History of Weird Japanese Game Shows


Harmon and Scott revel over the history of crazy Japanese game shows. Learn about Takeshi's Castle - the granddaddy of all weird Japanese game shows. And find out about Candy No Candy - where contestants have to eat objects, like shoes, and determine if it's candy or not candy

Game shows existed in the television programming mix in Japan started in 1950. The earliest game show incarnations were pretty simplistic. One of the first and most influential was called “Gesture,” and was simply charades.

Japanese game shows became more complex as the years went on. Most games were segments on “variety shows,” a popular type of TV program in Japan featuring celebrities.

The granddaddy of Japanese games shows was Takashi's Castle. The show featured  a massive squad of contestants competing in crazy games, like smashing themselves into walls, using their own bodies as living bowling balls, or dressing up as huge hands and slapping each other. The show ran from 1986 and 1990 and spawned imitators in nearly 30 other countries, including ABC's Wipeout.  

Takeshi’s Castle portrayed contestants as being “forced” into taking part in the game, which explains another misconception: that Japanese game shows seem hell-bent on torturing innocent people. Often, the games ended with contestants falling into mud or water.

The original Japanese title for the show was Attack Takeshi's Castle. It featured the Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano (also known as Beat Takeshi..yakuza -  who starred in such gangster movies as the 2000 Brother) as a count who owns a castle and sets up difficult challenges for players (or a volunteer army) to get to him.

In the 1970s, Takeshi formed a comedy duo with his friend Nirō Kaneko (also called Kiyoshi Kaneko). They took on the stage names Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi; together referring to themselves as Two Beat (ツービート Tsū Bīto, sometimes romanized as "The Two Beats"). This sort of duo comedy, known as manzai in Japan, usually features a great deal of high-speed back-and-forth banter between the two performers.

Takeshi’s Castle received global syndication and aired in nearly 30 countries, becoming a hit in places like the United Kingdom. In America, the show ran from 2003 to 2007 on Spike TV as MXC. Footage of the original program was dubbed over with (often ridiculous, deliberately inaccurate) English.

Here are a few more of our favorite Japanese game shows:

1) Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!

Matsumoto Hitoshi and Masatoshi Hamada, are known as the comedy duo Downtown.* Their Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! was one of the country’s most popular programs of the ‘90s, and produced a large chunk of segments that became “weird Japan” signifiers.
Particularly memorable were “punishment games,” wherein losing cast members had to do deeply embarrassing/physically painful games like “Penis Machine,” wherein contestants have to recite a tongue twister without error or face getting socked in the testicles. Ouch!

2) Candy or No Candy

This popular game show begs a simple question: is that thing candy, or is it not candy? In Japan, thanks to an art form called Sokkuri, confectioners create candy that looks exactly like everyday household objects; such as tables, shoes, door handles, etc.. On Candy or Not Candy?, celebrity contestants are put in a room and challenged to eat their way out. Will their next bite be chocolate, or will it be wood, glass leather, or couch stuffing? Is it Candy or No Candy?

3) Silent Library

Silent Library originally debuted as a segment on Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! It proved so popular, though, that it soon became its own TV show. The premise is basically Jackass inside a library. A team of Japanese hipsters have to partake in painful and embarrassing stunts; but the twist is it's done inside a library and they can't make a noise. Why, because they are surrounded by students who are studying! 

4) What's in the Box

It's pretty much like it sounds. There’s a box. They put something in it. Then a Japanese schoolgirl (they always seem to be schoolgirls) has to put her hands into the box and guess what’s in there.  They usually start out with the nasty stuff - toad, octopus, worms. The schoolgirls friends can all see whats in the box - but she can’t. But the funniest part is when they put a fuzzy puppy in the box and the contestants absolutely lose it.

5) Marshmallow Rubber Band

This competition also first appeared on Japanese variety show "Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!" which has brought you pain, humiliation and vaguely cruel hilarity since October 3, 1989. Players are supposed to catch the marshmallows with their mouths, while their heads are attached to a rubber band. If this isn't sickeningly funny for you to watch, you probably won't like many other Japanese game shows.