The tranquility of ‘Terrace House’
In times of chaos, I gravitate toward things that are soothing: naps, baked goods, reruns of “Gilmore Girls” and “The Office.” A recent addition to that list is “Terrace House,” a Japanese reality show on Netflix.
Normally, because of all the crying and drama, reality TV isn’t something I find comforting. But “Terrace House” is completely different. For one, it has beautiful cinematography, more like a feature film than a 45-minute TV episode. But even better is that the show doesn’t depend on reality TV’s formulaic tropes like over-the-top personalities or alcohol-induced screaming matches for entertainment.
What it does offer is beautiful scenery, kind people and a look into another culture at a time when we can’t travel. Here’s why “Terrace House” is so great and so very soothing:
What it is: The easiest way to describe “Terrace House” is that it’s a Japanese version of MTV’s “The Real World.” It premiered exclusively in Japan in 2012, and in 2015 Netflix started co-producing and streaming it. But unlike “The Real World,” this show has six young roommates, not seven. And the reason people move into these fabulous houses isn’t to “stop pretending and start getting real,” but to find romance and/or advance their careers.
What it also is: Along with the roommates, there’s a panel of Japanese celebrities and comedians that provide commentary throughout the episodes (their segments pop up instead of commercial breaks). This can be pretty jarring at first, but hang in there because the panelists are pretty hilarious and dishy - they definitely have some strong opinions about who they think is cutest or most annoying, and who they want to see get together.
Why it’s different: A season can last one, even two years. So roommates living at the Terrace House are free to leave whenever they want. Sometimes it happens because two people find romance. Other times someone leaves because their crush is unrequited, or because someone want to pursue their career more seriously. This means new people arrive throughout the season, disrupting the dynamics of the house and resetting the tone.
Why it stands out: You get a real sense of Japanese culture from “Terrace House,” whether it’s watching roommates cook elaborate meals at home or going out to watch local music at a nightclub. There’s also a focus on goals and careers that you don’t see on American shows. The house members often push each other to be the best version of themselves and most of the house drama happens when someone isn’t living up to their potential.
Love, Japanese style: On “Terrace House,” the courting process is very slow. Like, slower than slow. I’m 12 episodes into the latest season, “Tokyo: 2019-2020” and there’s only been one (very uncomfortable) half-kiss. The most action you tend to see is via flirty coffee dates, trips to the beach or late-night guitar lessons. Because of this, you avoid the messy, sad situations that make reality shows feel so icky. Instead you get conversations about hopes, goals and future romantic dreams. (Update: because of coronavirus, production of the remaining Tokyo season has halted.)
Why I love it: I started watching the fourth Netflix season, known as “Opening New Doors,” set in the mountainous Nagano Prefecture. I never knew much about that part of Japan, except that the Winter Olympics happened there in 1998. At first, I was mesmerized by the beauty of it all: the scenery, the house, the cast members. Then I got caught up in the unlikely romance between shy female hockey player Tsubasa Satoand outgoing male model Shion Okamoto, and that’s when “Terrace House” became an obsession (like, to the extent that I follow my favorite cast members on social media).
Why it’s soothing: Because the show is entirely in Japanese, I have to read the subtitles to know what’s going on. This keeps me from doing other things, like scrolling on my phone or folding laundry. I need to be fully present to understand the dialogue and subtleties of what people are saying without saying, which happens a lot. So any stress or bad news is automatically blocked from my brain for the amount of time I’m watching.
Find it: “Terrace House” is streaming on Netflix. During current seasons, you sometimes have to wait a month or two for a new set of episodes. So if you want to start with a complete season, pick “Opening New Doors.” If you want to be up on the latest happenings, choose “Tokyo 2019-2020” which shows off cool, bustling Tokyo neighborhoods in pre-coronavirus Japan.
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