A Partial Guide to Broadcastings in Japan

Unofficial guide to Japan's major broadcastings as of 1998


The broadcasting system in Japan is divided into the public sector, represented solely by NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, or the Japan Broadcasting Corporation), and the commercial sector.

NHK collects the mandatory viewing fees from households which own TV sets and makes it the source of fund for its wide activities. It operates a nationwide network with 2 MW radio, 1 FM radio, 2 VHF television and 2 BS televison channels. Also, it has a shortwave overseas radio Radio Japan.

As of 1992, there are 177 commercial broadcasting companies, 36 of which operate both TV and radio, 82 only TV and 59 only radio. Local TV stations form tie-up networks with major key companies in Tokyo, i.e. NTV, TBS, Fuji-TV (CX), TV-Asahi and TV-Tokyo. Majority (roughly 80%) of programs are provided by these dominating stations. Those commercial broadcasting companies rely on advertising revenue. As you can imagine, sponsors are very sensitive to the audience ratings, hence TV stations tend to make junky programs which only aim at raitings.

Number of Broadcasting Companies by Type 1997
Ground Standard television 128
Television multiplex w/ voice 68
Television multiplex w/ characters 34
Television multiplex w/ data 18
AM radio 48
FM radio 142
FM radio multiplex w/ characters 40
Shortwave radio 2
Satellite * BS Television 2
Television multiplex w/ voice 2
Television multiplex w/ data 1
HiVision 1
CS Analogue Standard Television 8
PCM Radio 1
Data broadcasting 1
Digital Standard Television 71
Radio 8
Data broadcasting 2

* See the Satellite Broadcasting section for updated info.
Source: Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

TVs and Newspapers

All of the 5 key companies mentioned above are the subsidiaries of Japan's national newspaper corporations. The relation is:

Parent Subsidiary
Asahi Shimbun TV Asahi
Mainichi Shimbun TBS
Yomiuri Shimbun NTV
Sankei Shimbun Fuji TV
Nikkei Shimbun TV Tokyo

Their managements usually come from parent newspaper companies. This can cause the lack of tension between TV and newspaper, and mutual checking system of mass media won't function.

TBS-Aum scandal and undelying problem in TV journalism

All Japan's newsmedia reported TBS-AUM scandal on March 26, 1996:

Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc. (TBS) executives confirmed at a news conference Monday that network employees had shown a group of AUM Shinrikyo followers a videotaped interview with anti-AUM lawyer Tsusumi Sakamoto. ...

Sakamoto and his family were abducted and murdered about a week after the tapeļ¾•s screening, on Nov. 3, 1989, allegedly by AUM followers. Police believe that AUM leader Shoko Asahara ordered the killings after being told about the interview. ...

The taped interview, which was never aired, was supposed to have been for a TBS news report about the cult. The AUM members, including high-ranking cultist Kiyohide Hayakawa, were allowed to see the tape before the report was aired and, after protesting about it, TBS decided not to air the interview, according to prosecutors and some AUM followers.

(Mainichi Daily News)

Many people say that TBS got many scoops on Aum issue, including exclusive interview with Shoko Asahara, after it showed the video tape. Did they make a deal with Aum for audience ratings? Is "wide-show" program really a journalism?

This type of problems have been repeated. It seems that the problem is not only for the TBS but for all Japan's TV journalism. Japan's (TV) journalism is in danger!

Satellite broadcasting and Cable TV *

...At the end of May 1995 the new opening of terrestrial stations was stopped. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) judged that, in dawning age of multichannel television typified by the proliferation of satellite broadcasting and cable TV, there was no need for any further increase in the number of regional TV stationsthat have difficulty operating without the support of a major Tokyo-based broadcaster.


The development of media using satellites is making commercial headway. Japan Satellite Broadcasting Inc., Japan's first private satellite broadcasting company, launched its service in April 1991. Moreover, 11 companies using communications satellites got off the ground in 1995. Two private companies broadcasting musicdigitally via satellite using PCM technology wereoperating as of April 1996, and fourcompanies commenced around-the-clock programming using communications satellites in 1992 and 1993.

