After watching the first couple of episodes of any television show, I will usually make the decision to continue watching the show, or remove it from my Netflix list and never think about it again. Unfortunately, for Terrace House, the latter happened. And it has also been quite a while since watching the show. Whilst remembering what I thought about the show, I’ve somehow forgotten what I actually witnessed. University and an excessive amount of alcohol will do that to you I guess (also a large amount of procrastination, lol help).
Now, Ellis et al defines epiphanies as “remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life, times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyse lived experience, and events after which life does not seem quite the same”. This definition is quite intense, yet there are definitely moments in my reaction to Terrace House that made me think differently about Japanese culture.
Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City (テラスハウス ボーイズ＆ガールズ イン・ザ・シティ) is a Japanese reality television series. It premiered on Netflix as an original in September 2015. Basically, people that are just like you and me are literally just thrust into a position where they need to live together. To be completely honest with you, just seeing people live their lives seems quite boring to me – I mean, if I wanted to do that, I’d go upstairs and sit with my family every once in a while, right?
I made it clear in my video response to the show that I had never seen an Asian show before Bianca introduced me to Terrace House months ago. Although watching Terrace House: Aloha State was quite a different experience to Boys and Girls in the City, as it was set in Hawaii, and some of the people involved were mainly American students. This meant that much of the show was westernised and easy to understand. While watching Boys and Girls in the City, the culture was extremely different to shows I am used to watching.
My personal understanding of reality television (I made this very clear in the video, a little too clear maybe, oops) made me believe that reality television is all about drama and winning a competition. I believe that Australia (and other westernised shows) has a large focus on the drama in a reality show due to the issue of ratings. I also believed that although the reassurance from the ‘commentators’ that the members of the house didn’t have scripts, it felt painstakingly scripted and to be fair – all around boring. I dismissed Terrace House as purely cultural tourism, but I didn’t really understand at first what the show did that set it apart from others of its kind.
Although there isn’t a large amount of drama in the show and the conflicts are on a much smaller scale, it is to my belief that the Japanese culture would react to this show much better than I did. Since watching the show, and conducting some research, I learned that the Japanese are generalised as being quite polite, and this is also expressed in their body language. An example of this is in the second episode when there are quite extensive scenes dedicated to resolving issues calmly, such as the issue of unwashed dishes.
Justin McElroy coined an article for Polygon that explored the differences between American Reality TV and Terrace House, claiming that reality aims at perverting people “into creatures of perfect ambition, whose every move is a calculated step towards getting what they’re after. Terrace House shows people as they are, big, dumb wads of conflicting, unexamined emotions just trying to get by.”
Although I believe this to be true, I am also fully understanding to the fact that the Japanese are generally quite polite, genuine and friendly people. Instead of blowing up over unwashed dishes, they will clean the house, and resolve the conflict in a mature and adult manner.
I definitely lack the cultural familiarity that is required to 100% understand Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City, yet I can appreciate the traits in some of the cast, such as impulsivity, compassion and the sense of realness that is portrayed.
The show’s cultural differences are large, and one that I realise now that I don’t think I did before is the fact that it takes several episodes for there to be any kind of physical contact between any romantic partners. There are dates, the girls help each other get ready, yet the physical connections aren’t there. This show is a large view into Japanese culture and how it perceives itself, yet it is nothing that I am used to having on my television screen. I believe that now, I know what it’s like if I were to ever come into contact with Japanese people, it’s a truly refreshing look at the world.
I believe that Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City is an accurate portrayal of young, modern, Japanese people and how they live their lives: chasing ambitions and dating people that may lead to something more, but generally just fizzle. There’s also laundry responsibilities, so that’s fun too.