Japanese Dramas: What is a Taiga Drama?

  • Taiga dramas (大河ドラマ) are also known as Big River dramas. The name was given by NHK, the local Japanese broadcast station, and refers to the annual, year-long dramas which are seen as the most significant dramas in Japan since 1963. Taiga dramas are based on historical fiction and are broadcasted every week on Sunday 8pm. From pre-advertising campaigns, novel versions of the drama, tourism programs of in-drama characters (places where the characters belong) to related products and goods, this is what weighs most in the Japanese creative and cultural industry.

    How did the concept of “Big River” come along
    Ayase Haruka in Yae no Sakura (2013)

    The concept of Taiga dramas originated from Taiga novels, which are actually based on roman-fleuve novels (a sequence of related, self-contained novel). It can literally be translated as river-flow from French. The earliest Roman-fleuve novel emerged is believed to be Romain Rolland’s “Jean-Christophe”. The concept was translated into Japanese 大河, which literally means “Big River”.

    Taiga novels are novels describing the rise and fall of a certain era through the stories of a certain character, or a clan living in a specific generation. Taiga dramas would normally be adapted from historical novels. But nowadays Taiga dramas are simply long running, strong and big cast dramas.

    Taiga dramas for Japanese actors
    Katori Shingo and Yamamoto Kouji in Shinsengumi (2004)

    For Japanese actors, it is a huge honour to have being casted in a Taiga drama, as it is considered to be an acknowledgement of their acting skills. However, Taiga dramas nowadays would choose to cast popular idols to boost up their ratings, such as Katori Shingo from SMAP, or Takizawa Hideaki from Tackey and Tsubasa.

    Older Taiga drama broadcasts
    Takizawa Hideaki in Yoshitsune (2005)

    What was special about NHK Taiga dramas is, from years 1984 to 1986, the settings for the dramas were contemporary. NHK also set up a special section on Wednesdays, called the “Suiyoubi Jidaigeki”, which means “Wednesday Historical Drama”. The actors who participated in these dramas mostly had never acted in Taiga dramas; however the quality of these dramas was good enough to compete with actual Taiga dramas.

    Do you already have a favorite Taiga Drama? If so, make sure to share your personal favorites in the comment section!

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