Terrace House fans! Komban wa! If you’re anything like me, you’re hanging out for the latest season of Terrace House to drop on Netflix Australia. What’s Terrace House? It’s the Japanese reality show that’s slowly gathered a global cult following. Each season features three men and three women – all strangers and usually single – living in a house together. Unlike Big Brother, they continue to live their lives and go to work or school while filming takes place. Even weirder, they can watch themselves on episodes while filming continues – some seasons run for as long as 14 months.
Terrace House offers outsiders a glimpse into modern Japanese society and the trials and tribulations of life. Some of it seems so familiar – the angst of unrequited love and the horror when oblivious housemates eat the special gifted food you’d been saving in the fridge – but other times it’s a fascinating revelation into the Japanese psyche, like housemates’ consistently diplomatic approach to bunk bed assignment (ask everyone’s preference first and if there’s an overlap, settle it with rock, paper, scissors) and the ongoing obsession for every new housemate to be asked 1. Are you single, followed by 2. What’s your type (taipu)?
What makes Terrace House stand apart from other reality shows is the commentating team. As each episode unfolds, you get to watch them dissecting and analysing the developing relationships with equal parts invested intensity and wisecracking humour. Trust me. It’s addictive.
So it goes without saying that a trip to Japan could conceivably incorporate a detour to the filming location of the latest (and hitherto best!) season, Opening New Doors. The fifth season was filmed in Karuizawa, a ski resort town of 20,000 people located about a 90-minute shinkansen ride from Tokyo. Yep, you bet I made that detour.
If you haven’t watched Terrace House: Opening New Doors, disclaimer: the post below does include spoilers. If you have, read on and plan your next trip. ITADAKIMASU!
If there’s one place you have to visit in Karuizawa it’s Sasa, the soba restaurant owned and run by Tsubasa’s Dad. Karuizawa, and Nagano, is famous for its buckwheat, and Sasa prides itself on its soba noodles.
Entrance to Sasa
Local diners at Sasa
Tsubasa’s dad, Tomio, with Tsubasa and Shion at Sasa
(featured in episodes 3, 18, 19, 21 and 49 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
Tomio, Tsubasa’s dad, steals the show in almost every scene he’s in. How could we not love the single dad who brought up two daughters on his own, and then named a soba restaurant after them?
Sasa soba combination set 1700yen (~AU$22.50)
We order the Sasa soba combination set that’s served with tempura, miso soup, konnyaku jelly and pickles.
Cold soba with assorted tempura, rice, konnyaku, pickled vegetables and miso soup
The tempura is textbook perfect, coated in a batter that’s so light it’s ethereal. The battered shiso leaf is a highlight. Seaweed salt and a dipping sauce made from katsuobushi (shaved dried skipjack tuna) and kombu seaweed add umami.
Karuizawa local soba (100% buckwheat) 1100 yen (~AU$15)
with ayu shioyaki grilled sweet fish in salt 800 yen (~AU$11)
We also order the specialty soba made from 100% local Karuizawa buckwheat and grilled sweet fish.
Tsukemonomori pickled vegetables 400 yen (~AU$5.50)
Of course we order the pickled vegetables too, a dish of impressive crunch that we enjoy just as much as Shion did. Maybe more.
Soba noodles dipped in tsuyu soy-based sauce
Cold soba noodles dipped in tsuyu sauce is just the kind of refreshment you need in summer. The noodles are chewy with a firm springy bite. Finely chopped shallots provide a counterbalance to the sweet and salty tsuyu soy-based sauce.
Karuizawa local soba (100% buckwheat) dipped in tsuyu sauce
The 100% buckwheat soba noodles is a treat too, noticeably firmer in texture with a nuttier flavour.
And yes, we got to meet Tomio Sato himself. And get a photo with him! TRIP HIGHLIGHT.
2. Konnyaku Park
Entrance to the Konnyaku Park factory tour
You’ll need a car to visit one of the most talked-about date venues of Opening New Doors – Konnyaku Park, a visitor centre for konnyaku, the high fibre and low calorie plant starch. And why wouldn’t you visit? It’s free entry to tour the factory as well as enjoy the free and unlimited buffet of all the konnyaku dishes you can eat!
Yui and Noah at the free all-you-can-eat konnyaku buffet at Konnyaku Park
(episode 24 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
I mean if it’s good enough for Yui and Noah…!
Inside the konnyaku factory
Outdoor foot bath
After touring the factory, you can take a load off and relax in one of the many outdoor foot baths.
Outdoor foot bath space for everyone
And don’t forget to take up Yui’s challenge at the konnyaku gift shop – how much konnyaku can you fit into your 500 yen bag?
3. Prince Shopping Plaza
Prince Shopping Plaza map
Need to buy a few things but don’t have cash? Don’t worry. Prince Shopping Plaza takes credit card. Even your Dad’s!
Some of the 230+ shops at Prince Shopping Plaza
There are over 230 outlet shops at Prince Shopping Plaza, conveniently located right behind Karuizawa JR train station.
