If you know me, you know I don’t really “get” pop culture. Despite being a copywriter and working in fashion, I’ve been able to navigate most of my life wearing blinders that block out the vast majority of popular media.
This is not because I think I’m too cool for school—on the contrary, I have often forced myself to investigate pop culture like a nerdy, awkward detective because my career has depended on it—but because anxiety and ADD have made it hard for me to participate. The formula that makes celebrity culture so appealing doesn’t work on me.
Celebrities, reality shows, etc. It all exhausts me. This has resulted in my feeling left out in certain jovial aspects of modern life, and especially when peers engage in lively discourse carried by pop culture references (which has admittedly happened a lot in work environments).
Name a cult classic film or a show everyone watched in the ’90s or the early aughts, and I probably didn’t. Not because I’m not like other girls, but because I feel no pull toward consuming 90% of what we’re fed by mainstream media conglomerates.
And it’s important to preface this post accordingly, because without knowing this, I’m not sure how to justify writing it at all.
To gauge the level of my disengagement, I often give the example that, for a long time, I thought Kylie and Kendall Jenner were the same person. So it’s weird that I fell so hard for Terrace House—a Netflix-produced reality show based in Japan, where members live in stunning minimalist abodes while not much actually happens—and that I got so emotionally involved in it.
Unless you watch it, it’s hard to describe the appeal. It utterly lacks the vulgar straight-forwardness of Western reality TV, instead opting for more subtle footage, usually involving conversations depicting things that happened off-camera.
Contestants are typically young and ambitious with model-worthy looks. They arrive and declare that they’ve decided to live in the house to find love or work toward some goal in their lives.
Hana Kimura arrived at Terrace House during Part 2, episode 20 of the Tokyo 2019–2020 season. The housemates were immediately enthralled with her electric pink hair and bubbly personality. Her eyes literally sparkled as she introduced herself and took in the scenes around her. The episode is on Netflix if you want to watch it for yourself.
She was a mere 21-years-old when she first appeared on the show and had already amassed a fan base as a professional wrestler, taking after her mother, Kyoko Kimura, who I have thought about often in the past twenty-four hours.
If you were to compare the episode before Hana arrived to the one where she made her debut, it would be like putting a black and white photo next to a full color high definition image.
Hana’s mere presence lit up the house.
Her infectious smile made them laugh more. Her innocence inspired them to have more honest conversations. And then, there was her professional wrestling career, which shocked house members and audience members alike.
I’ll never forget the moment she egged on the crowd wearing a gas mask and then hurled an opponent out of the ring during a match. I thought: Holy shit. That’s the same adorable girl that was giggling her way through her entire first episode.
What’s fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) about Terrace House is that you have to do a lot of reading between the lines to understand the cast members, because they rarely give the camera—or their housemates—the entire story. Details come out when they drink a little too much or hold grudges that boil up to the surface…
One could argue that most of the show is about what’s not said, what’s merely speculated. What is inferred by so-and-so’s behavior.
In Hana’s case, her hopes, dreams, and feelings were displayed for all to see. She was an open book in the truest sense. Her massive smile and bashfulness when her crush came home, her eagerness to express herself honestly when other girls in the house challenged her…
While many Terrace House members are accused of being on the show solely to promote their careers or create a certain public image, she was a refreshingly real young woman having an honest experience in front of millions of eager eyes.
We all wanted to see if Hana would find love.
If her crush reciprocated her feelings.
If she would win the next match.
And, of course, how she would style her bright pink hair.
There was just a purity there, watching her experience life, that it tricked me into thinking I really love this kind of show. I really love to see women like Hana coming into their own, getting stronger, learning about love, making friends…
I looked forward to watching the show because she was on it. Her scenes would never be boring, but they’d never be cringe-inducing either. I would catch myself smiling or even crying with her.
Her joy, her disappointment, everything.
