Japan Data

“Taiga” Drama: Stories from Japanese History on Prime-Time TV

Culture Entertainment

Japan’s taiga drama are epic television series that put the spotlight on the country’s historical figures.

For more than 60 years, the annual NHK taiga drama has been a fixture of Japanese television. It is a historical drama typically centered on a well-known figure from the past, such as Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji, in the 2024 series, or the shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 2023. Episodes are usually broadcast every week throughout the year.

In 1987, Watanabe Ken became a household name in Japan playing the warlord Date Masamune in Dokuganryū Masamune (Masamune the One-Eyed Dragon). One of the best-remembered series, it earned an average viewership rating of 39.7%, which is still a record high. This was among the regular entries that take place during the Warring States period (1467–1568).

Shōgun star Sanada Hiroyuki took a support role in Dokuganryū Masamune before playing the lead Ashikaga Takauji, the fourteenth-century founder of the Ashikaga shogunate, in the 1991 drama Taiheiki. This was based on an adaptation by novelist Yoshikawa Eiji of an earlier epic. Many of the series are based on works by popular historical fiction writers like Yoshikawa and Shiba Ryōtarō.

Watanabe Ken in Dokuganryū Masamune (1987). (Courtesy NHK On Demand)
Watanabe Ken in Dokuganryū Masamune (1987). (Courtesy NHK On Demand)

Taiga literally means “big river,” reflecting the epic scale of the production. While “taiga drama” can be used to describe any such show, it is particularly associated with the NHK series.

Viewers around the world can see the current drama Dear Radiance with English subtitles on the NHK World Premium channel. In Japan, Dear Radiance and many past series are available in Japanese only at NHK On Demand.

Recent NHK Taiga Drama Series

  • Dear Radiance (2024)
    Stars Yoshitaka Yuriko as Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji
  • What Will You Do, Ieyasu? (2023)
    Stars Matsumoto Jun as Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate
  • The 13 Lords of the Shōgun (2022)
    Stars Oguri Shun as Hōjō Yoshitoki, a powerful regent during the Kamakura shogunate
  • Reach Beyond the Blue Sky (2021)
    Stars Yoshizawa Ryō as Shibusawa Eiichi, an influential entrepreneur and business leader in the Meiji era (1868–1912)
  • Awaiting Kirin (2020)
    Stars Hasegawa Hiroki as Akechi Mitsuhide, famous for his betrayal of Oda Nobunaga
  • Idaten: The Epic Marathon to Tokyo (2019)
    Stars Nakamura Kankurō VI as Kanakuri Shizō, a marathon runner, and Abe Sadao as Tabata Masaji, a swimming coach, in a story covering Japan’s Olympic history
  • Segodon (2018)
    Stars Suzuki Ryōhei as Saigō Takamori, a leader of the Meiji government who later rebelled against it, said to be Japan’s “last samurai”
  • Naotora: The Lady Warlord (2017)
    Stars Shibasaki Kō as Ii Naotora, a rare female daimyō during the Warring States period
  • Sanada Maru (2016)
    Stars Sakai Masato as Sanada Yukimura, a samurai leader known for his heroic but unsuccessful defense of Osaka Castle against the Tokugawa shogunate
  • Burning Flower (2015)
    Stars Inoue Mao as Sugi Fumi, a sister of the revolutionary Yoshida Shōin, who helped bring down the Tokugawa shogunate

The 2022 series The 13 Lords of the Shōgun. (Courtesy NHK On Demand)
The 2022 series The 13 Lords of the Shōgun. (Courtesy NHK On Demand)

The 2016 series Sanada Maru. (Courtesy NHK On Demand)
The 2016 series Sanada Maru. (Courtesy NHK On Demand)

(Originally published in English. Banner photo: The 2024 series Dear Radiance tells the story of writer Murasaki Shikibu. © NHK.)

NHK television