Warning: The following may contain minor spoilers for “Terrace House: Opening New Doors.”
If you live in Japan and have either a passing interest in pop culture or a Netflix account, you’ve likely heard of “Terrace House.”
The basic premise of this Japanese reality show is simple: Three men and three women are filmed living together in a spacious house as they go about their daily routines and, ideally, fall in love. The show doesn’t demand that the participants have to go on dates with one another — in every episode, a commentator named You says, “There is no script” — but it’s highly encouraged.
The eligible bachelors and bachelorettes are a mix of regular people — college students, baristas, tap dance instructors and so forth — and a variety of plot-twist characters that you’re unlikely to run across on Tinder who are brought on to keep the show entertaining — a member of pop act AKB48, the son of a wealthy CEO and a swimsuit model, among others.
The latest member to put a fresh spin on the show is 21-year-old Shunsuke Ikezoe, an aspiring makeup artist from Tokyo who is openly questioning his sexuality and is leaning toward identifying as bisexual. (Ikezoe is later joined by 19-year-old fashion student Maya Kisanuki, who also casually mentions that she’s open to the possibility of being with a woman.)
“Terrace House” has pretty much avoided any social commentary up to this point — none of its numerous hafū (mixed race) cast members have ever discussed discrimination in Japan, for example — but this time the TV program is consciously opening its doors to the LGBTQ community.
In an interview on YouTube with more than 200,000 views, Ikezoe talks about his interest in hair and makeup, but also the discovery of his own sexuality.
“If I lived in a environment with men and women, I thought I would be able to find something out about myself,” Ikezoe says in the video. “That’s the main reason (why I joined the show).”
Social media channels, especially YouTube and Twitter, are infamous for being places where trolls can roam free and spread hate speech, but Ikezoe seems to have attracted mostly positive comments so far. His YouTube interview has a respectable ratio of 900 upvotes and only 100 downvotes. (Like many videos posted by corporate accounts in Japan, the comments section has been closed.)
Ikezoe’s tweet announcing that he was joining “Terrace House” is full of messages of “Sugoi!” (“Wow!”) and “Ganbatte!” (“Good luck!”).
“I’ve liked this show since forever ago, and this makes me happy!” wrote Twitter user @sakurappei.
The same announcement on Instagram garnered equal amounts of praise, including comments from people who were happy to see LGBTQ representation on television.
“I’ll start enjoying (the show) from now on,” wrote @hnka02. “I’m also bisexual, and I truly respect that you can say (you’re bi) with such courage,” wrote another user.
Even Ikezoe’s co-stars gave him a warm reception after he explained that he is still trying to understand his sexual orientation. Cast member Noah Ishikura went the extra mile by mentioning that he has a bisexual friend outside of the show and later takes a bath with Ikezoe — just treating him like one of the guys.
The panel of commentators on “Terrace House,” a group of TV personalities and comedians who dissect and mock every interaction on the weekly program, have shown great restraint thus far. They haven’t joked or acted puzzled about Ikezoe’s goal, a sign that the show is trying to keep up with the times.
The positive response, both online and on TV, may reflect the open-mindedness of Japan’s younger generation.
One survey from 2015 revealed that more than 70 percent of Japanese people aged 20-40 years old supported same-sex marriage. When taking all age groups into consideration, 51 percent said they were in favor.
In addition, several cities across Japan have passed pro-LGBTQ legislation, including Tokyo with its new law that bans any discrimination based on sexual orientation. Meanwhile, other municipalities such as Sapporo and Naha have started issuing certificates that recognize same-sex couples.
Ikezoe’s experience on “Terrace House” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to be LGBTQ in Japan, however. The aforementioned 2015 survey also reported that 72 percent of respondents said that they would “feel reluctant to accept the fact their child is gay.”
There has also been a recent barrage of anti-LGBTQ essays being published in Japan — backlash to which led to the suspension of Shincho 45 magazine. And a 2017 survey discovered that nearly 60 percent of LGBTQ people were bullied in elementary, middle or high school.
Any potential for rude comments isn’t stopping Ikezoe from being himself on social media, though, whether he’s posting photos of him doing silly poses or pictures of his extensive makeup collection.
In one Instagram post, Ikezoe thanks his online fans for being supportive and for coming up with cute nicknames for him. And he finishes the post by writing one simple and unapologetic hashtag: #burikko (#over-the-top cuteness).
“Terrace House: Opening New Doors” is currently streaming on Netflix. New episodes air on Fuji TV every Monday at 12:25 a.m.
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