Why Terrace House is televisual equivalent of a mindfulness jigsaw

Like early Big Brother, the Japanese reality show is a fascinating glimpse at others – and ourselves

As we move through the uneasy summer of the Pandemic Year of our Lord 2020, baking has been replaced with holiday quarantine roulette, queuing to spend one hour 45 minutes in an impromptu beer garden near some bins and trawling the internet for a face covering that really expresses your personality. To be honest, it’s all a bit much.

So as a form of emergency occupational therapy, I have started doing 500-piece jigsaws of English village scenes from days of yore. These jigsaws look like a Farage fever dream; sunlit uplands scattered with playgrounds, sweet shops, churches, vintage buses and Caucasian faces as far as the eye can see. (In fact, if anyone knows of any multicultural jigsaws, do let me know, because if I see another white kid on a swing I’m going to scream.)   

Still, despite the dubiousness of the images, jigsaws are doing something that meditation, yoga and long walks have failed to do – they’re keeping all that low-level anxiety at bay. And the great thing is that you can also have the TV on while you’re doing them. Of course, you need to choose carefully. You need something soothing and unthreatening, preferably with zero plot twists. Too much action and you’re going to end up getting your grass mixed up with the sky and putting a pair of shoes on a tree.

But in a moment of serendipity after a trawl through Netflix the other day, I found that Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City is the ultimate televisual pairing – the Beaujolais to my jigsaw’s Chateaubriand. Anyone who has seen Terrace House will know that it’s a cultural anomaly – a Japanese reality show where nothing dramatic really happens. Six single people move into a house together, get on relatively well, make dinner and go to sleep, while a bunch of baffling pundits critique the ‘action’ in the studio, analysing body language, personality and behaviour.

It’s slow TV, like those golden days of Big Brother, before Nasty Nick made it all about scandal and game play. Remember when everyone used to watch Anna the Nun putting the kettle on and obsessively check the 24-hour live stream of them asleep? Like that. This series is in Tokyo and there’s none of the dry humping and fame-hungry posturing of Western shows. Everyone respectfully enquires about each other’s ambitions and moral compass, they choose which bed to sleep in by doing Rock, Paper, Scissors and go on wholesome dates to fish restaurants. Over time, we see them building relationships and the dynamics start falling into place. (Like a JIGSAW!) Although there are some low-level dramas, it’s mostly a charming, sanitised version of reality. (OMG, ALSO LIKE A JIGSAW!) OK, so I realise that this might not be everyone’s cup of matcha, but if you’re falling to pieces, it really is the perfect accompaniment.