Terrace House: Cultural Differences and What Gets Lost in Translation

Avery

Good evening! This is my commentary about the globally popular Netflix show, Terrace House. I observe how the six strangers living together interact, and I analyze the impression they make on Japanese viewers. This blog represents my unhealthy obsession for the show and my first-hand understanding of Japanese culture as someone who was born and raised in Japan. There is no bias at all in my analysis…or at least, I try!

http://www.terrace-house.jp/tokyo2019-2020/

As a massive Terrace House fan, my schedule for Tuesday night is set; I excitedly turn on the TV after an early dinner, gawk and gasp and giggle at the how the roommates interact with each other, and then — perhaps my favorite part — curl up on the sofa and read what other people have to say about the episode on Reddit and ガールズちゃんねる(Girls Channel, a popular Japanese textboard of the girls, for the girls, by the girls). I easily spend a good 3–5 hours a week just scrolling through the comments. It’s unhealthy, I know, but it’s one of my favorite pastimes.

The fascinating part of going through these comments is not just in the juicy gossips, screenshots of a certain member’s Instagram account that reveals his/her “scandalous” past, and speculations of who and who are going to get together in the next episode. It’s also in the drastic difference in how the members are perceived between the Japanese viewers and those living abroad. It’s not uncommon for a member to be both utterly condemned and despised in Japan, while the same person is praised and admired abroad, and vice versa.

This gap between the Japanese and North American perception can be attributed to mainly two reasons.

First, is the cultural difference.

While I’m not generally a fan of cultural stereotypes, there are some characteristics that are hard to ignore. To list a few, Japanese people tend to be less direct when communicating, value social hierarchy and harmony due to their collectivist nature, and have a stricter idea when it comes to gender roles. And without this knowledge, you can easily overlook the significance of certain moments. That being said, I believe that the demographics of those watching Terrace House is more or less aware of these cultural differences and try to understand the member’s behavior through this filter.

The second reason, which to me is the biggest one, is in the limitation of the subtitles.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to criticize the translation. As a professional translator, I know that translating one language to another is difficult for a variety of reasons in any language, and going from Japanese to English is no easy task. I think the translators are doing an AWESOME job in conveying what is said in Japanese so elegantly and concisely.

Yet the Japanese language has a wide range of honorary forms, colloquialisms, and dialects, which are almost impossible to fully translate into English. This is especially difficult within the confines of subtitles. As such, what may be an indicator of the member’s personality that is easily picked up by Japanese viewers, is unfortunately lost in translation for those who don’t speak the language.

For the entire season of Terrace House: Tokyo 2019–2020, I will be posting a weekly commentary and will guide you across that gap. Hopefully, this will help you enjoy Terrace House from a new perspective and might solve some questions you’ve had while watching the show.

See you next week!

Avery

Avery

Written by

Avery

Avery is a translator, blogger, and Terrace House fanatic. Born and raised in Japan, she has a first-hand understanding of the Japanese culture.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade