In Episode 37 of “Terrace House,” titled “Another Terrace!!,” Toshiyuki Niino and Yume Yoshida go on a date in Kyoto. Sitting side by side and admiring the city lights from the observation deck of Kyoto Tower, Toshiyuki asks Yume to turn toward him in an obvious attempt to kiss her. Yume declines, repeatedly, saying “no” over a dozen times, but Toshiyuki responds by attempting to put his arm around her to bring her closer.
As a reality show known and loved for its atypical lack of drama, “Terrace House” would do better to make a bigger deal over the issue of consent. One of the main draws of the show is seeing relationships develop between housemates, and the flirting and fumbling that come with the territory of blossoming romances. Toshiyuki’s “pursuit” of Yume has at times, however, crossed a line for many viewers watching the current season.
In an earlier episode, “Angel,” Toshiyuki smears lip balm on Yume’s face before diving in for a kiss. What he perhaps believed to be a romantic move came off as presumptuous and sudden, with Yume later telling a housemate, “I don’t think he would have done that if he respected my feelings.”
The behavior of some of the housemates is only part of the problem, however. The show’s panel members — six actors and comedians who provide commentary and routinely mock the housemates from a studio — tend to approach such situations by first sympathizing with the woman involved before typically ending up at the outdated sentiment: She was asking for it.
Comedian Ryota Yamasato likened Yume’s behavior to that of a “gold digger working at a hostess club,” while fellow comedian Azusa Babazono said, “I mean, they held hands. … You can’t blame him for having hope.” Yamasato added fuel to the fire by saying, “Yume’s been pretty flirty, too. That’s why I kind of feel sorry for (Toshiyuki) for getting played with.” In the end, Yume is the one at fault for saying “no” and standing up for herself.
While watching Yume on her awkward date in Kyoto, I couldn’t help but think of the episode “Kiss Out of Nowhere” from 2018’s “Terrace House: Opening New Doors” season. In it, singer Shohei Uemura uses his hand to rotate his tipsy housemate Seina Shimabukuro’s head toward him in an awkward headlock before going in for a kiss. The usually confident and brash Seina was noticeably affected by Shohei’s actions, immediately muttering “what?” several times before sinking into a stunned silence.
Again, the panel saw little wrong with the situation and instead praised Shohei as admirable.
“That first arm move was impressive,” said comedian Yoshimi Tokui. “Normally, you might tilt her head until she turns to face you on her own.”
By that time, the show had begun to gain popularity overseas, and the incident was criticized by several media outlets, such as Decider and Vulture. For the latter, writer Emily Yoshida said the show reminded her of “all the things that still suck about Japanese culture.” There were also plenty of Reddit threads in which superfans harshly criticized the show, with one post simply titled “Weird rape culture on the show?”
This wasn’t the only time the panel on “Terrace House” cheered on a questionable kiss. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time that Seina was forcibly kissed on the show.
During the first season, “Terrace House: Boys x Girls Next Door,” the housemates throw a party at which things quickly get out of hand. During “The One She Truly Longs For…?,” Seina drinks a bit too much and ends up on the floor, leaning against a wall for support, when a sober Masato Yukawa crouches down and kisses her. A lot of viewers saw this as Seina being taken advantage of while drunk, but the show framed it as the first step in a new romance.
The panel members thus far haven’t faced any backlash in Japan for their remarks — or silence — on consent. However, Yamasato has apologized several times on the show for jumping to conclusions about the house’s inhabitants, saying they were boring when they turned out to be funny. The three instances of women being kissed without consent were instead greeted with the gleeful tone of a high school gossip session: The guy is the hero for making a move, or at least attempting to kiss, the girl he likes. The woman is a good sport if she kisses back or at least doesn’t complain.
The conversation on consent in Japan hasn’t progressed as far as it has in some places abroad, but those places are precisely where the show is popular. It will be interesting to see the reactions of overseas fans when the remaining episodes of “Terrace House: Tokyo” are released.
The most recent season of the show has gone on hiatus to protect the cast and crew from getting sick amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s unclear as of now when or if it will return. If it does come back, however, it would be great if “Terrace House” could acknowledge the problems it has dealing with the issue of consent so that audiences can continue to see the show as a source of comfort, not creeping discomfort.
The Japan Times is posting weekly articles on “Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.” Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. “Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020” is on hiatus due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Past episodes of the show are available on Netflix and Fuji TV on Demand (FOD).