Getting to know the diversity of real Japanese culture

With Englishman Peter Barakan as the host, each edition of Japanology Plus presents fresh insights into Japanese life and culture. In the Plus One segment, Matt Alt from the US introduces uniquely Japanese experiences that you can try yourself when you visit Japan! The show also has an occasional talk series: Japanophiles features lively interviews with foreigners doing big things in Japan. Watch Japanology Plus, and you may end up knowing more about Japan than the Japanese do!


Peter Barakan 



Peter Barakan is a Tokyo-based freelance broadcaster, who has been creating and presenting radio programs featuring an eclectic mix of music for 35 years.


Born in London in 1951, he studied Japanese at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). He moved to Tokyo in 1974, taking a job with a Japanese music publisher, which he left in 1980 to work for the management of the legendary techno-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra. There he promoted Japanese music to overseas markets for five years, while writing occasional record reviews and starting to appear on radio.


Since going freelance in 1986 he has been involved in broadcasting full time. His current radio programs include Barakan Beat (1996-), Weekend Sunshine (1999-), and an interview program called Lifestyle Museum (2008-). Peter's musical selections encompass diverse genres, featuring obscure artists and household names alike, and his radio shows have a loyal following among music aficionados.


Peter's TV career started as a presenter for a music-video show in the mid 1980s. Later he went on to co-host CBS Document, a program introducing the popular U.S. TV news program 60 Minutes to Japan. This experience of working with political and social content steered Peter beyond the music world and opened the door to a variety of work. On NHK, he has hosted the Japanology series for many years, showcasing various aspects of Japanese culture to a global audience. The series started as Weekend Japanology in 2003, and later evolved into Begin Japanology and then to the current Japanology Plus. 


Peter has also published several books on music (all in Japanese), including a beginner's guide to soul music and a volume on his experiences working in radio in Japan, as well as an English pronunciation guide for Japanese people.


Q & A 

It's been over 40 years since you came to Japan. What's made you stay?
Personal safety is probably number one on the list, followed by food (and sake!). No matter what kind of food, generally the Japanese do it better. And Japanese baths...which might not seem like a big thing, until you've had one. 
Name something to eat or drink that you think a newcomer to Japan should try at least once.
Seafood in Hokkaido. Both the sashimi/sushi and the various types of grilled fish, squid, etc. You'll be spoiled for life...
You've covered a huge variety of topics in the various Japanology incarnations since 2003. Which edition pops up first in memory? 

Call me a lush if you want, but the recent edition on izakaya, where we went on a bar crawl in the back streets of Shinjuku, was a lot of fun.

Name a must-see place for the first-time visitor to Japan.
Go to an onsen (hot spring). There are hundreds of them all over the country, and I still only know a few, so it's hard to make a definitive recommendation, but it's a cultural experience that you will not get elsewhere. 


Matt Alt

Reporter in Plus One


Photo by Dan Szpara

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was first kindled by robot toys in his childhood. These days the whole world loves anime, sushi, and countless other aspects of Japanese culture, but things were quite different back then. After majoring in Japanese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Matt began working as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.


In 2003, he and his wife, Hiroko Yoda (whom he met in the US and collaborated with on various translation projects), moved to Japan. Together they founded a company that produces the English versions of Japanese entertainment such as comics and video games. Their translations include the Fujiko Fujio manga classic Doraemon and the horror manga Dorohedoro, as well as video game titles in the Dragon Quest, Ninja Gaiden, and Gundam series.


Matt also writes extensively on various aspects of Japanese culture, including ninja, emoji, yokai, and much more. He is the co-author of numerous books, including Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws, Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide, and the Japanese-language e-book The Secret Lives of Emoji. His articles have appeared in The Japan Times, Wired, Slate, The New Yorker, and many other publications.


Q & A 

What first made you think Japan was interesting?

As a child, I received a robot toy from Japan as a birthday present. It was very different from the toys I knew, and when I was told it came from Japan I immediately wanted to learn more about the place it came from. So you could say that my interest in Japan blossomed from Japanese robots. I still collect them today.

