Who doesn’t love a good, crazy game show? Watching normal, walk of life people compete for prizes, push themselves to extremes or just flat out embarrass themselves all in the name of competition is about as fun as television viewing can get. Though we as Americans like to pride ourselves on having the very best when it comes to entertainment, when it comes to game shows, Japan might have us beat. At the very least, they push the envelope much further than we’d ever do here in the good old US of A.
Japanese game shows have become almost a code word for extreme television these days. Leave it to the country that has a long history with being calm, composed and somewhat reserved to give us some of the most bizarre challenges ever put before a live viewing audience. There seems to be no limit to how dangerous or potentially in bad taste a stunt might go and likewise, there seems to be an endless stream of contestants who are happy to try whatever is put before them!
Looking through this list of shows, one wonders how many of them would even get a single airing in this country. For as extreme as we like our sports and make-overs, a good amount of what passes for primetime entertainment in Japan might be banned or edited out here in America. Here are 15 of the craziest, most insane game shows that have ever aired in Japan, including some of the stunts that made them so infamous.
This game show is definitely not one to watch right before or right after a meal. Starring a female pop group and a female comedic duo, one of its most popular games is not for the weak-stomached. Two contestants take turns trying to blow a bug in to the other’s mouth by placing the bug in the center of a long tube and then having one contestant at each end. They then blow as hard as they can to force the bug down the tube away from themselves and into their opponent’s mouth. As most of these game shows have indicated, it’s sometimes not the most complicated of tasks, but it’s still effective TV. Though again, do not watch any videos of this one if you are ever thinking of eating food again. You’ve been warned.
14. Strip The Girl
Many Japanese game shows also have more than a bit of a naughty side. They dabble very openly in sex and nudity, especially on shows that air at night during primetime. This particular game show essentially involves a topless woman who is hidden behind a wall that can be slowly knocked down to reveal. A group of contestants are strapped into a bungie cord that pulls them away from the wall and in to a vat of some sort of oily liquid. If they can somehow fight there way against the pull of the cord, they then have to throw small balls at the wall in hopes of knocking it down and revealing the woman behind it. The prize might not be money, but for the people playing this game, the competition and drive to knock that wall over is no less powerful. Sex sells, as always.
13. Human Slip And Slide
Once again, if you are in search of highbrow entertainment, this Japanese game show is not the place to go. If, however, you are a middle-aged man who wants to enjoy sliding along 20 or so women in bikinis, then you are certainly in luck. Less a game show and more of just a stunt itself, the contestant gets oiled up and then goes sliding across a group of women who have lined up to act as a human slide. The goal, it would seem, is to get across to the other side but much as in life, the journey would seem to be more the point of the game than the destination.
12. Gaki no Tsukai
Gaki no Tsukai is a gameshow that seems to enjoy inflicting pain. Hosted by a rotating cast of comedians, most of its bits involve some sort of physical pain to the contestants. Whether it be making them recite crazy tongue twisters before they are hit in the groin or forcing them to remain quiet in a library, even as a nose hair is pulled out from their nostril. Or, take the Marshmallow Game, in which contestants basically place a rubber band around their face and are forced to stretch their way toward dangling marshmallows using just their own body weight to get closer. It certainly gives new meaning to the term ‘facelift’, though one wonders if those marshmallows are really worth all the pain and hassle.
11. A Life Out of Prizes by Denpa Shonen
More of a reality show than an actual game show, the point of this show is actually a study in survival. One man, a Japanese comedian known as Nasubi, aka “Eggplant” because of the shape of his head, is placed in a small room with essentially nothing: no clothes, no food, no water, and has to get everything he needs to survive by entering and winning various contests and sweepstakes. He is not allowed to leave the room until he has won $10,000 in prizes or sweepstakes. So, he begins writing letters and entering every single contest he can find. The problem is, much of what he does win aren’t exactly helpful for him. He wins a bike which he can’t ride, some rice which he can’t cook, clothing which doesn’t fit and all manner of things before eventually hitting that magic number. The whole show takes well over a year. It’s both fascinating and twisted, like all good television tends to be… right?
In a similar vein to Dero!, this game show also likes to amp up the pressure by putting the contestants into some very questionable situations. In this case, they are put up against a clock and made to answer questions as they are slowly mummified. From what could be gathered, this game show was a spin-off from Dero!, as it used much of the same production team, only swapping in a more “Indiana Jones” type look in place of the escape element of the previous show. Hopefully, as a contestant, you don’t get claustrophobic and can deal with possibly spending all of eternity locked inside a pyramid. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you better be quick on your feet and even quicker with your answers.
9. Team Fight
An offshoot of Gaki no Tsukai, where contestants are placed on two teams and sent through a series of increasingly crazy challenges. Perhaps the most popular one circulating on the internet involves a game of dodgeball if it were combined with Musical Chairs and also cannons. Essentially, both teams walk on an elevated platform with music playing, then have to freeze in place as balls are shot at high speeds at them. There’s very little any of them can do to protect themselves and with each passing round, the platform gets smaller until they become essentially targets for the ball guns in the later rounds. First team to have a player fall off the platform loses. The amount of bruises this game must have caused staggers the imagination.