I just felt like, through the screen, she was the little sister I never had. She was a person I hoped would always be protected and loved. And having seen her supportive colleagues appear on the show (and witnessing the often harsh Terrace House hosts gush over how much they loved her) I had no doubt that would be the case.
I had no doubt Hana’s story was only getting started, and that she would be adored by throngs of people for the rest of her life. The energy Hana gave off was that there was hope in the world, so long as you kept fighting. That life was exciting. That love was real and dreams were possible.
That’s the feeling she created.
So why am I sitting here on May 24th, 2020, reeling over the fact that Hana isn’t with us anymore?
On the 23rd, Hana took her own life after posting cryptic messages on social media.
Some of them showed her self-harming, others apologized, said she didn’t want to be “human” anymore, and finally, she said goodbye.
A fellow wrestling star saw these late-night messages and alerted people close to her, but by the time someone arrived to her house to check on her, it was too late.
She took her own life after being targeted by fans of the show who didn’t approve of her behavior. Apparently she knocked another member’s hat off his head during an argument. After that aired, the relentless cyber-bullying began. Hana is reported to have fallen into a depression during this time, and when she was unable to recover from it, she decided to escape it by ending her life.
I’ve had to come back to this post a few times, because this part is hard to write. It’s hard not to feel a deep rage—almost a nausea—at the thought of this vibrant person being ripped from her own story over something so trivial.
I heard about the news more than twenty-four hours ago, but her death won’t fully register. I can’t accept it. Terrace House, which I have identified to friends in the past as my mental “happy place”, cannot possibly be a tragic time capsule of her final months. This simple, lovely, fun show cannot possibly have morphed into a trigger of pain and sorrow.
I can’t accept that instead of adoring her, I must now mourn her.
And for what?
I wanted to dedicate this post to Hana’s memory and her radiance—not get into how I feel about the trolls who caused her a lethal amount of emotional turmoil—but her death was unnecessary. It was prompted by the internet’s unchecked toxicity. We can’t talk about this tragedy without bringing that to light.
Bullies prey on those like Hana. People who take words to heart and believe what others say. People who take the world at face value, maintaining an innocence without the hardened mechanisms some of us use for repelling blatant evil.
I think she read their cruel words and believed them. I think her young soul, not at all jaded, couldn’t put up a fight outside of the ring with so many faceless opponents.
It’s also entirely possible that she was predisposed to mental health issues we don’t know about—but given how Japan handles discussions around mental illness, it’s unlikely we’ll learn the truth.
So here we are, mourning her.
Someone commented on an IG fan account that, even though they’d only known Hana through the show, it felt like a deep devastating loss—like she’d lost a personal friend or a family member.
I think that, to the extent that someone can be through the TV screen, that’s what Hana was to fans of the show. Because there were so many comments like that: grieving fans who feel like they’ve lost a sister.
When I first read about Hana’s death, my heart froze. My little brother tweeted her name—no article link, just something to the tune of “I don’t know what to say about this”.
Naturally, I stopped what I was doing to Google her. I didn’t know what to expect, but my brain couldn’t have prepared me.
There was just no possibility in my mind that I would see what I saw: Japanese Wrestler & Terrace House Star Hana Kimura, Dead at 22
I felt my blood go cold. I opened tab after tab after tab of news stories and read what little information was known. Most of them rehashed the same thing. As the hours passed, more details. More articles. Then statements from celebrities.
Peppe, an Italian manga artist who lived in the house with Hana, posted a heartbreaking series of photos. Other members have shared similarly upsetting messages, along with thoughts on how people go too far with internet harassment.
As I sat with the news, I thought of her smile, her sparkling eyes, her bright pink hair. I stared at her final photos posted on social media for a long time.
The self-harm images were deleted, and I’m glad I didn’t see them. There were others of her nuzzling her cat, her cheeks decorated with little flowers. She looked so calm. I wondered what was behind her eyes. I wondered if she had any idea just how special and important and wonderful she was, or if she had any inkling of the devastation that would ensue…
I suspect she was focused on her own devastation, on the emotional death she was enduring already.