Shion, Ami and Yuudai on their visit to Prince Shopping Plaza
(episode 4 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
It’s during the housemates’ car ride to Prince Shopping Plaza that we start to realise how sheltered Yuudai really is – yes he only brought $20 to go shopping at luxury outlets, and yes he did bring his Dad’s credit card.
Prince Shopping Plaza is also where Takayuki and Shohei buy decorations and birthday party supplies for Ami and Shion (episode 14) and where Masao takes Risako (episode 49) to look at the Christmas lights (and hopefully at him).
4. Tennentei Cafe
Coffee stop? Head to Tennentei, a cute cafe with internal fireplace that would be oh-so-perfect in winter.
Masao and Risako having coffee at Tennentei Cafe
(episode 44 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
Masao takes Risako to Tennentei Cafe after their Shiraito Waterfall date (and awkward Dad-and daughter-like selfie photo together). It’s here that Masao reaches peak gushiness when he says he won’t say he’s drunk on Risako, but inadvertently does so anyway.
Locals having coffee
The cafe is just as Risako describes, so “retro” with heavy wooden chairs that are lower than you’d expect. The linoleum flooring has been worn down to the cement floor from decades of footsteps and the speakers blare out a non-stop 60s soundtrack, everything from The Seeker singing Georgy Girl to the original Locomotion by Little Eva.
Millefeuille with coffee 1100yen (about AU$15) or 650yen (AUD$9) cake only
We skip the brandy with lemonade (Masao’s preferred “buzz”) and settle for cake and coffee instead. The cakes are light and not too sweet. The coffee is on the more expensive side – almost AU$10 for a cup! – so get it with a slice of cake and pay AU$15 altogether.
Pumpkin cake with coffee 1100yen (about AU$15) or 650yen (AUD$9) cake only
5. Karuizawa Kazakoshi Park Ice Arena
Kazakoshi Park Ice Arena. It’s where Tsubasa come alive as captain of the Karuizawa Fairies.
Tsubasa, captain of the Karuizawa Fairies at the ice rink in Terrace House Opening New Doors
Young ice hockey players training at Karuizawa Kazakoshi Park Ice Arena
We arrive at the rink to find an ice hockey coaching session underway. Sugoi! The kids are young but already so athletic as they perform repeated drills.
Karuizawa Kazakoshi Park Ice Arena, host venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano
6. Ishokuan Enishiya
Entrance to Ishokuan Enishiya
We only have one night in Karuizawa and choose to eat dinner at Ishokuan Enishiya, a small izakaya (tavern) in Nakakaruizawa which is the fancier end of town.
Shion and Takayuki at Enishiya
(episode 7 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
Family dining at Ishokuan Enishiya
We excitedly skim the menu and realise it’s entirely in Japanese. My Japanese reading skills only go so far and Google translate can’t decipher all the kanji! When we ask if there’s an English menu, the family behind us overhears and Otoosan (the father) comes over and speaks with us in English. The kindness of strangers! He saves us by recommending several dishes that are specialties of the restaurant, and then sends over a tasting of their cheesy potato wedges for good measure. So kind!
Maguro tuna sashimi and avocado 540yen (AU$7.50)
Ishokuan Enishiya is popular for its unlimited drinks packages – the table of young men beside us were definitely there for the beer, not the food. We find the menu wide and varied and very affordable. While most izakaya tend to offer cheap dishes to supplement your drinks, the food here is simple but delicious, like the fresh and firm tuna sashimi with ripe avocado chunks, toasted sesame seeds and nori strips.
Pork kushikatsu 250yen (AU$3.50) per skewer
Chicken tonkatsu 870yen (AU$12)
The pork kushikatsu is good but the pork tonkatsu is even better. The chicken fillet is supremely juicy, coated in a breadcrumb armour of golden crunch.
Juicy chicken inside crisp batter
Soba pizza with miso vegetables 880yen (AU$12)
We’re also intrigued enough to order the soba pizza. The base is made using soba noodle dough, topped with local vegetables, miso and cheese. It sounds a lot more exciting than the actual result with the local vegetables tasting like sauteed choy sum. We do enjoy the light crispness of the soba pizza dough but it doesn’t have the hearty satisfaction of a traditional woodfired pizza dough with its spongy but charred base and blistered bubbles around the edges.
Soba pizza base
7. Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street
Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street lined with souvenir shops
Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street is the town’s take on the Ginza strip of Tokyo. It’s a pretty street lined with small eateries and souvenir shops. You’ll remember this street as the one where a very merry Seina links arms with Takayuki and Shohei after a big drinking session and together they skip to the next bar in the middle of the night (episode 16).
French Bakery where Masao buys a baguette to make breakfast for Risako
(episode 48 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
The French Bakery on this street is famous for being a favourite breakfast stop for John Lennon whenever he stayed in Karuizawa. And while the bakery isn’t specifically shown in Opening New Doors (the shop itself has a strict no photography rule inside), it’s from this bakery that Masao buys a baguette to make breakfast for Risako.
