Dangerous Narratives: Featuring my Love and Grievance for “Terrace House”
Updated: Jan 13, 2021
TW: Mention of Suicide
A sporty, independent young woman and a stylish, tall young man agree that they will begin dating in a homey room, smiling at each other. He tells her “you’re cute.” She laughs in embarrassment and replies with “you’re lying” as he leaves the room, too nervous and excited to be coherent, he says. The young woman falls to the floor, covering her smile with a pillow, and gleefully laughing to herself.
The seemingly innocent romances and slow-burning dramas in “Terrace House” always seemed to be just that: innocent, sweet, and as they say in the beginning of the show, “non scripted” or as I interpreted it, real.
I had always thought the show was realer than other reality shows—sometimes weeks went by without anything happening, and there were many moments of innocent awkwardness. It was quite easy to be swept away by the slow burning romances born out of the roommate’s bonding. And I wanted to believe it was real. Like how most of the relationships begin with a big confession of love, the city lights illuminating their faces in the moonlight… Romantic, right?
But despite the show claiming it is non scripted, several contestants have anonymously said they were pressured to act in certain ways. I always knew that the show commentators crafted “types” for the contestants (usually women), with their own ideas of who these women are but I wasn’t aware that contestants were forced to be someone specific, and I didn’t want to believe that my favorite seemingly innocent reality show had a dark side. It becomes like tunnel vision for the audience when the narrative is crafted this way; we can’t see anything but that negative image of a person and their behavior that is said to be absolutely “real” often adds fire to the passionate fanbase.
This, for example, happened to Hana Kimura, a professional female wrestler that went on “Terrace House” to find romance but in May 2020, ended up committing suicide at age 22. I remember watching Hana join the show. I found her very endearing. She was strong, which was a nice change among the usually thin and “delicate” women on the show (nothing against those women, but again, the idea of unhealthily thin women being beautiful is further glorified through media like this). Hana was strong and confident, but she was also shy and innocent. When a basketball player joined on as a contestant, Hana instantly fell for him, and you could see it as she giggled and covered her face with a pillow in embarrassment. Eventually, Hana didn’t find love with this crush, but she began a romance with someone else, a quirky male housemate named Eden Kai.
In an episode that was only aired in Japan, Hana was told by the director behind the scenes to slap Kai in an argument, which was instigated because he had accidentally shrunk her expensive wrestling uniform in the dryer. Instead, Hana took his hat off his head and threw it on the floor…
I know what you’re thinking… That’s it? That’s what caused a barrage of cyber bullying? But it did. This small outburst labeled her as violent, bad, villainous.
The cyberbullying was probably even worse because Hana didn’t fit the usual “type” of a Japanese woman. After all, there aren't really a lot of “types” that involve tough and strong females. Hana was also half-Indonesian and a little tanner than the norm, which can have associations with a “gyaru” style in Japan that isn’t seen as “refined” or “pure.” Because colorism is prevalent in Japan, darker skin can immediately label someone as outside the norm, even if a person is born in Japan, they can be seen as an outsider with people immediately asking “are you half?” or “were you born here?”
The show commentators crafting entertaining narratives and making jokes about the contestants all used to seem in good fun, but now, I can see how these off-handed comments could lead to a downward spiral. Hana could be shy one moment, bold in another, innocent and strong, kind and mean, loud and soft spoken. And that was only on television. Who knows what was left on the editing room floor in the efforts to craft her as a villain.
As I write and process what has happened now, my faith in “Terrace House” has decreased even more. All her episodes were actually deleted from American Netflix, as if to make every trace of Hana being tied to them disappear. “Terrace House” still holds a place in my heart, but if they decide to continue, for the sake of everyone involved, I hope they now understand the dangers of these narratives they craft. Hopefully, they’ll realize that sometimes just a real, slow-burning show is all we need, without any villains.