I thought about her mother, I thought about her teammates.
I marveled at the cruelty and speed of the internet for rendering every profile into past-tense. The publications practically shit-posting articles about her death as not to miss out on the SEO opportunity.
I felt numb and found myself randomly crying, unable to keep her face out of my head. I wondered why it was hitting me so hard. But as I sat with those feelings, I realized it’s because Hana was (is, will always be) such a warm and magical person. She made a deep impression on me, like she did on so many people, and to lose her is just fucking devastating.
My cousin’s girlfriend—one of the only Terrace House fans in my day-to-day life—messaged me, which was a relief.
I didn’t feel the need to explain my sadness to her. She understood. We chatted back and forth for a while about Hana, the show, and Japanese society’s inability to acknowledge and properly address mental illness and suicide for the rampant problem it is.
I posted a bunch of Hana’s photos on my IG stories, knowing most people who saw them wouldn’t know who she was or understand why I was so upset.
I went to bed that night thinking of her, knowing that there were people waking up in Japan, prepared to face the day without her.
My heart broke over and over.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I just can’t bear to associate Hana’s smile with the fact that she’s not here anymore. And as sad as it might be for me, a fan, I can only imagine the agony her loved ones are experiencing now.
None of these pre-packaged messages being released online can adequately capture what is lost.
Today I Googled her name again, just to check that the news was real. Maybe it was some cruel joke, a publicity stunt. Maybe it was a gimmick for an upcoming wrestling match or something.
But it’s real. She’s gone.
And I asked myself again, “Why am I so upset about a reality TV star?”
I guess it’s because people like Hana are the kind of people who I create for. Who I blog for. Who I look for. People like Hana make the world a better place. They create joy in waves. They remind us to be innocent, to play, to be vulnerable, to be joyful.
They radiate optimism. They embody love.
And they’re rare. You don’t meet them everyday.
When I watched her on the show, I couldn’t wait to see more of her career, follow her adventures online, and just… I don’t know.
I’m not a kid anymore, and I don’t feel like a “fan” very often. But yeah, I was her fan.
So today I made a little mini-zine with some of my favorite photos of Hana, photoshopped little star stickers and printed it out.
This year I’ve been making little “zines” about things that are important to me. I made one to remind me to stay open and brave while traveling. I made one to celebrate Valentine’s day with my dude. And this one’s for Hana. I’ll keep it here on my desk. It’ll be my little way of keeping her memory alive. And a way of reminding myself to tap into that wonderful energy she brought to the world.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that messages of kindness are spreading on social media.
If you see someone being bullied, defend them. If you have a chance to be kind instead of cruel, be kind. If you think someone might be hurting, check in on them.
No one’s story should end this way.
In time, the world will heal from the pain caused by her passing, and her leaving this world too soon will be part of her story. But I hope her life, her energy, and her vibrant smile will be as much a part of her legacy as her tragic end.
If I could tell her anything now, it would be:
Hana, you are the coolest girl ever.
You inspire me to lighten up and laugh.
You inspire me to be honest and unfiltered.
I admire your strength and my heart breaks for what you went through.
The world is brighter because you were here.
You will never be forgotten.
Kyoko Kimura, Hana’s mother, has been taking action in Japan to get stricter penalties enforced for cyberbullying and destructive online comments. You can sign her Change.org petition here. She created a non-profit in Hana’s memory to end online hate: REMEMBER HANA
In one of her many devastating—but inspiring—statements, she said she has dedicated her life to creating the kind of world Hana would have wanted.
At this time, a series of men have been fined thousands of dollars for their hateful comments before and after Hana’s suicide. Fans are still reeling from this loss over a year later. A memorial show was held in May.
Hopefully, some positive change will come from all of this tragedy.