Get ready for a wild tour. You are entering a world of gladiatorial challenges, costumed comedians, humiliating failures, sexy ladies in wet T-shirts and some of the most bizarre obstacle courses a human mind could think up.
Welcome to the world of Japanese sports competition shows.
These shows fall into two categories: (1) batsu games and (2) true athletic games.
The batsu games are segments of variety shows. Sometimes the contestants are athletes, but often they are comedians, celebrities or everyday Joes. Competitors wear costumes and attempt silly athletic stunts. Some sort of humiliating punishment is doled out for failures: A mud bath, a cold water bath or perhaps a good old-fashioned smack to the testes.
The true athletic games are usually of the obstacle-course sort. Contestants are most commonly everyday Joes, but they are also occasionally professional athletes—even Olympic medalists. The winners become celebrities, just as with western reality television stars.
Get ready for some wincing, some cringing, some laughing and a whole mess of head-scratching "WTF"-ing.
So an eggplant, a mushroom, a cockroach and a banana (with a phallic tip that the camera keeps lingering on) ride tricycles on treadmills and slam their heads into buttons to increase the speed.
I told you, this is a wild and weird world.
By the way, I will never ever get tired of listening to the host say "deadly conveyor belt [of] terror" in English (video time 1:53).
If you've ever seen Ninja Warrior, then you've seen Sasuke. Ninja Warrior is just an edited version repackaged for international audiences.
The show began in 1997 as a spinoff of Kinniku Banzuke and still runs today.
The outdoor set in Yokohama is known as Sacred Mount Midoriyama. It houses a menacing obstacle course in which everyday workers (fishermen, office workers, salesmen, students...) compete.
Fisherman/He-man Makato Nagano (see the Viking: TUOC slide) says of Sasuke: "This really is the Olympics of no-names."
This is the all-female version of the obstacle course show Sasuke. International audiences may know the show as Women of Ninja Warrior.
The biggest champion to emerge from the show is the very talented, very buff Ayako Miyake, who won the competition an amazing three times.
Perhaps the contestant that most of us tuned in for, though, was 2007 Playboy Playmate of the Year and G4 host Sara Underwood.
This ultimate cycling challenge is a segment from the game show Doors.
The winner, appearing as the fourth contestant in this video, was Takashi Okamura. Though he lost the bike, he managed to stay high and dry. He ran/waddled the rest of the way to the finish line.
Word has it that he'll appear on Oprah and confess to receiving an oxygen-doped blood transfusion at about the halfway point of this floating bridge.
I couldn't dig up what show this game hails from, but the challenge involves insane treadmill running. At each of four checkpoints, contestants have to scarf down a cookie. But at checkpoint No. 3, they also have to toss down a glass of milk.
The whole stunt has to be completed in 30 seconds.
Fail and the treadmill rockets you back into a pool of water.
I wanted to empathize with the contestants as I watched this, so I jogged in place for five seconds and then ate a plate of cookies.
A Popular Science analysis of what is happening here:
Looking through the binoculars, your eyes perceive a final enlarged image in front of where the object actually is. Notice how the players always seem to miss the ball by kicking too far in front. That's where they see it.
So what's next? I propose...
Or how about...
Periscope water polo?
Any suggestions, readers?
The English-speaking narrator here guides you through the basics of the four stages of this comedic water sports game: human darts (a satire of diving), synchronized tasting (a satire of synchronized swimming), aquatic dash (a satire of the 50-meter freestyle) and spider (apparently they gave up on the satirizing for this one).
If you're jonesing for the Olympic Summer Games, this show probably won't quench your thirst. But it is good for a few chuckles while at your work cubicle.
How many times have you heard parents complaining that their kids play too many video games? Go outside instead! Get some exercise.
So here's the ultimate compromise: Be the video game.
Yes, Nōkabe (a.k.a "Brain Wall") is a segment of the game show Tonneruzu no Minasan no Okage deshita.
It's Tetris. With contestants playing the role of the falling pieces.
The concept became very popular and spawned similar shows around the world.
What's your pick for the next live action video game? Sticking with the retro theme, I'll go with Pac-Man.
The English-speaking narrator explains the ins and out of this show very well, with one glaring omission: why the contestants are dressed as mutated Jiminy Crickets.
Notice the low camera angle on this one. Think maybe that was on purpose?
All-Star Athletic Games is a segment from the TV show Haneru no Tobira (You Knock On a Jumping Door!)
