Violetta Polt moved from Russia to Japan in 2013 with the aim of becoming a fashion designer. In the years that followed, however, she made a living as a foreign model before finding fame on Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020. The fifth installment of the popular reality TV series ended in tragedy, though, as housemate Hana Kimura took her own life. Vivi recently sat down with Tokyo Weekender to talk about her time on the series and how she coped with the death of her friend. We also spoke about the war in Ukraine, the healing power of painting and her first solo art exhibition, “Undress Me Mentally.”

vivi polt painting

“24022022”, 2022, Hollywood

How has your life been since Terrace House?

It’s been hard. The first few months were particularly difficult. A good friend of mine died and that left me depressed. I couldn’t sleep and, as a result, experienced delusional episodes. I also suffered from bulimia, regularly getting sick. At that time, I became like a hikikomori, putting a distance between myself and everyone. Being alone like that left me in a dark place. I had to go shopping, and despite wearing a mask, people still recognized me. Sometimes they would hug me and cry. I knew how they felt and wanted to be there for them, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t mentally in the right place. I was also angry.

Why were you angry?

I was mad at the media because everyone was blaming the producers for Hana’s death. They went to her house, found her a doctor and tried to get her into a hospital, but she refused. They’re good people who did what they could to help. It’s not fair that they had to take all that criticism. If we were in America, the production company would stand up for their rights and fight back against those accusations. It’s different here. They decided not to speak up out of respect to Hana’s family.

Were you aware of how much she was suffering?

The last time I spoke to her, she said it was getting better. I feel her death was a result of something deeper than just cyberbullying, though that was clearly a major factor. It’s a huge societal problem and can be evil as people throw their stress on others they see online. There are ways to take it, but everyone’s different, and Hana was sensitive, so it was extremely hard to face all that. Plus, she was isolated due to COVID-19. She was targeted because she expressed her emotions openly in a country where the culture of gaman is very important. Some might say don’t look at your DMs or whatever, but when you’re on a program like that, you want to see how people are reacting.

Did you experience online hate?

I had a little, but not as much as Hana. Even before my first episode aired, I received some snide comments. I wore a necklace that my ex-boyfriend gave me with an “R” on it, as that was the first letter of our surnames on our passports at that time. In the house, Ryo asked me about it, and I jokingly told him I was wearing it for him. The truth was, I didn’t even watch Terrace House before I went in. I just wanted to have fun and not take things too seriously. That joke, though, was included in one of the teasers. Without any context, it looked like I was serious, and people online would say things like,“Oh my god, I can’t believe she did that.”

vivi polt tokyo photoshoot japan

Can you take any positives from your time on Terrace House?

It felt like an amazing experience while I was in the house. Doing something like that with five others helps you grow as a person. There was lots of stress, but at the same time, that gives you new perspectives. I was a super OCD person before going in, needing everything to be spotless. I’ve since changed in that regard. Ultimately, though, when I look back at the past couple of years, it’s hard to take any positives. I lost my friend, and things just went south from there. When it comes to people dying, you kind of forget all the good things that happened.

What impact did the show have on your career?

I’d been working as a foreign model here, but after Terrace House, I got a new manager and started earning more. Then the pandemic hit. I lost all my work and started struggling with money. People also used me because I was weak. The depression got worse, and I couldn’t sleep, which led to me seeing things that weren’t there. I spent my last money on a room at a gym and pushed myself to the limit, hoping it would help me sleep. I had to get out of the cycle I was in. At the end of 2021, I decided to go to America and thought I was opening a new chapter in my life, but not long after making that decision, Russia invaded Ukraine.

What was your initial reaction to that news?

I was devastated because I have family in both countries. Two months after the war began, my grandmother, who raised me, died from cancer. I couldn’t go to see her before her passing because I was worried they would take my passport away in Russia. That fear of losing my freedom was something I felt in 2013. I told everyone then there was going to be a war, and that’s part of the reason why I left. Being so far away, you have a kind of feeling that’s similar to survivor’s guilt. At one point, I was in a hotel room in Los Angeles and thought I wanted to hang myself and video it so people could see how much Russians are against this war. It put me back in a dark place.

vivi polt painting japan american fashion

“Mama, papa, me”, 2023, Tokyo

How have you managed to get out of that dark place?

Last year, I started painting again and that was what saved me. It has a healing effect that’s like meditation. I still have these traumas inside me, but when I’m painting, I’m in a zone that allows me to reconnect with myself in a deeper way. It’s something I started doing as a child, and I even went to art school as a teenager. You then get told there’s no career in it and you’d be better off doing something like physics, so you end up going down a different route. Yet, you can’t run from who you are, and I’m delighted I’m back doing it again.

How was your recent exhibition in Tokyo?

It went very well. There was a lot of positive feedback with many people telling me they could feel a healing power from the paintings. I called it “Undress Me Mentally” because I was displaying my inner self. Through these paintings, you can see the real me, my thoughts and emotions. That includes some of the traumas I’ve been through and my anger at the war in Ukraine.

vivi polt painting the heat hollywood

“The Head”, 2022, Hollywood

What are your plans for the future?

I’ll be sharing my time between America and Japan. I want to do more art, including collaborations with clothing brands. I also hope to show my art in more galleries around the world. Writing movies and appearing in them is something I’m keen on as well, though I’m not qualified enough for that yet. While the scripts I’ve written have received good feedback, they need polishing. Another ambition is to launch my skincare products in Japan. During the pandemic, there were times when I didn’t wash my hair or take care of my face, which left me with acne. I then developed three items, which helped me because I started caring about my body again. I’m looking forward to seeing what people here think of them.

Find Polt and her work on Instagram at @violapolt

This article was originally published in the TW September-October 2023 issue