The Story Of Nasubi, The Contestant Who Survived The Most Disturbing Reality Show Ever Devised

Published April 23, 2024
Updated May 4, 2024

When Tomoaki Hamatsu, a.k.a. Nasubi, was cast on the show "Susunu! Denpa Shōnen" in 1998, he had no idea he'd spend the next 15 months of his life naked and isolated in an apartment — or that his ordeal would be broadcast live to 17 million people.


Nippon Television / YouTubeNasubi translates to “eggplant,” a nickname given to Tomoaki Hamatsu because of his long face shape and because producers used an eggplant to cover his genitals on screen.

Tomoaki Hamatsu, better known as Nasubi, signed up for the Japanese game show Susunu! Denpa Shōnen in 1998. He hoped it would change his life, and it did — though perhaps not in the way he wanted.

The premise of the show was simple: Nasubi had to live alone in an apartment, and he could not buy anything or bring any items in with him. Instead, he could only acquire items by winning them from mail-in sweepstakes. He would finish the challenge once he had earned ¥1 million (roughly $8,000) in this way.

What started innocently enough quickly became a twisted descent into madness. Hamatsu was completely isolated from the outside world, naked, and observed by an unseen audience for a grand total of 335 days before reaching his target amount.

And just when he thought his ordeal was finished, it started all over again.

Nasubi’s Rise To Fame: From Unknown Comic To Reality TV Star

Tomoaki Hamatsu, born Aug. 3, 1975, is better known as Nasubi, which literally translates to “eggplant.” Not much is known of his childhood or upbringing, but by the time he was in his 20s, he had started taking steps to become a comedian.

He was a relative unknown, but in 1998, a seemingly great opportunity came his way when he won the lottery for a “show business-related job.”

For a young, up-and-coming entertainer, it was a dream come true. Unfortunately for Nasubi, that dream turned out to be a nightmare.

‘Susunu! Denpa Shōnen’: Inside Japan’s Extreme Reality Show

The job turned out to be for a Japanese reality television show known as Susunu! Denpa Shōnen, or “Do Not Proceed! Crazy Youth.” The show premiered on Nippon Television in 1998 and lasted for four years.

The specific challenge that Nasubi underwent was called My Life in Prizes, the story of which is also the subject of a new Hulu documentary known as The Contestant.

The show’s producers required Nasubi to live alone in an apartment, surviving solely based on what he could win from mail-in sweepstakes until he won ¥1 million total in prizes. He was given the nickname “Nasubi” because his long face was reminiscent of an eggplant — and also because producers had to cover his genitals on-screen with an eggplant icon.

The Challenge Begins

Nippon TV / YouTubeNasubi covering himself with the apartment’s sole pillow just after handing his clothes over to producers.

Why did they have to cover his genitals? Because Nasubi was not allowed to bring anything into the apartment with him — not even the clothes on his back. He also couldn’t purchase food, entertainment, or communication devices. The only thing provided for him was the apartment itself and basic utilities such as water, electricity, heat, and a stack of magazines in which he could find the mail-in sweepstakes.

When he arrived, the producers asked him to remove all of his clothing, pointed him to the stack of magazines and a pen, and wished him luck. Nasubi assumed the show would film and later be edited once the production had wrapped.

Instead, he was being taped live, with the show being re-broadcast shortly after once the footage was gathered. Eventually, it became so popular that the format was switched to a 24/7 live stream, which utilized new technology to cover Nasubi’s genitals with an icon.

Nasubi was essentially living on pure luck. So, how did it go for him?

Nasubi’s Time On ‘Susunu!’

To get things started, Nasubi had no food. He effectively survived on water and lost a good deal of weight before winning some sugary drinks in one of the sweepstakes he entered.

His first big win came in the form of a large bag of rice. Finally, Nasubi had something to eat, but there was another problem — he had nothing to cook it with. Still, it was better than nothing, and he sustained himself by eating the rice raw.

After some time, however, he devised a method of cooking the rice in a bag placed next to the stove’s flame.

During this early period, Nasubi had little to entertain himself with, no one to talk to, and no personal hygiene tools. His hair started to grow long and unruly, as did his fingernails. He also spent all of his time naked, as the only article of clothing he ever won was a pair of women’s underwear that didn’t fit him.

Eating A Banana

Nippon TV / YouTubeNasubi won a crate of bananas as one of his prizes, one of the few foods he ate besides rice and dog food.

My Life in Prizes, that was very much cruel,” Nasubi told Deadline in November 2023. “The only thing I could do is to write and mail in to win the sweepstakes. There is no happiness of my life. There is no freedom… But that was not edited into the program, that was not shown.”

When his rice ran out, Nasubi starved until he won a shipment of dog food, which became his primary source of nourishment. He also won a stuffed animal, which he spoke to and referred to as his “sensei.”

Talking To A Stuffed Animal

Nippon TV / YouTubeNasubi speaking with his stuffed animal.