FOG Bar and Burger where Noah and Seina kissed passionately
(episode 32 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
You know what else happened on this street? Only the raciest scene in Opening New Doors! FOG Bar & Burger, down a little side alley, is where Noah and Seina make out like nobody’s business. Of course we happened to be in Karuizawa on the one day of the week they close, so no photos of THAT lounge, alas.
8. Trick Art Museum
Trick Art Museum
Where would you take a hot date you’ve had your eye on for some time? The Trick Art Museum of course!
Maya and Kaito on a date inside the Trick Art Museum
(episode 40 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
Maya and Kaito head to the Trick Art Museum for a date and seem to have way too much fun taking optical illusion photos. The Museum is located on Ginza Street but we were running out of time so couldn’t head inside. From what we could glean, it’s quite a small museum that would take an hour at most to complete. Entry fee is 1200JPY or about AU$17.
9. Suwa Shrine
Suwa Shrine in Karuizawa
Have you really been to Japan if you haven’t visited a shrine?
Housemates saying New Year prayers at Suwa Shrine
(episode 12 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
The Terrace House housemates appreciate the importance of shrines, making it a point to visit Suwa Shrina (only a short walk from Ginza Street) to say New Year prayers.
Suwa Shrine, where Maya and Yui come in yukata to celebrate the summer Omatsuri festival
(episode 37 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
Suwa Shrine is much smaller than we expect, especially since we remember it featured in the Omatsuri festival where Maya and Yui dress up in yukata and come to watch the fireworks. Yui also shows off her goldfish catching prowess here.
10. Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine
Steps at the entrance to Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine where Shion buys a Katsumori victory charm for Tsubasa
(episode 18 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine is a much bigger shrine but a lot more difficult to get to, located at the top of Usui Pass which is 1200m above sea level. We drove past a few people walking up the winding road up the mountain.
Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine located at the top of Usui Pass, 1200m above sea level
Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine is where Shion visits to say a prayer on behalf of all housemates and and buys a Katsumori victory charm for Tsubasa in the lead-up to the 22nd Women’s National Ice Hockey Championship.
The shrine is unusual in that it sits on the border of two prefectures: Nagano on the left and Gunma on the right. The shrine is known by two different names according to which prefecture you’re from. There are duplicates of everything within the shrine, including the two donation boxes above (Shion put his donation in the Nagano one on the left).
Yatagarasu three-legged crow shrine at Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine
Shion explains that Takayuki told him about this place which includes a shrine for yatagarasu, a legendary three-legged crow. In Japanese mythology, the three-legged crow is a sign of divine intervention in human affairs.
The legendary giant tree at Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine
It’s here you’ll find also find an enormous Japanese lime tree that’s reputed to be over 850 years old.
Row of tiny stone shrines at Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine
Could we visit Karuizawa without visiting Delicia? Of course not.
Housemates on their first grocery run to Delicia where Yuudai breaks new ground in smelling onions. Shion now does the same (conveniently photographed by Ami)
(episodes 1 and 11 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
Please visit. And smell an onion, Yuudai-style. Shion did. I did too.
12. Kyu-Karuizawa Chapel
But look. If Sasa is the first place you must visit in Karuizawa, Kyu-Karuizawa Chapel has to be the second.
What lies behind the impressive doors to Kyu-Karuizawa Chapel?
Inside Kyu-Karuizawa Chapel
We all know this scene…
Shohei’s all-or-nothing “proposal” to Seina
(episode 29 of Terrace House Opening New Doors)
THE BEST SCENE IN ALL OF TERRACE HOUSE OPENING NEW DOORS.
/Wipes a tear
MY LIFE IS COMPLETE.
Kitasaku District, Karuizawa, Nozawahara, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
Open daily 9am-11pm
18-11 Nakakaruizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0112, Japan
Open Monday to Saturday 11.30am-11.30pm
Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
Open daily 10am-7pm
Kazakoshi Park Ice Arena
182-3 Nagakura, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0111, Japan
204-1 Obata, Kanra, Kanra District, Gunma 370-2202, Japan
Open daily 9am-6pm
Entrance is free
Kumanokoutai Jinja Shrine
Kitasaku-gun, Karuizawamachi Tougemachi 2, Nagano, Japan
Kyu-Karuizawa Chapel (attached to Hotel Otowa no Mori)
1323-980 Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street
541 Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
SASA Japanese Cuisine and Soba
1058-16, Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
Open Thursday to Tuesday 11.30am-3pm and 5.30pm-9pm
865 Kyukaruizawa, Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
Tennentei Key Coffee House
4-2 Karuizawahigashi, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0104, Japan
Open daily 8am-7pm
Trick Art Museum
809 Kyukaruizawa, Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano 389-0102, Japan
We only managed to visit a small number of filming locations featured in Terrace House Opening New Doors. If you have more time than we did, you can use this episode-by-episode guide and this filterable map to plan your fangirling tour.