How popular is Terrace House in Japan

Cultural perception and the sexism of Terrace House

Actually, I'm a big fan of “Terrace House” after hearing about it two or three times in my bubble and finally checking it out myself. Since then, I've been recommending it to my friends. But what is “Terrace House”? I always describe it as a kind of Japanese "Big Brother", only less "levelless" and in a nicer, much more Japanese way. Anyone who has ever seen more than one episode will certainly be able to have a say when it says:

After this greeting, the explanation follows what "Terrace House" actually is. Six people, three women, three men, live together in a large house, receive maintenance and a car and are observed in their everyday life. The difference to formats such as “Big Brother” is that the residents continue to pursue their normal jobs, school or university, can go in and out of the house at any time, alone or with a camera, there are no “challenges” and so on . Ultimately, everyday life is carried on as normally as possible in the house, and in the end there is no prize money or the like. At the beginning it was said that everything was very Japanese. One or the other may be surprised if one or all of the new people are asked about their current relationship status when they move in. Because “Terrace House” is actually more of a kind of dating show than reality TV. The intention of the format seems to be that you can find a partner if you already live under the same roof with other young people and get closer to them. While the first season, which ran for two years and was only broadcast exclusively in Japan via Fuji Television, was initially followed by a film as a conclusion to the season, the format was adopted by Netflix and has since been internationally accessible. So far, three seasons are available, with the fourth currently still running. Boys & Girls in the City was recorded in Tokyo from 2015 to 2016, Aloha State from 2016 to 2017 in Hawaii and the current season Opening New Doors (2017 - current) takes place in the more rural Karuizawa.

"Terrace House" is also moderated by six people, with three women and three men, all from the entertainment industry, commenting on the weekly events in the house. Comedians and actresses / singers, all Japanese. The YouTube channel PBS Idea has in its video "How Terrace House is like a Let's Play" well summarized how this moderation affects the viewer. It's similar to Let's Play. We not only see the original product, the recordings of the participants in the house, about which we can form our personal opinion. No, afterwards we immediately see the reactions, comments and assessments of the moderator team in the studio. This commented material may influence us again, as could a friend we talk to about the series. But what is interesting is that dealing with an (emerging) situation in the house is sometimes very different from a similar situation in Europe or America, which would be handled differently. You may be puzzled the first time you see it. Sometimes certain behavior is then explained by the cultural context given by the moderation team. Or makes you shake your head even more. Because the country, which otherwise appears so modern and progressive from the outside, is lagging behind in one thing: equality.

Boys & Girls in the City

The harmless beginning makes the currently oldest season on Netflix, Boys & Girls in the City. In the first episode, after the hip, modern young people have moved in and introduced themselves, they examine the house in which they will live together from now on. When inspecting the kitchen it is immediately clear and the men comment: “Here the women can cook for us. It's a woman thing. " - A request that comes up quite often. For example, in small talk, where people are asked about other hobbies and how to spend their free time and without the person speaking to them even mentioning cooking, she is asked whether and what she cooks. And that (not whether) she should cook for him. Especially in this season, which has been running for the longest to date and for over a year, you have seen some residents come and go. Including one or the other woman who didn't just accept everything and openly and honestly address issues. With the result that it became the disruptive factor. Conflict readiness is not welcome among women and, above all, not a good one Girlfriend material. Whereas the men can always talk about the women without any criticism from the ranks of roommates or moderators. Superficially, their appearance and their bodies in bikinis are judged, women are reduced to their (large) breasts or, on a more profound level, the life dreams of a resident are trampled on the floor as "senseless". Instead of standing up for yourself or your roommate, this comment is affectionately agreed with "yes, somehow it's already true ...". An evening that ended in tears when a young woman began to doubt her dreams of having her own café thanks to her five new roommates.

Aloha State

In the second season, polite manners are still maintained with each other, but at the same time you can clearly see that it is getting closer to western reality formats, especially towards the end of the season when a resident makes it clear that she is simply looking for fun (with men) and is truly unbound. There are more arguments, more conflicts, tempers are more explosive and women speak up more often. I would say that it is mainly because about 90% of the residents of this season Hafus are. Hafu comes from the Japanese way of pronouncing the English "half", read: "Are you [a] Hafu (half-Japanese)?" Since Aloha State is the only season so far not taking place in Japan but in Hawaii, the "foreigner proportion" is very large. Half-Japanese people from different ethnic backgrounds meet, Japanese people who move into the house have previously lived in Hawaii or Los Angeles. Almost all of the residents have a more western socio-cultural character and are no longer so stuck in old role clichés. However, the season is not so popular with many viewers, because there are more arguments and conflicts and it is less harmonious than with Boys & Girls in the Citywhere verbal blows were still silently accepted, in the worst case still accepted with thanks.

