“Terrace House” has been a hit show in Japan ever since it debuted on Fuji TV in 2012, but its success didn’t reach beyond Japan until 2015, when it premiered as a Netflix original. Since then, “Terrace House” has become an international hit spawning four more seasons along with a legion of fans.
The show has shown the world a much different style of reality TV compared to its American counterparts while giving foreigners a glimpse of Japanese society. While Japan is widely considered to be a globalized country, there are still many cultural quirks consistently displayed on screen that non-Japanese people could find puzzling. Here are seven we found:
1. People bathe together naked
Bathing in the nude with strangers is simply a part of Japanese culture. Public baths known as “onsen,” which uses natural hot spring water, and “sento,” which uses regular water that’s traditionally heated by burning wood, are extremely popular in the country.
Stephanie Crohin, an author who has written about sento, told the Associated Press that while bathing naked in front of strangers could be daunting for first timers, it’s not as awkward as it may seem.
“For some people it is a big challenge to be naked in front of others, but genders are separate, and everybody just doesn’t look and doesn’t care,” she says. “It is the ideal place to forget about complexes!”
With this in mind, it’s no wonder Shion, Taka, and Shohei (pictured above from “Terrace House: Opening New Doors”) have no problems bathing together on the show. In fact, it sounds like it makes for a good bonding moment among friends.
2. They say “thank you” to the food before eating
When you’re watching “Terrace House”, you might notice that everyone mutters the phrase “Itadakimasu!” before eating. This is normal in Japanese culture.
Itadakimasu translates to “I humbly receive,” but in the context of eating, it can mean “let’s eat,” “bon appétit,” or “thank you for the food.” The phrase “comes from Japan’s roots in Buddhism, which teaches respect for all living things. This thinking extends to mealtime in the form of thanks to the plants, animals, farmers, hunters, chefs, and everything that went into the meal,” according to Tofugu.
There are various ways to perform the gesture, but in a formal setting, you’d typically put your hands together like a prayer gesture, say itadakimasu, bow slightly, then start eating. In a casual setting, simply saying itadakimasu would suffice.
3. They RARELY hug
Japanese people are most accustomed to bowing or shaking hands when greeting each-other. If you watch “Terrace House”, the housemates don’t hug at all unless it’s the day they say goodbye when they leave the house. Even PDA is looked down upon amongst couples. Quora user Osamu Saito broke down how to greet Japanese people in different settings:
“A Japanese bow can be a greeting to said ≥ social acquaintance. But it also serves the purpose of the handshake (in business), is a show of respect (bowing before elders or an audience), shows hierarchical standing, and can serve as a part of an apology. The type of bow will be different in each instance, dependent on angle, head position relative to the other person, time holding the bow, standing/kneeling/head to ground, etc.
“In Japan, any sort of first contact, whether social or business, would likely begin with a bow. The culture is one of starting the relationship with, at least on surface, “I respect who you are and look forward to building a relationship with you.” In a business setting, bowing as a greeting will almost certainly continue.
“In a social setting however, which is what I think the question is getting at, the closer you become to your acquaintance turned friend, the more likely the bow turns into a hand wave (or less frequently, a handshake). If your friend is a little older, however, the younger one is more likely to continue with the bow. I’ve seen women do a sort of up in the air ‘patty cake’ while bobbing up and down celebratory motion with friends they haven’t seen in a while.”
4. They aren’t upfront with each other
Anyone learning Japanese will eventually learn that Japanese people tend to avoid direct speech. “空気くうきを読よむ” which directly translates to “reading the air” is the ability to read non verbal cues to get a feel for what people are REALLY saying versus what comes out of their mouths. Those who don’t know how to read these social situations are often branded as “空気くうき読よめない” (Kuuki Yomenai or KY for short), who is someone who “cannot read the air.”
The following YouTube video perfectly sums up this phenomenon:
5. They give gifts to each other after traveling
In some episodes of “Terrace House”, especially in the Karuizawa season, you might notice cast members bringing back “omiyage” for their housemates whenever they come back from a trip.
The Japanese custom of omiyage literally translates to “souvenir” and is given to friends, family, and coworkers every time you go on a trip. It’s perfectly normal for Japanese people who travel overseas to spend HOURS looking for gifts and souvenirs to give out when they return home.
The exact origin of omiyage is unknown, but some people suggest that it has something to do with Shintoism, which Japanese culture is heavily influenced by.
“The origin of omiyage is unclear, but it is thought that the custom began in association with sacred pilgrimages.” Yuichiro Suzuki, author of “Omiyage and the Railway”, told SoraNews24. “Those who visited Shinto shrines were expected to bring back evidence of the pilgrimage to their families in the form of charms, rice wine cups, or other religiously significant items. It was thought that the protection granted to pilgrims would be transferred to whoever received the items brought back from the sacred trip. This is said to be the beginning of omiyage.”
6. They give each other nicknames
Nicknames in Japan are way to show affection, tease people, or to show respect to an elder or superior.
Throughout the seasons, viewers may notice that housemate will come up with nicknames for each other as they get closer. For example, in “Terrace House: Opening New Doors”, Seina addresses Shohei as “Shohei-chan,” which is a Japanese honorific generally given to people younger than you. Other ways to create a nickname are by combining the first and last name of the person. Japanese culture blog Fluentu gives the following example:
“三池 崇史 (みいけ たかし) — Miike Takashi could be nicknamed みいかし — Miikashi.”
7. Confessing your love is a HUGE deal
Dating in America generally seems to be more casual and more informal. We are in an age where there are so many labels, from “texting” to “talking” to “hanging out” to “seeing each other,” etc. However, in Japan, things seem much more formal, where one must “confess” their love before ANY sort of dates or intimacy occurs.
This event is known as “kokuhaku” 告白こくは, which literally translates to “confession,” and it is when a man or woman declares their “love” for each other.
Now here’s where it get’s interesting, as Tofugo notes that “the concept of ‘like’ and ‘love’ in Japanese may be a little difficult for you to gauge because the word ‘suki’ could mean both/either ‘like’ or ‘love.'”
The word suki can mean “love,” but it’s more like “loving” someone like you love a certain food or hobby. So, these confessions are ironically not as big of a deal as most people may assume. When the time comes for people to profess true love for each other, the word aishiteru is used. This post by Tofugo does an amazing job giving a in-depth look at the culture of kokuhaku.