NHK World is a strangely captivating channel, it may be located amongst all the news channels in your programme guide, but the majority of the time NHK airs special interest broadcasts such as documentaries, travelogues, fashion, technology, and cooking shows. If you tune in you’ll be introduced to the most sedate programming you’ll ever see, it’s almost like a documentary lullaby. From the calm pace, the reserved and self-effacing presenters, to the slightly kitsch programme titles, the whole atmosphere of the channel is like stepping into another world. If you desire a change of tone or pace as you flick through the EPG, tune in, it’s worth viewing simply for the novelty of watching something offbeat (and sometimes bizarre) when compared to our national channels.
The calmly told news on NHK World (which airs every hour) is inter-dispersed with half-an-hour shows promoting everything Japanese. If you like Japanese cuisine there’s cooking shows like “Dining With The Chef”, if you enjoy travel there’s “Journeys In Japan” and “Somewhere Street”, if you’re interested in Japanese manga and anime there’s “imagine-nation”, if you want to know about cutting-edge technology there’s “Science View” and “Great Gear”, and if you’re interested in Tokyo, “TOKYO EYE” shows various aspects of the capital city. “TOKYO EYE” is worth watching just for presenter Chris Peppler; Japan’s answer to Huey Morgan from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals.
One of the most watchable shows is “Somewhere Street” a travel show which is shot without the audience seeing the presenter in a P.O.V. style. As the cameraman travels around various international destinations it’s like visiting the place yourself especially when viewed in HD. With NHK working at the forefront of 8K, I’m sure programmes like this will be broadcast in Ultra HD in no time, and shows like “Somewhere Street” will benefit greatly from this advance in technology. Although the English voice-over can sometimes make the show a little condescending and annoying, weirdly, some of the more awkward moments between the cameraman and strangers in the street are the most captivating and hardest to turn away from. “Somewhere Street” is about as far from any western travel show as you can get, and it’s worth checking this show out just for the contrasting style.
There’s also “Great Gear”, a technology and craft programme which showcases a mixture up-and-coming technology and artisan goods, with each segment promoting these various Japanese-made products. The show itself is interesting enough, but the thing that makes “Great Gear” worth watching is the correspondent Brian Hughes who shows us around various trade shows with a nervous, somewhat shy, yet completely friendly style of presenting.
My personal favourite is “Lunch On!” a very simple format which shows the audience at home the food consumed during the lunch break by various Japanese workers. Each episode visits a different workplace from factories to offices and the programme lets the viewer at home see what these people eat. This among many other shows on NHK World is a great example of what I like to call “propaganda-lite”. Mainstream western News Channels take note; this is how you promote your country. The understated, subtle propaganda of NHK is preferable to the up-tempo yet gloomy, gung-ho, patriotic nonsense we have over here. I’d rather have no patriotism or propaganda at all, but if the western broadcasters have to make it, then the calm, hypnotic, Nationalistic promotion of NHK is preferable to the brash jingoistic scaremongering we’re confronted with over here.
Some of the programmes on NHK World feel like the early morning educational shows for children shown on the BBC during the seventies and eighties, other shows on NHK feel like they’ve been plucked straight from a Sci-Fi Thriller. Not counting the news, much of the programming is somewhere between the first series of “Look Behind You” and the Civic TV ident in “Videodrome”. As a westerner, this aesthetic is refreshingly different and highly addictive when compared to the television channels in the UK and US. If you’re doing some homework, working on an essay, cooking, drawing, or getting high (which I’m not endorsing by the way) having these tranquil and unobtrusive shows in the background, will definitely help you get on with your work. The atmosphere of the shows on NHK World will have you completing your task with ease, even writing this article was a breeze!