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A Guide to Navigating Netflix’s Food-Filled Reality Show ‘Terrace House’

Everything you need to know about the Japanese-language TV series that’s become a cult hit in America

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The cast of Terrace House Aloha State
Netflix/Makoto Kiryu

With each passing month, Netflix offers more and more original programming aimed at markets all around the globe. One prime example is Terrace House, the Japanese-language unscripted series that’s not quite like any reality television you’ve seen before. It’s a fascinating show that’s full of gorgeous food and relationships that often blossom around the dinner table.

A new batch of episodes is now available to watch on Netflix — but is Terrace House worth your precious streaming time? Here are some questions and answers to help you decide if this sleeper hit and internet favorite is right for you.

What is this show all about?

The premise is familiar, bordering on cliche: Terrace House documents the lives of six beautiful young strangers — three women, three men — who live together in a universally attractive abode, working their day jobs, pursuing their dreams, forming friendships, and falling in and out of love. The producers provide only “a nice house and a nice car,” the introduction to each episode promises. Everything else is unscripted.

The series originally aired on Fuji Television for two years, before Netflix teamed up with the Japanese network in 2015 to reboot the show for the streaming giant, with each season taking place in a different location: Boys & Girls in the City in Tokyo, Aloha State in Hawai‘i, and the ongoing Opening New Doors in the Japanese town of Karuizawa.

Food features heavily in the show, on multiple levels. Housemates cook and dine out, and viewers are treated to cinematic shots of bubbling nabe, sizzling beef, and glistening poke. To audiences who may not be familiar with Japanese cuisine beyond sushi and ramen, Terrace House is a gateway to other everyday dishes in Japan and Hawai‘i, like okonomiyaki or handmade onigiri tucked into bento boxes.

Entire videos and blog posts have been dedicated to the food of Terrace House.

Terrace House/Netflix

On a deeper level, kitchens and restaurants on the show are some of the places where connections are formed, deepened, and broken. They’re where housemates take each other on dates, flirt over dinner, or haltingly announce that they’re leaving the house. On Terrace House, as Eater associate editor Monica Burton writes, “food is […] a conduit for feelings — and there are so many feelings.”

Is this basically the Japanese version of The Real World?

Sure, if The Real World were an exceedingly polite and gentle exploration of the richness of the human experience, rather than its current dumpster fire of tear-streaked profanity and swinging dicks. If anything, Terrace House more closely resembles the original iteration of The Real World, which paved the way for reality TV sagas to come.

There are a number of key differences that set Terrace House apart from the typical reality television experience. For one, people are generally nice and demonstrate basic courtesy. Low-key drama stems from the realistic friction and misunderstandings that naturally arise when different personalities are forced into close quarters — like frustration at a housemate’s laziness, or having feelings for someone who doesn’t entirely reciprocate. (There are some departures from this formula, however, in Aloha State, which is definitely the least chill of all the seasons.)

There are a few notable exceptions, when tensions rise just past this level of discomfort, but even then, matters are usually resolved after cast members sit down and have the mature, candid group discussions that most folks only ever dream of having with their roommates. Members can also decide to leave, as many of them do, when they feel their time and their purpose at the house has naturally come to an end.

But is it kinda boring?

It’s a slow burn, which is to say: You’re probably going to need to hunker down and marathon two or three half-hour episodes before you get into it, but by then you might be really into it. The show is a quiet study in human behavior and how we relate to one another, from “nice to meet you” to cooking together to holding hands to tearful goodbyes. Since the whole series revolves around those small moments and nuances sprinkled throughout everyday routines, you might find yourself becoming hyper-aware of the tiniest shifts in dynamics and behavior. It’s captivating in the way nature documentaries often are. You’ll grow to root for these people, not just in their romantic lives, but also as they pursue their professional goals, find independence, and grow as adults.

If that isn’t enough of a draw for you, consider this: Terrace House is lifestyle porn at its most contemporary, Muji-filled best. Bright, airy interiors collide with sun-kissed beaches, hip Omotesando coffee shops, perfectly plated twirls of pasta, and gorgeous 20-somethings who are literally models. Watching the show is an aesthetic delight, as well as — for many Western audiences — a peek into how young people eat, dress, and live in Japan and abroad.

And finally, the running commentary keeps things lively. The studio panel, made up of comedians, models, actors, and on-air personalities, is a common feature of Japanese variety shows, and is arguably one of the best parts of Terrace House. The commenters are effectively a stand-in for the audience, reflecting the reactions and questions that viewers might have after watching each scene. Their frank (okay, raunchy) exchanges also provide context to the cultural norms that guide characters’ interactions, keeping the show rooted firmly in a Japanese perspective. But mostly, they’re just really, really, really funny (particularly You, Tokui, and Yamasato). After a few episodes, you’ll likely look forward to their interludes just as much as the main action in the house.

What are the best food moments on the show?

Here are just a handful of the notable food moments in the series (spoilers ahead):

The infamous omurice
Terrace House/Netflix

Boys & Girls in the City

Passive-aggressive omurice, Part 1, Episode 14, “Ikujinashi”

If you’ve got feelings and nowhere to put them, why not write them out with ketchup on an omelet over fried rice? That’s what 20-year-old student/aspiring model Minori does in this episode, when she’s frustrated that 23-year-old Uchi — with whom she’s been stuck in a will-they-won’t-they romantic tango — doesn’t seem to be taking their relationship anywhere. It’s petty, but Uchi eats the “coward”-emblazoned omurice anyway, and in the end they officially become a couple, so maybe we could all take a page from Minori’s handbook?