What also distinguishes “Terrace House” from other reality formats known to us: the participants can see the episodes currently being broadcast in the house: what who said when, how the moderators comment on the event and how the social media reacts to what is shown becomes. An episode that lasts about 40 minutes will cover a week in the house. Around eight new episodes are uploaded to Netflix about every two months. It is possible that participants who move in later already know their new roommates from television (and also comment on their previous behavior). But it can also lead to residents reflecting on their behavior after seeing themselves or other people's reactions. That could also have been decisive for what happened last in the current season “Opening New Doors”.

Opening New Doors

After the scuffle at “Aloha State”, “Opening New Doors” in the rural Karuizawa ski area is becoming calmer, more down-to-earth and more harmonious again. The participants all seem to get on well with each other and tender affection emerges. Towards the middle of the season, Resident Shohei shows his interest in roommate Seina. Seina herself has already become a star of the Terrace House universe, she was a participant in the very first season, which was produced and published without collaboration with Netflix. Already there she was known to speak openly about her opinion and to have a strong self-confidence that she was mentioned and reminded of her again and again in the past seasons. She gets involved with musician Shohei and tells the other women in the house that he may not look like her type, but that a certain aura surrounds him and makes him interesting when she sees him performing on stage. You start dating. A short time later, after her roommates question her about the date, she again expresses her doubts. Shohei is a very nice man, but she prefers someone who can take the reins and be more stormy. They continue to meet, with Seina often being away for days due to her modeling jobs and barely seen in the episodes. Until Shohei does it again and their date ends with them waiting for a taxi drunk, Seina waiting, her head turned away from Shohei, looking at the street. Time for Shohei to do the talking, so he grabs her cheek and almost brutally presses her face into his to kiss her. When the cameras then show life in the house again, when the two of them arrive, we see a Seina for the first time, who seems to be standing completely beside her. After this forced kiss, nothing more can be seen of the strong, self-confident woman. While at the time of #metoo while watching this scene, as Shohei grabs Seina's head and pulls himself with strength, already sounds alarm bells, the moment of shock continues directly.

When the moderators comment on the scene, they are happy that there was finally a kiss instead of being shocked like most (western) viewers. His behavior, which then looks like the deer in the headlights and doesn't know what to do, is interpreted as "a woman's sensual desire". She couldn't think of anything but Shohei and the kiss. I share that thought, but for a far different reason. This wasn't a sensual kiss, this was a forcefully forced one. Shohei brags in front of his male roommates about it and that they continued to kiss in the taxi - scenes that the audience was unable to see. Only one of the moderators dares to doubt the “sensuality” of the kiss, that Seina might not even want this kiss and that is why she now seems so perplexed ... but if Shohei says they continued kissing in the taxi, it will have been okay, she appeases immediately after. Her feelings for Shohei don't seem that romantic. What started out promisingly ends with a rebuff when he asks her if she would like to be his girlfriend.

Unfortunately, sexism and sexual assault seem to be commonplace in the otherwise harmonious world of "Terrace House". And although we are shown the behavior doubly reflected in the presentation by the roommates and the moderators, nobody seems to see or perceive these problems. Since the series is meanwhile also shown internationally and an international audience shows its reactions online, it is to be hoped that worldwide reactions to the events will put the matter in a different light and ensure more understanding. While the whole Seina-Shohei affair seems to have been forgotten again with Shohei's departure, things will remain exciting in the “Terrace House” in the future. In the last of the current episodes we see a new resident move in, who openly admits to his male roommates that he is unsure of his sexual orientation and hopes to finally gain clarity by living with men and women. The current episode ends with this outing. The Terrace House has its first LGBTQ + resident.

Sexism in Japan

Women in Japan are still frequently confronted with sexism. The last time we heard about it was when the Tokyo Medical University scandal broke out around the world. For years, the university manipulated the test results of female applicants in order to be able to exclude them from medical studies. And when #metoo gained more and more attention, the topic was still (if possible) hushed up in Japan. Finance Minister Taro Aso made statements that "sexual harassment is not a crime (in Japan)," while around 30% of the female population experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Of those affected, 64% said they had (so far) tacitly accepted this, only one in ten women had raised the problem and confronted their male employees. Without being taken seriously. In the traditional role model of the Japanese, women still have to take care of household and child-rearing. While most women work part-time or in lower positions, only about 8% of leadership positions in Japan are held by women.

Incidentally, Sayaka Murata's novel “Die Ladenhüterin” also provides an (un) pleasant insight into everyday Japanese sexism. We already featured the book on Red Riding Rogue.