For more than a year, a young comedian called Nasubi (meaning “eggplant”) was the unwitting star of one of Japan’s most infamous TV shows. For 24 hours a day, Nasubi was naked and alone in a small room. His only relief from hunger, discomfort and boredom came from prizes he won in the competitions he spent all day entering. He wouldn’t be released until he had won one million yen (about $10,000 or £5,000) in prizes.
He didn’t know it, but highlights of all this were being broadcast to millions every Sunday on TV, and he was being constantly watched via a massively popular internet webcam. This was Denpa Shonen-teki Kensho Seikatsu (“Airwave Boy’s Prize Competition Life”), a segment of the frequently cruel comedy show Denpa Shonen (“Airwave Boy”).
The only clothes Nasubi ever won were scanty items of women’s lingerie that didn’t even fit, so he spent the entire time completely naked. If he actually won anything dignified to wear from the thousands of competitions he entered, it seems it was intercepted by the show’s producers. In a rare concession to taste and broadcasting standards, Nasubi’s bare groin was concealed with a garish cartoon eggplant for TV and web broadcasts.
Much of the show’s entertainment value came from his reactions to the prizes he won – from the sublime (winning a big bag of rice, or toilet paper after 10 months without) to the ridiculous (drooling over the TV he had just won before realising, with understandable dismay, that there was nowhere to plug it in).
Nasubi quickly became a cult figure, and attracted massive media attention. Worried that the media had worked out where he was, and that he might find out he was being watched by millions, producers moved him to a new cell in another location. His surprise at waking up with a flashlight in his eyes and being bundled across town was only exceeded by his rage when he realised they had forgotten to bring his bag of rice. His hysterical reaction to this made people think he had really started to crack.
Incredibly, after being released from his prison, Nasubi agreed to repeat the ordeal in Korea, where he wouldn’t even have the benefit of understanding the language:
“I suffered mentally every day. I felt trapped between sanity and madness, and I had no idea that everyone was watching my naked body all this time. It shouldn’t be allowed. But, to be fair, they’ve just given me hot miso soup and a bowl of rice and pickled plums, so I’ve agreed to go to South Korea and repeat the challenge.”
- We miss Denpa Shonen (Watashi to Tokyo)
“He had to live by getting everything through offers and winning competitions, getting prizes from magazine and newspaper competitions until things he got value more than 1 million yen.”
- Nasubi (Quirky Japan)
“NTV’s producers have obviously never heard of the Geneva Convention. If they had, they wouldn’t have treated poor Nasubi the way they did.”
- Big in Japan: Nasubi (Metropolis)
“Nasubi would cavort naked around the tiny apartment with a computer-generated eggplant covering his embarrassment”
- Nasubi’s Homepage (Japanese only)