Posted on December 19, 2008
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From Quirky Japan

Nippon Television’s (NTV) producers have obviously never heard of the Geneva Convention.  If they had, they wouldn’t have treated poor Nasubi the way they did.  They wouldn’t have stripped him naked and shut him in an apartment, alone with no food, furniture, household goods, or entertainment.  They wouldn’t have kept him there for over a year until he had won $10 000 in prizes by sending in postcards to contests.  They wouldn’t have cut him off from the world and they would have told him that he was on nation-wide TV.

It all started one snowy day in January, 1998 with an audition.  The audition consisted of choosing lots because the only talent needed for this challenge was luck.  A group of aspiring comedians showed up, and among them was a young man whose stage name is Nasubi, which means eggplant.  Nasubi was ‘lucky’ that day, and was chosen over other aspiring young comedians for a mysterious “show-business related job”.  He was immediately blindfolded and driven to a tiny one room apartment somewhere in Tokyo.

When he arrived at the apartment, he was shown a stand full of magazines, a huge pile of postcards, and told to strip naked. The room was empty except for a cushion, a table, a small radio, a telephone, some notebooks, and a few pens.  There was not a crumb of food, a square of toilet paper, or any form of entertainment.  Whatever he needed, he was to win by sending thousands of postcards into contests.  The producers left and Nasubi was on his own in his unique survival challenge.  Imagine what was going through his mind:  How am I going to eat?  Why are they doing this to me?  How long will it take to get out of here?  He must have thought he was in a bad episode of The Prisoner.

Nasubi won his first contest on February 8th.  He got some jelly, a 1560 yen value, leaving him with 998 440 yen left to win.  That day, he ate food for the first time in two weeks!  On February 22nd, he won a 5 kg bag of rice.  Unfortunately, he had no cooking utensils.  At first he tried eating it raw, but eventually devised a cooking method where he put it in an empty can beside a burner for an hour until it was “cooked”.  He ate about a half cup of rice a day using two pens for chopsticks.

Life was tough for Nasubi–he was obviously lonely, uncomfortable and bored but he seemed to be continually cheerful in the face of adversity.  Putting on a bold face when one is suffering is one of the most admired traits in Japan and this was a big reason for the program’s incredible popularity.  He spent his days writing postcards, and sent out between 3000 and 8000 a month!  It must have been incredibly discouraging because by the end of March, he had only won 66,840 yen, leaving him with 933,160 yen left to win.
Every time Nasubi won a contest, he did a victory dance and made up a strange song about the prize he had won and how happy he was.  You’ve never seen anyone’s face light up the way Nasubi’s did when he heard a knock at the door or the telephone rang.  In this picture we see him celebrating after he won a poster of his favourite TV star, an attractive young woman named Ryoko Hirose.  His apartment was gradually filling up and he was beginning to live something resembling a human life.  Of course there were some bad moments too, especially the day he won a TV but realized his apartment had no antennae or cable!
A doctor’s visit in May, after five months in the room, revealed Nasubi to be in perfect health!  No scurvy, no fleas or lice, and no signs of malnutrition.  He had lost a lot of weight, and his ribs were showing through his skin, but his blood tests and a physical examination revealed no other problems.  His fingernails had grown to several inches long and his hair and beard were getting rather unmanageable by that time, but they were annoyances rather than dangers.  It’s incredible what the human body can survive and how resilient people are.  Who would have thought that it was possible to live like that?

Near the end of May, Nasubi’s rice ran out, and he was reduced to eating dog food.  It was heart wrenching seeing him prey every night for rice.

By June, the show had become incredibly popular and the mass media had found out where Nasubi was staying.  In the middle of the night, he was awakened by a producer with a flashlight, blindfolded and moved to a new apartment.  He was told that it was to “change his luck” but the real reason was that the producers were worried he would find out that the entire nation was watching him.   Unfortunately, the people who moved his things to the new apartment forgot to bring his rice!  One of the few times we got to see Nasubi really angry was when he said, “How could you forget my rice???  How could you?  Don’t you know how important my rice is?”  He seemed to be on the point of breaking.

By the end of June, his total had reached 550 000 yen, halfway to his goal of one million yen!
In July, a live internet feed to Nasubi’s room was set up.  Because he was nude, they needed a staff of 50 to maintain the site and control the ever-present dot over Nasubi’s private parts.  Until this time, some people had thought the whole thing was fake, but the live internet feed convinced everyone that the show was not being staged.  The site was incredibly popular and received thousands of hits everyday.  Part of the reason the show and live internet feed were so popular was because he played with everything he won.  He often talked to a stuffed animal that he won and named Venus, or rolled around on the set car tires.



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