Muliplex broadcasting, which utilizes the gaps to provide bilingual broadcasts, stereo sound, emergency broadcasts, and so on. In April 1996, MPT proposed in a report that all commercial TV stations should be obliged to provide teletext and sound commentary broadcasts for sight- and hearing-impaired viewers.


Until recently cable TV was used only in those areas where reception of radio waves in poor, such as secluded mountain regions and outlying islands. However, urban cable TV, defined as having over 10,000 tap-offs, more than five independent channels, and two-way functions, is now becomming an important medium in metropolitan areas, offering a multitude of programs on mumerous channels. Tokyo's first cable TV station began broadcasting in the spring of 1987. As of March 1995 there were 61,606 cable TV stations around Japan, with 10.3 million subscribers, including 170 urban cable TV stations (Feb. 1995) with 2.0 million subscribers (Dec. 1994).

HDTV and Digital

Hi-Vision TV, the Japanese version of hight-definition television, is being developed primarily by NHK. With roughly twice the scan lines of standard TVs, Hi-Vision TV has made possible high-resolution, high-detail images. Apart from broadcasting, it is attracting attention in the fields of arts, medicine, and education.

TV broadcasting is also being influenced by the tide of digital technology. The standard so far has been analog technology, in which pictures and sound have to be transmitted on separate radio waves. But with digital technology, one radio wave can be compressed without loss of quality, four to seven channels can run on one conventional analog frequency band. In Japan two companies plan to begin digital services in 1996, although the timing of its introduction in satellite broadcasting is uncertain [see next section]. Since Hi-Vision TV uses analog technology [for encoding], its proponents are opposed to the introduction of digital technology.

* This section is an excerpt from Japan: A Pocket Guide, 1996 Edition , pp.155-157 (Foreign Press Center). Since the situation has been changing since its publication, read next section for following up.

Digital Boradcasting

On June 30, 1996, the Japanese satellite JCSAT-3 aired the first experimantal digital broadcasting. It is PerfecTV, the joint venture of four big Japanese trading companies, and will start commercial service in October '96, prividing 61 TV and 104 sound channels selection. The registration fee will be 2,800 yen with about 50,000 yen for antenna and decoder, and monthly charge will be 2,190 yen for 12 channels set.

The U.S. DirecTV will enter the Japanese market, while Mr Murdoch, who recently took major stock of TV Asahi, announces that he will begin 100 channels J Sky B within two years. Thus, Japanese people will be able to enjoy a few hundreds programs shortly.

The ground broadcasting companies keep cool on the satellite fever. They think it is difficult for these new commers to provide quality programs to satisfy so many channels (I doubt current ground programs have any quality, then).

Another problem will be antenna. As of June 1996, current services with analog Commercial Satellite (CS) gain only a hundred thousand subscribers, while those using Boracasting Satellite (BS) achieved more (NHK's BS has 7 million and Wowow 2 million). Because CS services require different antenna than BS service, they experience a serious handicap in Japanese housing situation. Many experts wonder if people dare to put one more antenna for the new digital satellite programs.


Addendum (Mar 13, 1997):

In March 1997, the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry announced a plan to replace the current analog terrestrial television broadcasting system with a digital system. The plan aims at starting test broadcasting by autumn 1998 with some commercial broadcasting before 2000. See MPT's press release (in Japanese).

Satellite Broadcasting 1997

Television services on satellite as of December 1997. Subscribers unit is 1,000 households.

Method Name # of channels Start Subscribers
BS Analog NHK 2 July '89 8,623
HiVision 1 Later in '97* NA
WOWOW 1 Apr. '91 2,362
CS Analog Skyport TV 9 May '92 623 (to be closed)
CS Bahn 5 May '92 533 (to be closed)
Digital PerfecTV* approx. 100 Oct. '96 400
DirecTV 24 Dec. '97 100
J Sky B* 88 (will be 130) Jun. '98 NA

*PerfecTV and J Sky B consolidated to form Sky PerfecTV in May 98. This platform is plannning to have some 170 channels.