TV Dictionary - Terrace House

Creator's Statement

One reason I love the TV Dictionary so much is that it’s a project about language as much as it is about television. When approaching my own contribution, I tried to identify a "gap" in the project on both fronts, in an attempt to diversify in terms of both genre and language whilst also pulling away from the mostly West-centric tendencies of the collection. Little did I know that by identifying this gap, I’d end up making an essay about gaps.

The first gap has to do with expectations. Terrace House is rather an anomaly in the reality TV landscape, and comes as quite a shock after consuming primarily American reality shows. The genre is not well known for its aesthetically-pleasing cinematography, sleep-inducing slow pace, and nuanced dialogue. Watching Terrace House and expecting Big Brother thus creates a dissonance that is both aesthetic and cultural, making the non-Japanese viewer in particular constantly aware of this distance.

It’s a tension I hoped to convey by utilising the linguistic gap, choosing the word 間 (phonetically read as "ma," amongst other possibilities). Although best translated as "interval" or "space," the subtle connotations of the Japanese word cannot be easily contained. Richard B. Pilgrim’s article, cited in my entry, refers to it as a "Japanese religio-aesthetic paradigm or ‘way of seeing’."[1] Arguably, a comprehensive understanding of it requires similar sensibilities to those that enable one to appreciate a show like Terrace House.

As a representative clip, I chose the first five minutes of series four – titled "Opening New Doors" (2017-2019). Excluding the hosts’ introduction, the episode starts with a 14-minute-long sequence showing all the participants gathering. They enter the house, greet each other, sit down and talk, all without music or confessionals, at the same repetitive pace. This is also the first episode of the show I ever watched. Coming back to it while editing the video, and now once again while writing this statement, it’s hard not to recall the many accusations made against the show, questioning its production methods and treatment of the participants, following the tragic events of series five.[2] This opens a gap that is both temporal and ethical, between naïve past and critical present, all encompassed in this five-minute clip. Cutting this clip and isolating it from its temporal context helps preserve those warm feelings that still enable me to think of the show fondly.

 These first minutes already possess many 間 qualities, exemplifying the deeply relational meaning of the word that emphasises the gap between things rather than the things themselves. Through the 間 lens, we see it’s not a show about people, but about the encounter between people. It’s not about a house, but about the relationship between the house and its inhabitants. It’s not a show in which "nothing happens," but a show that cherishes the time between actions. This reveals a conceptual gap in our understanding of commercial television and its purpose; a gap about gaps. What can be found within those gaps, and whether we can (or should) ever bridge them, are questions I keep asking myself, through this video and beyond.


I would like to thank Rin Ben-Yshay, Haruki Sekiguchi and Prof. Colleen Laird for their invaluable work on the Japanese translation.


[1] Pilgrim, Richard B. “Intervals (‘Ma’) in Space and Time: Foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Paradigm in Japan.” History of Religions, vol. 25, no. 3, 1986, p. 255.

[2] I’m referring primarily to the death of Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old participant in series five who committed suicide due to cyberbullying she experienced following her appearance on the show.



Rotem Sudman is a Master's student and teaching assistant at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, Tel Aviv University, studying in the school’s honors track. In 2022 she co-coordinated the school’s International Colloquium on Cinema and Television Studies.

The parameters of Ariel Avissar’s TV Dictionary project are just as described in the pitch—“simple”—and there are almost no restrictions. The video should be “short,” but there isn’t a suggested numerical benchmark. The maker can chose “a clip or several clips” from a featured show, but there’s no mention of exclusionary selectivity (hence Jason Mittel’s entry for Battlestar Galactica that hinges on a television advert and Avissar’s entry “Flow” which is a supercut of ad breaks that dissolves into emergency broadcast color bars). There’s really only one clear and fast rule: although associated definitions can vary in quantity, contributors should use just “a single word” to explore their media of choice.


Rotem Sudman

and I

broke this rule.


This is not the only thing our videos have in common. While the TV Dictionary is, as Sudman writes, “about language as much as it is about television,” the instructions never specify which language the project is about, and certainly not which dictionaries should be used. In making my second entry for the collection, like Sudman I felt limitations that were never imposed by the prompt but had emerged apparent in the community of practice. Most entries in the collection, even for non-Anglophone series, default to English words and the most common English language lexicons.






In experimenting with what a TV Dictionary entry might look like in or how it might be shaped by Japanese, Sudman and I pushed on the linguistic parameter of the only rule to explore new conceptual possibilities in the project. For Terrace House, Sudman chose not a word but a kanji, a Japanese character (or logograph) of Chinese origin. With multiple meanings and various “readings” (i.e. pronunciations) kanji convey an amalgam of meanings and concepts simultaneously. A particular, intended meaning is determined not just by context, but according to the context-based reading or pronunciation. For example, in addition to “ma” (as highlighted in Sudman’s piece), 間 on its own can also be read as “aida” to mean, among other things, “between.” Sudman’s piece on a reality show about relationships, therefore, is also about the ambiguous relationship between a symbol and what it can communicate. The potential for kanji to have various readings depending on context and reading also appears in my entry on Sailor Moon. In it, I play not really with a word at all, but with the interaction between Japanese and English dictionaries through the act of typing and translation in process, ultimately landing on the title and titular character of the related show to explore meanings beyond words to the affective relationships between a TV text and its fans.



[1] But what if the language were Japanese?