Netflix’s Terrace House is a Relaxing Exploration into Japanese Reality TV
“Don’t underestimate the virgin, you man-whore.”
This kind of commentary is commonplace in the Netflix Japanese reality show Terrace House. The concept of the show is simple: three men and three women, between the ages of 18 and 31, live together in a luxurious house and interact normally. Unlike many of the reality shows that air in the US, Terrace House has no rules, no games, and no gimmicks. Just human relationships. Originally airing on Japanese Fuji Television in 2012, and then picked up by Netflix in 2015, this show takes place in various cities in Japan, and once in Hawaii. Each season features new members, who often choose to leave and are replaced, a new house, and a new city. The main plot of the show is to see which members will end up dating, but there are all sorts of complicated relationships that play out on this show.
As college students, some poor souls among us having even lived in 840, we know well that navigating living with other people in a small place does not come without its complications. This show focuses in on the little details of those complications, showing real people struggling to deal with a house member who refuses to do the dishes, or who uses up all the hot water in the shower, or who’s just plain unpleasant to be around. It’s all about watching how “normal” (hot) people deal with the mundane intricacies of relationships with other people and life in general.
One of the main things that makes this bizarre, slow-paced, minutiae-focused show compelling is the commentary couch. Two or three times throughout the hour-long episodes, we cut away from the residents of Terrace House to a cast of Japanese comedians who have been watching the same footage we’ve been watching and who then make jokes and offer analysis on what’s been going on. The quote you see at the top is from one Ryota Yamasato, or as he’s called on the show, Yamachan, a well-known Japanese comedian and Terrace House commentator. Unapologetically harsh but brutally funny, he and the other more tame commentators will (I promise) make you laugh, point you to tiny details that you’ve missed, and make you feel like you’re not peering into the lives of the house members alone.
I genuinely believe that Terrace House is the perfect quarantine watch. Firstly, it’s a relaxing show. It doesn’t aim to blow your mind or tackle any grand issues. Each episode covers two weeks of real-life time, which is very slow for a reality show. And, though there is drama, it’s often on a humorously minute scale and handled in a way that won’t make you feel anxious. It’s just simply and genuinely entertaining.
Secondly, it’s emotionally engaging. You can’t help but root for certain people and certain relationships. The cast of characters is wide and their personalities are the focus of the show, which makes forming attachments to them as characters easy. (Personally, my favorite house member is Guy from the Hawaii season.) And, for those of you who love to hate watch, each season definitely has a villain and they are incredibly fun to hate.
Third, it’s culturally and socially fascinating. If you are a soc, anthro, or Japanese major I can’t recommend this show enough. Japanese social and cultural codes are everywhere in this show. You can’t leave it without having learned something interesting about how age, gender, relationships, language, or life are understood in Japan. The Hawaii season is especially complex as there are both American and Japanese cultures in conflict on display. As someone with a little bit of Japanese language knowledge, I can also say that this show is also really educational for those interested in the language. You pick up a lot of common words and phrases, and you get a lot of exposure to how the language is spoken in many different contexts. And for those of you less interested in the language or sociocultural minutiae, it’s really just comforting to watch normal, pre-covid social interactions. Watching this show will make you forget about the frightening, masked interactions that have come to be our norm.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, the food featured on this show is just amazing. In basically every episode there’s a closeup of the most aesthetically pleasing meal you’ve ever seen. I guarantee you’ll be inspired to try some new recipes, or at least a new order from Commons or Hamilton’s. This is also an important warning. Before you consider turning on an episode of Terrace House, make sure that you have some of your favorite food with you. If you don’t, you run a great risk of getting hungry, getting sad that you can’t eat the food on the show, and then having to pause to make food.
Four seasons of Terrace House are available right now on Netflix. Happy watching!