Nasubi: Where is the Denpa Shōnen Contestant Now?

If there’s one thing absolutely nobody can deny, it’s that the controversial Japanese reality television show ‘Susunu! Denpa Shōnen’ broke all bounds of entertainment in more ways than one. After all, as indicated in Hulu’s ‘The Contestant,’ it comprised a series of extreme challenges and situations designed particularly to explore how all humans can be pushed into being interesting. Amongst these was ‘A Life in Prizes,’ wherein aspiring young comedian Tomoaki “Nasubi” Hamatsu was forced to live naked in isolation for 15 months and survive only on prizes won in sweepstakes.

Who is Tomoaki “Nasubi” Hamatsu?

Although born on August 3, 1975, in Fukushima as the younger of two to a hard-working police officer father and a lovingly kind mother, Tomoaki didn’t have the coziest or greatest childhood. That’s because the family relocated every two to three years owing to the patriarch’s career, only for it to sadly always result in him getting bullied by a new set of people for having a long face. This was reportedly when he adopted the nickname Nasubi, which quite literally translates to “eggplant,” as an indication of his appearance and turned to acting as well as comedy to survive.

“I first got interested in entertaining people because I was bullied, and so I struggled to make friends,” Nasubi candidly said in the aforementioned documentary. “I learned as a child that it was the best way to protect myself… Maybe when I was six or seven, I noticed that by making people laugh, I could change my situation. That’s when I realized my face could be a strength. When I first told my parents I wanted to go into entertainment, they just didn’t get it.” Nevertheless, when he ultimately decided to move to Tokyo to pursue his dreams, they supported him with a seemingly simple singular stipulation of never getting naked on camera.

Though little did any of them know Nasubi’s big break would actually involve him doing exactly that at the age of 22 in January 1998 for ‘Susunu! Denpa Shōnen: A Life in Prizes.’ According to reports, he was selected at random through a lottery ticket from a group of unknown comedians willing to do anything to get famous, just to then immediately be pushed into the challenge. He was blindfolded and taken to a small apartment with nothing but basic utilities, following which he was told to unclothe and survive by mailing sweepstakes until he won ¥1 million in total.

Nasubi had signed no contract, and it was established to him that people wouldn’t be watching every moment of his time in the apartment, yet a lot changed in the 335 days it took him to achieve his goal. He had to switch apartments twice once people came to know of the address, was live-streamed 24/7 after some accused the show of being staged, and gained a lot of attention for his dances and the animated eggplant that had to be used to cover his genitals for the television audience. The worst part, though, is that he mostly had to survive on dog food and kibble – he did win rice and soda, yet they didn’t last him nearly as long.

The truth is some producers had taken an apartment right next to NAsubi’s for filming purposes, but while he thought they would be his ally and provide him with some human interaction, they were strictly ordered not to communicate with him. Therefore, as time passed, his strength broke in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, and he even had thoughts of suicide just to make it all end – he thought of the ways he could follow through, too, yet he admittedly never had the “courage” to do so. However, the worst part for him was when producers changed all the rules following the 335 days; they told him he had won and took him to South Korea to enjoy some barbeque food and an amusement park before forcing him to enter the same challenge again but in Korea.

The goal for Nasubi here was to win enough items that their accumulated value could afford an economy seat on a Japan Airlines flight to return home, only to be revised to business class and then first class. He’d already learned how to win by this point, so it took him mere months to complete this goal, following which he was brought back to Japan and finally told he’d won the challenge for good in front of a live audience – this way April 1999. That’s when he was also told his journey was already being broadcasted and he was essentially a national treasure, leaving him feeling confused, manipulated, as well as tricked, yet he took it all.

Tomoaki “Nasubi” Hamatsu is Now Making The Best of His Past

Because of the 15 months Nasubi had spent in isolation, he had difficulty carrying on conversations for a long time – even when he was on a press tour once the show was over, he admittedly didn’t know how to behave. Moreover, since he hadn’t really won any clothes in that testing period, he also reported being very hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable in them for at least the first six months after his ordeal. Then there’s the fact that the loneliness didn’t leave him – he was practically surrounded by people every day following the show, but there was a void in his heart he didn’t initially understand how to fill, and he feared his parents’ rejection over his nakedness on camera in front of the entire nation.

Fortunately, though, Nasubi’s parents helped him by still being supportive and never even speaking of the fact that he was bare on television for 15 months – they’d forgiven him without saying anything. That, combined with the fact he was gradually able to open up to a small group of people and make friends, enabled him to understand human connection is all he truly needed. Yet, this only solidified for him following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake plus the Fukushima Nuclear Accident as he found a purpose in helping others and bringing them joy even on their worst days – he was categorically told he brought people hope.

That’s when Nasubi decided to dedicate a Mt. Everest climb to the people of his hometown; after all, Fukushima is surrounded by mountains too, and he hoped this would make a difference by raising awareness of what was transpiring there. Little did he know he’d be caught in another earthquake-turned-avalanche within two days of his arrival in Nepal, where he again spent many weeks helping locals in any capacity he could before later returning to successfully finish what he’d started. Therefore, today, at 48, this travel enthusiast is a proud public speaker, mental health advocate, founder of stage troupe Eggplant Way, Japanese tourism ambassador, Mountain Day ambassador, Fukushima Environment and Future Ambassador, plus a special instructor at the Furano Nature School.

We should also mention that after this documentary film started being screened at International Film Festivals in 2023, Nasubi had director Clair Titley read out a statement he’d penned. It said: “I’m in a complicated state of mind mixed with anxiety and expectations about how the people who watched this movie feel. I think this kind of work is probably often made after the main character’s death, but fortunately, I’m alive and well. Many people may think that I am an unhappy and poor person who lives a life hit by tragedy. But I’m never an unhappy person. Because I know that if I have a reliable friend who shares just an inch of happiness… and supports me, I can live well with a smile. I hope that people who have seen this movie will think about what is important in living and live a rich life.”

Read More: Do Naked and Afraid Participants Get Paid? How Much Do They Make?