The meat incident, Part 1, Episode 22, “Case of the Meat”

Minori is graduating from university soon, and Uchi (who has a full-time job at a hair salon) calls her out for her lack of drive, so things are a little tense between the couple. Minori’s revenge, of course, again takes the form of passive-aggressive food sabotage. She and some other housemates cook a premium cut of hidagyu steak that Uchi had been given by a client and was saving for a special occasion — all without asking Uchi’s permission or even saving part of the meal for him. When Uchi returns and sees the remainder of the crime scene, he has a meltdown, holes up in the boys’ bedroom, refuses to talk to anyone, and sheds some tears.

Yusuke against the world
Terrace House/Netflix

Aloha State

The most awkward first date ever, Part 1, Episode 8, “Taste of Catfish on the First Date”

Resident Sweet Boy and 18-year-old ukulele-playing prodigy Yusuke finally goes on a date with his crush Lauren, a beautiful illustrator and model. Too bad the evening turns out to be a bit of a disaster. Lauren just isn’t that into him and only wanted to go to the movies together as friends, which no one can fault her for. But the night ends, Lauren goes home to her family, and Yusuke dines solo at a table meant for two, eating what must be the loneliest plate of catfish in the world.

A dinner worth dying for, Part 4, Episode 11, “Shinuhodo No Koi”

Taishi, the undisputable star of Aloha State, has the ultimate redemption arc throughout the season, going from good guy to annoying guy to “guilty samurai” back to a hero we can’t help but reluctantly root for. On this pivotal night, the actor plans the perfect date for himself and divorced receptionist Chika down to the minute, from making sure the restaurant won’t serve shiitake mushrooms to Chika to writing and memorizing a heartfelt speech. The fancy dinner is a precursor to the climax of the season, in which Taishi successfully confesses his “love worth dying for.” In reality, it’s just Chika agreeing to be his girlfriend, but after such a long and winding path on that cliff overlooking Honolulu, it feels monumental.

Yuudai’s soup
Terrace House/Netflix

Opening New Doors

Subtle soup, Part 1, Episode 2, “A New Experience for Her”

Yuudai, a 19-year-old aspiring chef, is eager to prove his cooking chops and impress his housemates shortly after they all move in, so he makes a pot of soup one morning. Fellow members sip and carefully remark, “It’s a… subtle flavor.” Read: You need to learn how to season, Yuudai. Later, Yuudai’s lack of both cooking skills and the work ethic to become a chef become central to the friction between he and his housemates, who chafe at watching his “all talk, no action” attitude. Welcome to the real world, kid.

Alright, I’m committed. Which season should I start with?

Boys & Girls in the City, without a doubt. The first of the Fuji-/Netflix-produced seasons is the longest running of the three, and also, incidentally, the Platonic ideal of what Terrace House should be. This season benefits from its Tokyo location; its renewed novelty to cast members, panelists, and viewers alike; and, most importantly, a stellar character mix that produces some of the best heroes (hi, Han-san!) and lasting archetypes to appear in the series.

This opening theme song is a bop.

It really is. That theme, for international viewers who may not be aware, is “Slow Down” by Lights Follow, and multiple Reddit discussions have been dedicated to its addictive, pulsing, pop-ish goodness. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the production powers that be decided to replace the iconic tune with some pop-punk-adjacent nonsense for Opening New Doors. In true internet-outrage fashion, irate fans have responded with a petition to bring back “Slow Down” (and Lights Follow agrees).

Is there anything about Terrace House that’s not perfect?

As the late, great Stephen Hawking once said, “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect.” And true to that great quote, there are definitely aspects of the show that could be improved. The house’s “three women, three men” balance and the framework for dating are pretty narrowly heteronormative, and sometimes disappointingly old-fashioned views on gender and sexuality surface, like when the panelists make fun of male housemates for crying.

Another thing that remains to be seen is how long Fuji/Netflix can continue to recycle the same formula of “beautiful house + new location + six attractive strangers” without the show growing stale. Small tweaks to this equation, like taking the show from Japan to the U.S., had mixed results. Moving back to Japan for Opening New Doors has been heralded as a “major return to form,” so it stands to reason that the best iterations of Terrace House can only exist in Japan. But can a concept like this, predicated on the transformative changes that people undergo in their 20s, exist in a bubble where everything is kept the same?

Maybe. In one possible future, Terrace House just continues ad infinitum, its perpetually young cast members naturally cycling in and out of the show with each passing year. A perfect matrix of youth, dreams, and human connection, encased.

Okay, I’m sold. When can I watch the latest episodes, and what should I expect?

Viewers in Japan have already had the privilege of watching new episodes roll out on Netflix each week, but for everyone else in the world, today, May 22, marks the release of Opening New Doors: Part 2. This next batch of episodes picks up right where Part 1 ended, which means we have these loose threads to look forward to, among others:

  • Will Yuudai mature and make strides to becoming a chef, or will he end up quitting because literally everyone in the house hates him?
  • Will Tsubasa achieve her ice hockey dreams and start dating pretty boy Shion, thereby disproving the universal law that you can’t actually have it all?
  • Which relationships will form and which will break, and what variety of fresh cast members will the house open its (new) doors to next?

One thing’s for sure: You never quite know what will happen in the Terrace House.

Terrace House [Netflix]