

    There are communities of fans of various Japanese media, who make open source subtitles. You can download the subtitle files and use the VLC video player to play the video with the subtitles overlaid. I think, in general, these people are getting the video media via bit torrent. A big bonus: you can open the open source subtitle files in a text editor, so you can look up the kanjis, or copy and past the text to your SRS.

    www.localizingjapan.com/blog/2011/05/04/japanese-subtitles-on-videos/
    www.d-addicts.com/forum/subtitles.php#Japanese
    www.d-addicts.com/forum/torrents.php 

  48. [...] in the case of “Peeping Life“) it’s basically 100% real — and exact-L2-subbed, to [...]

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