There comes a moment of truth in every episode of reality-dating series “The Bachelor” when the handsome and wealthy bachelor must eliminate at least one of the 25 women vying for his affection during a “rose ceremony.”
In “The Bachelor Japan,” the series’ first rose ceremony, which happens in its first episode, was perhaps the most poignant. Twenty-five women had arrived at a gorgeous Chiba Prefecture mansion (complete with a pool) in glittering evening wear, to be greeted at the end of a long red carpet by the bachelor. Initially everyone smiled and chatted amicably in the living room. Toward the end, the bachelor presented 20 roses to 20 women, ceremoniously calling out their names as the camera hovered over each of the women’s faces. No one looked down. They were all grimly determined, as if channeling Jennifer Lawrence’s heroine from “The Hunger Games.” Cue the ominous drums.
And the five that didn’t make it? They had to leave. One told the bachelor with barely concealed anger that she questioned his judgment. Another shakily said she supported him on his quest to find the perfect woman. All of them had tears in their eyes.
“The Bachelor” first aired on U.S. television network ABC in 2002 and just wrapped up its 21st season in March. A year after the show’s debut, ABC introduced “The Bachelorette,” and the dating tables were turned. The series has local versions in around 30 countries with the exact same set-up: One bachelor (or bachelorette), 25 contestants (or potential mates), a mansion they share for eight weeks and a rose ceremony at the end of each episode.
Now, after 15 long years, “The Bachelor” has arrived in Japan, and all 12 episodes (including the epilogue) are available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s by no means the first dating show this country has seen, though. In 1955, Japanese TV came out with a program titled “Meoto Zenzai (“All is Good Between Husbands and Wives”), and since then some 70-plus dating shows have aired on prime time and late-night TV. “Terrace House” on Fuji Television (and now streaming on Netflix Japan) is widely considered Japan’s first reality-dating show, but it has a much more casual take on relationships than “The Bachelor.” The people of “Terrace House” are more relaxed about dating, and quite open about sex. They’re not looking for long-term commitment.
“The Bachelor Japan,” on the other hand, is firmly focused on the marriage proposal. The women have a lot more at stake, and beneath their smiling flirtatiousness, the tension is palpable. Fights happen, and in each of the episodes someone (or two or three) dissolves into tears of misery.
Thirty-year-old Michiru Izutsu, who works for an ad agency in Tokyo, says she’s a big fan of reality-dating series.
“I think, though, that ‘The Bachelor Japan’ is mostly tailored toward men and ‘Terrace House’ is made more with women in mind,” she says. “The premise of ‘The Bachelor’ is really one-sided. One guy chooses his future wife out of 25 girls. I mean, what is that? Still, I love watching it, it’s so much like a fairy tale.”
That “one guy” in the case of “The Bachelor Japan” is 35-year-old Hirotake Kubo. Admittedly, he’s fairy tale material: exceedingly handsome, athletic (you can see all his abs), a graduate of the University of Tokyo and an entrepreneur who has just sold his IT company for a huge profit. You’d think a man like Kubo has absolutely no trouble getting women but apparently, just “getting women” isn’t what he’s after.
James Farrell, Amazon Prime Video’s head of content in the Asia Pacific region, describes Kubo as “a very impressive guy, serious and sincere. He really wanted to meet the love of his life on this show. And he has all these accomplishments but was never arrogant or unpleasant in any situation, which I think is rare in a reality show.”
And what of the women?
“I don’t think of them as women, I think of them as individuals,” Farrell says. “A big purpose of the show is to have the contestants appeal and express themselves as individual people, and to state what they want and show themselves willing to work for it.”
Kubo has become something of an online guru figure to Japan’s ever-increasing single male populace since he appeared on the show. Several online publications have quizzed him on dates spots and etiquette because, as they imply, everyone else is pretty much clueless.
For his part, Kubo has said in the show and during these interviews that he didn’t want to hurt anyone by not choosing them, but was also determined to find a partner.
“He was always very commitment-minded,” Farrell says. “He wasn’t in this for thrills, he signed on because he wanted true love.”
Throughout the show, Kubo remains polite and gracious. The woman he ultimately chooses is modest and inexperienced (and still in college). For these reasons, “The Bachelor Japan” turned out to have quite a different flavor from the U.S. version. While kissing and/or spending the night is entirely acceptable there, in Japan it’s a big deal for the women to even touch Kubo. (They all ask his permission first.) If one ventures to kiss his cheek or give him a hug, the others, watching from another room, erupt in storms of jealousy. (Spoiler alert, and interesting cultural note: The bachelor’s final choice remained demure and restrained throughout the series.)
Kubo also shows himself to be respectful of every one of his potential in-laws, a factor that is all-important in a Japanese marriage. The mother of the final rose winner appears in the epilogue and officially gives her consent to the couples’ marriage, with Kubo replying that he would wait to tie the knot until her daughter graduated and “got some life experience” first.
Out in the real world, dating in Japan (never mind marriage) has become a pretty dismal affair. According to Aera magazine, 70 percent of Japanese men and 60 percent of Japanese women between the ages of 18 and 34 are not in a romantic relationship. The aforementioned Michiru Izutsu professes that she prefers vicarious dating through TV over the real deal.
Good news, Michiru: Amazon Prime Video has announced a new season of “The Bachelor Japan,” to come out next year. Asked if there will be a Japanese version of “The Bachelorette,” Farrell says there’s certainly a possibility it will happen. Personally speaking, the sooner the better. My sofa is ready and so is that bottle of wine.
“The Bachelor Japan” is now streaming via Amazon Prime Video at www.amazon.co.jp/bchr.