This fairly new game show is not for those who are afraid of heights. Taking place in a series of rooms, a group enters and then the floor is rapidly taken away from under them. They must quickly figure out where to stand to keep from dropping out of the room and into the void below (No one actually dies). It’s a game best played by those who can analyze their surroundings quickly and stay calm. Later rounds get even more nerve-wracking as they involve a room that is quickly filling with sand or water and contestants must quickly answer questions or solve a puzzle before they are engulfed in whatever is filling the room up. It’s about as close as one can get to being stuck in a trash compactor but there are no helpful Droids to override the security protocols! An American version, called Exit, premiered in 2013.
7. Sokkuri Sweets
The concept of this game is as simple as it gets. Is something made of candy, or is it not? Basically, everyday items have been selected to either be made of candy or they actually ARE the item they seem to be. The contestants’ only way to figure this out is to try and take a bite out of each object. That’s how you’ll sometimes get a man taking a large bite out of a shoe or a doorknob only to find out that in fact, they really ARE just a shoe or a doorknob. However, there are some very impressive surprises, such as tables, chairs and picture frames that in fact turn out to be made of candy. Perhaps what is most impressive in this game are the artists and candy-makers who are able to create such deceptive looking pieces of candy as it’s nearly impossible to tell which is which until someone takes that bite and learns the sweet or bitter truth.
6. Tonneruzu no Minasan no Okage deshita (Brain Wall)
Another game with a deceptively simple explanation but actually winning is a whole other challenge. Each contestant or pair is shown a wall with a cut-out in it that they must either fit through or match exactly in order to advance. Simple enough, right? Well, now imagine that the wall is rapidly moving toward you and you have only seconds to maneuver yourself to fit through? Likewise, you can’t leave the platform you’re standing on since as the wall moves toward you, the other side is all water and thus out of bounds. Essentially, the goal is to find a way to pass through the wall while staying on the platform, a complex gymnastics event that can include ducking, climbing and contorting all in the name of not ending up like a discarded Tetris piece.
5. Sekai No Hatte Madde Itte Q (Let’s Go To The End Of The World)
Less a game show and more a ‘just watch what happens next’ show, Sekai No Hatte Madde Itte Q, which more or less translates to ‘Let’s Go To The End Of The World’ basically sends contestants to various parts of the world and then makes them do insane activities… all for the audience’s viewing pleasure. This segment has a woman in what can be called the “Predator Box” and is essentially tumbled around by a Grizzly Bear. All the while, the woman is both terrified and still professional enough to keep a camera handy for filming. The prize for this challenge it would seem is just living long enough to watch the footage she gets if the bear ever gets too tired or bored and she can escape. Maybe the bear will go hibernate soon?
Yet another show that were it to be re-created in the States it would most likely be on the ‘adult’ channel. BakoBako essentially has women in various states of undress playing various games, whether it’s twister in a bikini as they try to pop a balloon or trying to grab food or candy from another contestant by essentially giving them a lap dance first. The show doesn’t seem to have any real “prizes” for the contestants but, again, is geared more for just the absurd levels to which people will go to win a challenge or compete against one another. The true winner seems to be the host who gets to have all of the contestants do as he says and enjoy the results.
3. Takeshi’s Castle
Probably the most famous Japanese show is also one that has taken on a big cult following here in the USA. Footage from this show was edited and dubbed over to create MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) and the show more than lives up to the hype of the name. The original premise is simply that a group of contestants must battle their way through a castle to reach the ruler, Takeshi. Challenges ranged from shooting each other with water guns on a battle field to dressing up as various fruits and trying scurry up a moving ramp. At the climax of each episode, Takeshi would take on all the challengers who had made it through the various obstacles in hopes of “taking” the castle for themselves and winning the cash prize. Modern day shows such as Wipeout owe a huge debt to Takeshi’s Castle, especially with its oversized obstacles and larger than life contestants.
2. Kinniku Banzuke
A wildly popular game show that would spawn the even more popular Sasuke (Ninja Warrior) series here in America. This is a mix of obstacle course and endurance challenge, with individual obstacles for each contestant to master. Some of the most famous were the sponge bridge, essentially walking across sponge-like dominos without falling, and the hand walk, which meant seeing how far a contestant could get by walking through obstacles on their hands. This show met with a bit of controversy when two contestants were injured during a taping though luckily both of them survived the ordeal. Still, this led more or less directly to the show’s cancellation despite its immense popularity. It would soon be reborn into something even bigger and perhaps even more popular, the aforementioned Ninja Warrior.
1. Sasuke (Ninja Warrior)
Imagine all of the obstacles of these previous game shows but all rolled up in to one. That, in essence, is what Sasuke was. A punishing, bruising obstacle course that challenged even the very top athletes to complete. The show, which took on a life of its own when it was branded “Ninja Warrior” in the US, pits some of the most dedicated competitors in the world to take on challenges that viewers at home cannot even fathom trying. Each of the 4 rounds in the competition consists of various degrees of strength, agility, and endurance, sometimes showcasing an ability to jump and grab on to something by only your fingertips. If a contestant is able to get through the first 3 rounds, the final challenge is a rope climb of nearly 80 feet with only 30 seconds to do it. By this point in time, anyone who can endure all the rounds and obstacles and still make the climb truly deserves to be declared a winner. Or as the show puts it, they have achieved “Complete Domination.” Can’t argue much with that.