On a few occasions, he won prizes like movie tickets or a bike, though he couldn’t actually use either of these since he wasn’t allowed to leave the apartment (although he did eventually convert the bike to a stationary one). He also won a TV, but the producers intentionally avoided giving him access to cable so he wouldn’t learn that the show was already airing.

One of Nasubi’s most celebratory moments came when he won a toothbrush and toothpaste, allowing him to finally brush his teeth after months of not being able to do so.

But Nasubi’s popularity was causing production concerns, as fans and paparazzi were soon able to figure out where his apartment was. To address this, producers awoke Nasubi one night and told him to come with them. At first, he believed he had hit his goal, but when he arrived at another similar apartment with his prizes, he realized the show was far from done.

In a heartbreaking moment, Nasubi looked through his possessions and noticed that the new bag of rice he had won was missing. Thankfully, a producer re-entered a moment later saying they forgot the rice in the truck, prompting Nasubi to say, “It’s okay to forget other things, but you cannot forget the rice!”

Nasubi’s luck seemed to increase for some time after moving into his new apartment. He finally won a pan to cook his rice in properly, as well as a VCR and a PlayStation — which he had previously won a game for — so he had something to occupy his time with.

Nasubi Being Told He Has Won

Nippon TV / YouTubeNasubi, awoken in the middle of the night with confetti, being told he has reached his goal.

Then, he won a set of four car tires, totaling roughly ¥84,000, bringing him close to his goal. In the end, it was a bag of rice that pushed him past the ¥1 million mark, and Nasubi’s isolation finally came to an end.

Except, it didn’t.

The Challenge Continues In South Korea

After reaching his initial goal, Nasubi was given clothing, and a blindfold was placed over his eyes. The show’s producers told him that he would be receiving a special prize for overcoming his challenge, and he was taken to South Korea, where he enjoyed a day at an amusement park, as well as some real meals.

Nasubi had been in isolation for 335 days.

Apartment In Korea

Nippon TV / YouTubeNasubi in his new apartment in South Korea.

Then, at the end of the day, he was taken to another apartment and asked to strip.

Once more, Nasubi was tasked with the challenge of surviving on sweepstakes winnings. The producers informed him once he was already naked that he did not need to accept the challenge if he didn’t want to.

“I want to do it,” he told them.

This time, however, Nasubi’s goal was only to win enough to pay for an economy class ticket on Japan Airlines to return home. When he reached that goal too quickly, the producers moved the goalpost to business class — then first class.

Nasubi Reaches His Goal

Nippon TV / YouTubeNasubi reaching his second goal in South Korea.

Thankfully, Nasubi managed to reach this goal in a matter of weeks, and he was flown back to Japan.

There, he was taken to another apartment.

Nasubi’s Isolation Finally Ends

Instinctively, Nasubi looked around the small apartment and removed his clothes. His ordeal, it seemed, would not be coming to an end after all.

But producers had another surprise in store for Nasubi. The walls around him collapsed, and Nasubi was greeted by a massive crowd of cheering people.

Nasubi Is Revealed To The Audience

Nippon TV / YouTubeThe walls around Nasubi falling away.

This fake apartment was in the middle of a television studio, and a large TV behind Nasubi displayed a live feed of him for all to see. But Nasubi still had no idea that the show was already being broadcast.

The experience was overwhelming for him, and when the show’s hosts sat down to talk with him and tell him that he had finally won, he was almost unable to speak.

Nasubi Looking At The Audience

Nippon TV / YouTubeNasubi staring in shock at the audience surrounding him.

In total, Nasubi had spent 15 months alone in an apartment, naked, with barely any food and almost nothing to keep himself busy. The show broke multiple records, and Nasubi’s eventual memoir about the experience was a bestseller, but the challenge also took a major toll on him.

“My mental condition was at its worst,” Nasubi told the Japanese magazine Style Koriyama in June 2020. “I was like, ‘Why only me? Why do I have to do all these things? I’d rather die than feel like this.’ Every day, I just did the same thing: writing hundreds of postcards, which got me down more mentally rather than physically. Although I looked like I was having fun most of the time on the edited show, to me, it was full of pain.”

Tomoaki Hamatsu

Japan’s Ministry of Justice/Wikimedia CommonsTomoaki Hamatsu, a.k.a. Nasubi, speaking in 2014.

Thankfully, Nasubi has been able to lead a successful life in the years since the show. After a rough adjustment period when he struggled to carry out normal conversations, he continued working as an actor, notably for the popular Kamen Rider series — and even climbed Mount Everest.

During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, Nasubi also spoke about his own experience in isolation as a way of encouraging the people of Japan to take the restrictions seriously, saying, “Staying in a house for one month or two months won’t kill you. I proved it in a sense by surviving being locked up for a year and three months.”

After reading about Nasubi and the story behind Japan’s darkest livestream, go inside the incredible story of Charles Van Doren and the American Quiz Show Scandals. Then, learn about Scott Amedure, the gay man who was killed because of his appearance on The Jenny Jones Show.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Harvey, Austin. "The Story Of Nasubi, The Contestant Who Survived The Most Disturbing Reality Show Ever Devised.", April 23, 2024, Accessed May 23, 2024.