The game involves comedians dressing up as other celebrities and trying their hand at ridiculously hard athletic stunts. When things go wrong—as they almost certainly do—the comedians plummet into icy water or flour.
Another ninja-themed game. This is a team challenge that might be described as urban geocaching. Only the cached "treasure" can make a break for it once you find it (see video time 1:45).
This was the Grand Poobah of Japanese sports variety shows. The Great Patriarch, if you will. It aired from 1986 and 1989 and was largely responsible for the popularity of the sports variety genre.
The titular Takeshi is a Japanese actor and comedian. In the show, he played the role of a count who lives in a castle. Contestants have try to beat the defenses of the castle and get to Takeshi.
The defenses came in the form of wacky challenges including running up avalanche chutes, crossing rope bridges, swinging from platform to platform, sliding from base to base in a muddy baseball diamond, pole vaulting, jousting...you name it, Takeshi's castle had it.
This is a once-a-year program, usually held on New Year's Day.
Pretty simple concept: competitors are put through a series of mental and physical challenges. Better performance equals more points. The most points wins the game.
Notable international contestants include:
Decathlete Paul Terek (a 2007 winner), Olympic gold medalist decathlete Bryan Clay and Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino.
So here we have a rodeo event that involves women in bikinis riding mechanical bulls.
And to top off the humiliations...they are lobbing pies at one another. Yee-haw?
Hm, you think it was a man that came up with this concept?
If you want someone to thank for this, try Koji Imada. He is the host of the show that put out this sketch and a wildly popular comedian.
His show—canceled, to the chagrin of some, the relief of others—was titled Yarisugi Kôjî, which translates roughly to "Doing Too Much Koji."
The title translates to "quiz from the other side of the world." The show features a female comedy trio known as Mori 3-chu.
In this bit, they are in Oslo, Norway where they try a bunch of crazy sporting activities including body surfing in freezing cold water (video time 1:15), sled diving (1:53), zip-lining over a frozen river WHILST ON FIRE (see it to believe it at 2:45), bungee sledding (3:50), and then they top it off by attempting a polar bear swim with three members of the Norwegian midwinter swimming team (6:45).
Think of this as the Three Stogettes do the Winter Olympics.
The full name is: Viking: The Ultimate Obstacle Course.
The show was set in Tokyo Bay and ran from 2005-2007.
It is a gladiator-type competition repackaged as a Viking quest.
Contestants must pass through 4 stages (marine, adventure, fantasy and finally Viking) to be crowned a true Viking warrior. Each stage has a series of wacky obstacles.
The Viking rejects you see in this video are all failing at an obstacle known as Cannonball Run.
In the show's run, only one person got to the fourth stage: Japanese fisherman/He-man Makoto Nagano. Unfortunately, even he ran out of time just before he reached the finish.
ESPN2 aired some episodes of the show with American commentators back in 2006.
This wildly successful sports variety show ran from 1995-2002. (It ended in 2002, not as a result of low ratings, but as a result of contestant injuries.)
Sports challenges were designed with the idea that they were impossible to accomplish. Then athletes, some incredibly buff and agile, others not so much, tried to prove the designers wrong.
Although the show was sensationalized and reveled in slow-motion "fails" (ala Jackass or America's Funniest Home Videos), this one was truly about athletic talent.
The New York Times said the show involved "genuine tests of skill and athleticism."
The show was so successful that it spun off other popular shows such as Viking and Ninja Warrior as well as dozens of international versions.
Watch the first 30 seconds of this video and, depending on your personality, you'll do one of two things: 1) vow to never set foot in Japan, or 2) vow to get to Japan as soon as possible.
I mean who is the creative force behind these kinds of contests?
Hey honey, wake up.
What is it dear?
I just thought of a great bit for the show: A bunch of spandex clad dudes will shove the asses of giant exploding sumo wrestlers.
Brilliant, dear. I'm certain it will be a ratings smash.
And apparently it was. This er...wrestling(?) segment is from the very long running hit show Downtown No Gaki No Tsukai Ya Arahende!! It features the popular comedic duo known as "Downtown."
Note: NSFW, so watch the video here at your own discretion.
For those of you still reeling from the changes to the LFL, this might be just what the doctor ordered.
The premise is basically this: men use their athletic prowess to uncover a naked woman panel by panel.
Sexist. Demeaning. Horrifically un-PC. But one can only imagine—men being who we are—that the show brings in some astronomical ratings.