Consider this scenario.
You live in this really terrible house. It’s not falling apart, but there’s barely enough space for your family and yourself. Every day is a struggle not to bump against furniture or trip over boxes.
Every day is also a string of tedious rituals, thanks to the many inconveniences in the house. For example, to have dinner, you need to cook it on the ground floor, then bring it up to the third floor where the dining table is. When taking a shower on the second floor, everyone else needs to vacate that floor, for there’s no space to undress in the 1m2 bathroom. In short, it’s the sort of inconveniences that don’t exactly kill you. But in the long run, they really wear you down.
This lasted till, say, half a year ago. After endless nagging by friends, you swallowed your pride and you wrote to one of those before-and-after renovation TV programmes. Would you believe it? Your house was appalling enough to be picked for a makeover. The camera crew soon sweeps in. Your family and you are filmed in your misery. Then out. All of you. Ferried to sponsored lodging while acclaimed architects and designers do their magic. Two months later, you return with the camera crew. And upon entering your house …
Oh wow. Wow! Wow …
The makeover is great. Sort of. You do see what you expect to see; the programme lives up to its reputation. But scattered around are also changes that just don’t feel … agreeable. Most of these, as you can foretell, will create minor inconveniences in the future. And to be fair to the designers, they couldn’t have predicted these inconveniences without living in your house for a year. In other words, it’s your fault for not briefing them thoroughly. These aside, they are also touches that are plain weird to you. Nothing you cannot endure. But if you have to live with them for the next ten years …
Smile. Smile! The camera crew gestures frantically. Smile! Damn it. SMILE!
Behind you, the polite designer awaits your jubilation. Your gratitude.
On your right, your spouse leans ever so slightly against you. He or she shares your thoughts.
What do you do? What do you say? Oh, what the hell? You loathe it! My God! Why on earth is your bedroom now on the top floor?
Renovation Shows and Dramatized Makeovers
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty obsessed with watching a Japanese renovation show. It’s called Before After (大改造！劇的ビフォーアフター). Like other shows in this genre, Before After always begins with an individual or family struggling in appalling housing conditions. Each episode then ends with a dramatic, and sometimes emotional, presentation of the revamped house.
Oh, there are Japanese comedic talk show elements too. In the form of a panel of celebrities invited to “guess” the purpose of strange fittings designed for the revamps.
I enjoy Before After for several reasons. First and foremost are the storage, modular, and multi-usage solutions devised by the designers. My goodness, some of these are nothing short of inspirational. At the same time, I also appreciate the overall direction of the show. None of the families or individuals are portrayed as slobs. Their lodging issues are almost entirely the result of outdated house designs, unthinking decisions over the years, or life situations. The last reason being they could not afford a larger place, or they are too elderly to move. One thing that’s also heavily implied in Before After is that house space could be really precious in Japanese cities. A “house” could be just a mere 40m2. When you need more room, the only way to go is up. That in turn creates nightmares. Such as 60 degrees twisting staircases.
Or 6m2 cells doubling as kitchen and bathroom.
Or toilet entrances right next to the common sleeping area. You can’t pee in the night without waking up half of the family.
But back to my earlier question. What do you do if you are selected for an episode of such a show, and by most standards the renovation was brilliant, but you simply do not like it?
For whatever reason?
Don’t get me wrong. In many episodes, people cried in joy after the unveiling. (I cried in one episode too! One about a yakitori store) And television or not, the gratitude does come across as being genuine. On the other hand, there were also some episodes in which the owners’ reactions were surprisingly subdued. I might be imagining things. But these owners were hardly as elated as I thought they would be. Actually, I felt I was more enthusiastic as a viewer. These owners merely flashed polite, very Japanese smiles, and muttered Sugoi softly. No loud, breathless SUGE!!! To me, it felt as if they were thinking: This is great. But if … If … Or. This is really nice to look at. But if I have to live with it …
Meanwhile, everybody, including me, anticipates their unbridled joy. Cameras are thrust in their faces to captures their forthcoming bows and repeated arigatos.
What is one to do when trapped in such an awkward situation?
What can one do in such a painful situation?
I do wonder whether renovation shows like Before After have unaired epilogues. Epilogues in which owners and crew debate over minor alternations, before agreeing on a list of amendments.
Update – March 28, 2017
As it seems, there was some controversy over one makeover, or “reform,” as it’s called in Before After. An elderly gentlemen was immensely unhappy with his house reform, and the resulting hoo-hah supposedly resulted in the show being reassigned to an ad-hoc basis. My Japanese isn’t good enough to understand all the articles and YouTube videos about this controversy. But if that was indeed the case, it’s really unfortunately because a lot of the makeover were fantastic. (At least, when viewed in the show)
Also, as one can easily guess, children are usually the ones most receptive of the makeovers. They should be; they tend to be given secretive loft rooms and the likes of. I want a loft room, at my age!