When you're not appearing on Japanology Plus, what are you working on these days?
Hiroko and I are busy running our localization company. The thing we are most excited about is our upcoming Japandemonium Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopedias of Toriyama Sekien. It's the world's first translation of a series of 18th-century guidebooks to Japanese mysteries and monsters. Since the material is over two centuries old, Hiroko and I had to contextualize the material with a lot of background explanations and annotations. As translators it was really thrilling to work on something that virtually nobody has ever had a chance to read abroad.
Name something to eat or drink that you think a newcomer to Japan should try at least once.
Okinawan food! It isn't widely available abroad, so a lot of visitors aren't aware of just how much it differs from what's eaten on the mainland. It's a vibrant, unique food culture that blends aspects of Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines. And while you're at it, make a point of trying some awamori, Okinawa's favorite distilled spirit. It's a great way to wash down Okinawan classics like goya chanpuru (a sautée of pork, tofu, and a very bitter squash.) 
In the show, you present all kinds of interesting activities for visitors. Name one you think they should definitely try.

Climb a mountain! Japan is a very mountainous country, and you can't say you've seen it all until you get out of the cities and into the hills. One of the easiest and most popular destinations is Mt. Takao, just an hour from Tokyo by train. It has everything from quiet forest paths to paved walkways and even chairlifts, letting people of any ability level make the climb. There's a beautiful Buddhist temple complex at the top, and a new onsen spa at the bottom. And don't forget to try some soba noodles with tororo (sticky yam paste), a local favorite.


Matt's debut

Matt first appeared in Japanology as a guest in one of the "Japanophiles" episodes. 
Click below to enjoy the whole show.


*You will leave the NHK website.

Emma Howard



Emma is a British actor from London who is based in Japan.

Her interest in acting started when she was very young, and she had roles in lots of productions at a drama club associated with the Theatre Royal Norwich.  


She studied acting at Mountview Theatre School, London. In addition to touring the UK and performing at the Edinburgh Festival, she performed in a variety of productions in London's West End, including at the National Theatre. She has also appeared in several UK television dramas.


She relocated to Japan in 2002, and has since worked in movies, television, theatre (NNTT) and commercials. She has been a regular on the NHK English-language education program Shigoto no Kiso Eigo since 2014. Emma is no stranger to the viewers of NHK WORLD TV, as she has been a narrator for many programs on the channel, including Tokyo Eye, Rising Artist, Science Zero, Artisan x Designer, Professionals, and A Century on Film. She has been the main narrator for Japanology Plus since 2015.


Emma is a professional singer who has performed at weddings, on cruises, and in a number of venues around Tokyo. She also records vocals for commercials. 


Q & A 

Tell us what it's like working in Japan.        

I'm thrilled and very grateful to have had the opportunity to work on some fantastic projects during my time in Japan. I get to work alongside some super talented, smart and inspiring people. Being in a different place with different people working on different projects every day, there is never a dull moment. And Japanology Plus is a very successful program that I'm thrilled to be involved in. 

Name something to eat or drink that you think a newcomer to Japan should try at least once.

I love takoyaki (balls of battered octopus cooked on a griddle) and soba noodles. And kaiseki ryori, which is a kind of lavish, seasonal course meal, is a must! Matcha tea is delicious, healthy, and contains enough caffeine to wake you up. Japanese beer, which is always served ice cold, is very delicious, especially during the hot summers. There are also many varieties and limited seasonal versions. 

What is the best time of year to visit Japan? And what should a visitor do at that time of year? 

I love all of the distinct seasons in Japan. In winter, which feels relatively short, you can enjoy various winter sports. In spring the cherry blossoms. In summer the beaches and pools, and in autumn walking in the many beautiful mountainous areas where the stunning scenery of the leaves changing color can be breathtaking.

What aspect of Japanese culture most interests you? Are you a student of anything typically Japanese?

Everything about Japanese culture is interesting to me. There is too much to write about! To keep it brief: living here has broadened my mind and made me realize the importance of listening. One of the biggest differences between living in the UK and living here in Japan is the way people communicate. I think and hope that my time in Japan has made me more open to, and tolerant of, different cultures. I hope that in turn I myself have influenced some Japanese colleagues, friends and acquaintances to treasure a similar sense of openness and tolerance.

*You will leave the NHK website.