There are many ways to learn about Japanese culture. You could read books, visit the country, examine it in a class…or you could go on Netflix. Thanks to the Internet and its increasingly international reach, Japanese reality shows are gaining popularity around the world. They’re a window into the complex culture and personalities of Japanese society, with a dash of entertainment to keep you hooked.
Perhaps the most well-known reality show at the moment might be the “TERRACE HOUSE”. Originally aired on TV from 2012 to 2014, the show received a reboot on Netflix and began its worldwide reach as international viewers became able to access the episodes from outside Japan. It still follows the original concept—six strangers, comprising three males and three females, move into a share house where their daily lives and interactions are documented. As the weeks and months go by, the housemates grow closer (or apart) and began forming a dynamic that the viewers get to follow over the series. They go on dates, navigate through career paths, and in general live normal lives save for the fact it’s all captured for television.
Compared to their Western counterparts, Japanese reality shows tend to present a milder, more toned down atmosphere instead of outrageous drama. That’s not to say conflict never occurs, but when it does it’s swiftly put on the table to be discussed and resolved with true Japanese efficiency.
Another feature in Japanese reality shows that’s getting prominence is the addition of a commentary panel. Every episode a regular lineup of hosts, typically celebrities that viewers are more likely to be familiar with, watch the show together and discuss the events of that week as they unfold. It creates a sense of camaraderie that ties the viewer closer to the show, as if everyone was watching it together at the same time. TERRACE HOUSE was an early pioneer of this format, featuring a panel of popular figures such as model Reina Triendl and comedian Yoshimi Tokui. Every host has their own distinct personality which shapes their attitude towards the show, in a parallel whereby a unique dynamic is also created.
“Ainori” is another show that closely follows this format. It’s actually a predecessor to TERRACE HOUSE, with a far longer history spanning almost two decades. It first aired in 1999 before coming to an end in 2009, before returning as a Netflix show in 2017. The show’s concept centers around a travelling pink wagon called “Love Wagon”, in which seven young men and women travel around the world in and ultimately try to find love. Ainori thus takes a more specific route than Terrace House, explicitly focusing on love and relationships with the goal of becoming a couple with a fellow member on the show. With that being said, that’s not all there is to it—along the way the members travel through a foreign country with the bare minimum, exposing themselves to the challenges of backpacking and being in such close proximity with strangers.
While TERRACE HOUSE is all modern comforts and sleek cinematography, Ainori bursts with a different kind of spontaneity and rugged vibes that offer yet a different side of Japanese reality television. Either way, the audience gets an extensive look at Japanese life be it in the house or on wheels. It’s this simple production that intrigues people outside of Japan; the observational aspect of young Japanese people interacting with each other and finding their way in society is both satisfying and enlightening to the outside eye.
With the hike in viewership for shows like TERRACE HOUSE and Ainori, reality television has been seeing more daring variations in concept. Netflix released two new programs in the past year titled “THE HOUSE” and “REA(L)OVE”, which some consider the adult version of TERRACE HOUSE and Ainori respectively. The hosts on “The House” have explicitly mentioned that their show is a dirty take on TERRACE HOUSE, loosely following the same style while giving it a more brazen twist. Meanwhile, Rea(l)ove, which came out in April 2018, went out of its way to form a more unconventional cast of members including ex-convicts and porn stars to put them on a trip together where the goal was similarly to find love. People who watched the two older mainstream shows would recognize the familiar production styles that were characteristic of their original shows.
Tracking all of these shows, the scenes you see can go from being completely mundane to being incomprehensibly bizarre, but all of it still captures a realistic narration of a culture that just might reel you in. Of course we still watch all this with a pinch of salt—television is still a production, after all. But you can count on the displays of human interaction to be something genuine and different, and ultimately a source of entertainment that could be something new to you.
TERRACE HOUSE OPENING NEW DOORS
Watch on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80212301
TERRACE HOUSE OPENING NEW DOORS Official site: http://www.terrace-house.jp/openingnewdoors/
TERRACE HOUSE OPENING NEW DOORS Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/TH6TV
TERRACE HOUSE OPENING NEW DOORS Official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/th6tv
TERRACE HOUSE OPENING NEW DOORS Official Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/th_6_tv/
TERRACE HOUSE OPENING NEW DOORS Official YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/terracehousecx
Ainori Asian Journey
Watch on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80174280
Ainori Asian Journey Official site: https://www.ai-nori.net/
Ainori Asian Journey Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/AinoriJP
Ainori Asian Journey Official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AinoriJP
Ainori Asian Journey Official Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ainorijp/
Watch on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80226927
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