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Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020 Is a Return to Form For the Cult Japanese Reality Show

The first four episodes of the new season explored themes of work and identity — between the potential love triangles, of course.

By 5 min read

This article contains spoilers for the first four episodes of Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020.

Riding the Olympics hype train, Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020 brings Netflix and FujiTV’s hit reality show back to the big city. The season premiered in Japan on May 14, with new episodes released weekly. The international release of Part 1 is speculated to come out in August.

The house itself — discovered by sleuthing fans to have once played host to a porno (!) — is more vertical than horizontal compared with past abodes. It’s almost claustrophobic, or perhaps voyeuristic. Two landings look down into the living room, the rooftop patio is surrounded by high walls, and the indoor pool is separated from the living room by only a sheet of glass. That said, it’s stylish.

Who are the housemates of Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020?

But we don’t watch Terrace House just for the interior design — we watch it for the housemates. This season’s lead-off sextet is sufficiently interesting without deviating from the Terrace House standard lineup of youthful beauties.

Both fans and the show’s panel speculated that the season’s timing and location may signify Olympic athletes joining the house, but the real appeal of Tokyo is a little more mundane: young professionals.

Of course, they’re (mostly) on Instagram so you can get behind-the-scenes access of the goings on 24/7!

Kaori Watanabe

A charming, down-to-earth freelance illustrator who has spent time abroad. Kaori worked an office job before going pro with her art.

Haruka Okuyama

Actress Haruka loves cars; her Corvette is her most prized possession. She gets called “impressively masculine” (no comment) by the panel for her self-assured personality and ojisan (middle-aged man) hobbies.

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Risako Tanabe

Fitness trainer and parkour enthusiast Risako is put together and kind. She was originally overshadowed by her older housemates, but she soon came into her own.

Shohei Matsuzaki

Actor, model, and part-timer Shohei always goes with his gut — he moved countries at the drop of a hat — but catches heat for being a jack of all trades, master of none.

Kenji “Kenny” Yoshihara

The frontman of the band SPiCYSOL, Kenny gets called reserved by his new housemates. It’s true that he isn’t exactly energetic or outgoing, but he does enjoy showing off his underboob art.

Ruka Nishinoiri

Easy-blusher Ruka works part-time at Murasaki Sports. His alleged shyness might be why he doesn’t have a public Instagram but that could change with the inevitable fame and sponsored deals Terrace House brings. Here’s an interview from the official Terrace House YouTube channel.

Themes and “incidents” for episodes 1 to 4

Out of the past seasons, the ones set in or near Tokyo spent more time showing housemates finding success at work, searching for new career paths, collaborating with other housemates, receiving expensive meat from appreciative clients… you get the idea.

Work has already cropped up as a theme and potential source of conflict in the new season. In the second episode, Haruka and Shohei have a spirited discussion — the panel jumps the gun and dubs it “an incident” — about whether a person should devote themselves to one passion or take a more flexible, Renaissance-man approach to work.

The panel roasts the increasingly inarticulate Shohei for saying “People with that mentality (that you should pursue a single passion) are gonna die off soon anyway,” but his comment about feeling trapped when he imagines working in one field forever isn’t unreasonable.

More than simply finding your passion, the discussion is about how career constitutes identity, particularly in the eyes of others. Especially if you are — oh, I don’t know — on a reality TV program that could be a springboard for your career. Changing fields isn’t really the problem; both Kaori and Kenny talk about doing so.

Haruka is more concerned with a person’s ability to sell themselves. She comments, “It’s detrimental to identify yourself as undecided to strangers,” and Kaori is even more explicit when she follows with, “It wouldn’t be good if your brand became famous and your skills couldn’t grow along with it. It’s unrealistic.” (I wish we could have cut away to the camera crew that the housemates are so studiously ignoring just at this moment.)

Episode 3 features the first two dates of the season. Risako and Ruka see a kids’ movie, with pancakes as a prelude. Ruka is bamboozled by the foreign loanword purēn (plain), and Risako tries to explain by throwing more loanwords at the problem. Combined with an umai-amai (tasty versus sweet) back-and-forth, the whole date has a Japanese 101 vibe.

The panel has become increasingly conscious of foreign viewers — they joke that Terrace House is introducing us gaijin to tempura and (guilty) samurai — but really, we are getting into the nitty-gritty of Japanese vocabulary here. Continuing the theme, later in the episode Kaori explores her cultural heritage by eating rice with raw egg for the first time ever on a date with Shohei.

Both dates were all well and good, but relationships among the six housemates are a little messier. Risako is wary of Ruka for his unconscious flirting, but it seems she can’t help falling for him. However, the flirt in question is interested in Haruka, who initially was attracted to Kenny (an awkward date may have put that to rest though). The panel picks up on Kaori and Kenny’s chemistry after the two talk art in a dimly lit playroom, but there is still no word from Kaori herself as to whether she likes Shohei, Kenny, or neither.

Tokyo 2019-2020 is off to a speedy start, with plenty of interesting scenes to dissect in terms of both the housemates’ careers and romances. It’s a sharp contrast with the slow beginning of the previous season, Opening New Doors. From what little we have seen so far, the return to the city feels like a return to form.

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