Terrace House, the glacially slow reality show about young Japanese people agonizing over where to get taco rice and whether to hold hands, is back on Netflix today worldwide. It’s been airing week by week in Japan since December, so I’ve seen the first 11 episodes already, and here’s the main thing you need to know: after last season’s weird and sometimes awkward detour to Hawaii, this is a major return to form.
The new season, Opening New Doors, sees Terrace House head back to Japan. This time the house is in Karuizawa, an upmarket resort town in the mountains of Nagano surrounded by ski slopes and hot springs. As a result, the vibe is completely different to the previous season, Aloha State, with its sun-kissed scenes of surfing and clubbing. Everything feels more low-key and relaxed, even during the tense, excruciating moments of subtle conflict that have become the show’s signature. And really, that’s the way it should be.
I visited the house itself last month and met with its current residents. I’m not really sure what I was expecting — the house is both more and less secluded than I imagined, requiring a 15-minute bus ride through dense forest from a train station that’s nevertheless only an hour from Tokyo. It looks, well, like a house, with little sign of ongoing TV production beyond the occasional wandering cameraman.
It’s a beautiful house, but I was struck by how little space there is beyond what you see in the episodes. There are the boys’ and girls’ bedrooms, a communal living space and kitchen, an additional “playroom” with a TV, a hot spring-style bathroom, and the outdoor area with a barbecue — which was covered in snow when I was there. While it’s a huge house by Japanese standards, it really feels like it was chosen to encourage interaction between the residents. “I’m pretty confident I’m having the most fun,” says 23-year-old model Shion Okamoto. “I liked living with roommates when I was in Tokyo, so it’s a lot of fun for me to be in an environment where there’s six guys and girls living together.”
To that point, something I really wanted to know was how everyone in the house watches the show as it airs — do they find a corner to hide away with their phones, or is it more of a communal event? “It’s like, everyone, gather in the playroom on the first day of streaming!” says Tsubasa Sato, a 24-year-old amateur hockey player local to the Karuizawa area. “And then we all watch together.” I tell her this sounds potentially mortifying given the embarrassing personal drama that tends to play out on the show. “Oh, but it’s sort of like reflecting back on the past, like this happened and that happened… and the panel members are so funny,” she says. “We’re all like, ‘So that’s how they see us!’ We laugh quite a bit when we watch the show.”
Despite this, Opening New Doors has already seen several moments of toe-curling awkwardness, with one member in particular responsible for a lot of early friction. But as with Terrace House’s better seasons in the past, it rarely explodes into outright argument. Rather, the show’s slow pace and austere editing frame simple disputes in dramatic, relatable terms. And as ever, part of the appeal is figuring out what people are really thinking before the panelists show up to pour scorn on their actions.
Ami Komuro, a 20-year-old student, summed up how it can feel to be on the other end of the camera when talking about a particularly bad date. “I thought I was being considerate in my own way…” she laughed. “But it seems like that part didn’t really come through to the panelists or to the viewers — I felt like I wasn’t expressing myself very well. The fact that people probably weren’t thinking I was being considerate made me feel a bit empty. They were like, ‘Why is she even going on the date?’ but I mean, I was obviously being considerate [laughs] I was so sad that no one seemed to get that.”
“That’s about the only time it gets a little tense…” Sato laughs when recalling what it’s like to rewatch events like this as a group. “There were some parts that make us go, ‘Are you okay?’ but we enjoy watching the show. There’s no lingering friction.”
As for why exactly any of this is interesting to anyone who isn’t living in Japan, let alone the house, Okamoto has some thoughts. “Personally, I think part of it has to do with [viewers’] interest in things like Japanese culture,” he says. “I think it must be entertaining for people that find Japanese idiosyncrasies interesting, to sometimes see things that are unexpected for them.”
Opening New Doors is a great entry point into Terrace House, but there’s a catch — Netflix’s international scheduling means that you can only watch the first eight episodes right now, with another batch due to be released sometime in the near future. Once you’re done with this initial release, though, you can always watch all 46 episodes of the excellent Boys and Girls in the City season until the next part of Opening New Doors comes out.
However you watch Terrace House, it’s worth giving it a shot. It’s a reality TV show like no other, and so far the new season is living up to its best.