In January 1998, a 22-year-old aspiring comedian, Tomoaki Hamatsu, went on an unusual audition for a show business-related job. After the audition, the candidates were announced that this job would be assigned by luck rather than talent.
By (mis)fortune, Tomoaki Hamatsu drew the winning ticket and was immediately blindfolded and transported to the filming location: a small apartment with basic utilities (running water, heating and electricity), a table full of postcards, a phone, a radio and a rack of newly issued magazines.
Unbeknownst to him, Tomoaki Hamatsu had been randomly chosen for the first season of the (in)famous "Denpa Shōnen" series: "Denpa Shōnen teki Kenshō Seikatsu", which roughly translates to "The Crazy Youth Prize Life".
Denpa Shōnen Teki Kenshō Seikatsu
The reality television series "Denpa Shōnen" was aired on Nippon TV from 1998 to 2002. Each season focuses on an extreme challenge which aspiring comedians are asked to complete. The first season, "Denpa Shōnen teki Kenshō Seikatsu", introduces Tomoaki Hamatsu, nicknamed Nasubi (meaning eggplant in Japanese) to a dangerous challenge.
In the small apartment, Nasubi is challenged to win one million yen in contests, starting from nothing but what is present in the apartment: the living room provides a small table, tons of letters and magazines, a diary, a ballpoint pen, a telephone, a radio, a cushion and an air conditioner, the kitchen got a gas range and the bathroom a toilet, a bathtub and a shower.
In this environment, Nasubi was unclothed and isolated with the recording equipment. He was under the impression that the show was being recorded to be broadcast once the footage had been gathered and edited. In reality, the experiment was aired weekly every Sunday. At its peak, the show gathered 17 million viewers, giving the unknowing Nasubi the notoriety he had only dreamed of.
Can we make a living only by rewards in Japan?
“What do you want the most now?” The producer asked. - “Clothes”, Nasubi initially replied, “You are saying I can get clothes by winning a prize contest?” - “Yes!”
Clothes would reveal to be a slight inconvenience compared to the starvation Nasubi would experience during the next 335 days. Relying on contest prizes, Nasubi could barely eat, rationing the prizes to survive. During most of the challenge, he would be able to rely on a cup of rice per day, but food sources were very unreliable. He was not able to use his heater properly, without pots or pans, but he genuinely designed a way to cook some of the items he won, like rice, steak and seafood, with the discarded can of other food prizes. The effect of starvation quickly became apparent as his skinny and slightly muscular body was reduced to skin and bones. His hygiene was very minimal and his mental state seemed weakened by the repetitive task of sending postcards and the lack of entertainment.
The involvement of the producers in this experiment is unclear, but they could have easily intercepted deliveries or rigged contests. Some deliveries, like Hirosue’s poster, for instance, seemed fixed since Nasubi previously mentioned her in his diary. However, they formally intervened for the first time five months into Nasubi’s experiment to send a doctor who took Nasubi’s blood pressure, blood and urine and deemed Nasubi fit for the experiment. After the doctor’s appearance, Nasubi was out of rice for a couple of weeks but was provided with dog food until he ecstatically received 10kg of rice.
Five months in, Nasubi had yet to achieve half of his goal of one million yen, but the reality TV show was getting so popular, that the producers had to move him since his location had been found by the media. He was woken up in the middle of the night, blindfolded, covered by a blanket, and relocated to a nearly identical apartment five hours away.
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