Japanese game shows have a notoriously absurd reputation in the West. Every few years, a clip from one of these shows goes viral, and the internet chortles, slaps its collective knee and sighs, “Ah, Japan and its wacky programs.” There’s been plenty of listicles about them — “You Have to See These Japanese Game Shows to Believe Them. But Even Then You Won’t” — they’ve made it onto Saturday Night Live (in a segment where Mike Myers hosts a torture quiz show while seemingly speaking actual Japanese), and, of course, onto The Simpsons, where Homer et al are tormented on a game show called Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show.
These on-screen representations — while exaggerated — aren’t completely unfounded. Many of the Japanese obstacle shows favored in the West, like Takeshi’s Castle or SASUKE (both later ripped off by ABC), are infamous for their teeth-gritting moments of pain. And while other “weird” Japanese game shows don’t involve violence, they do have unusual concepts. Take, for example, Candy or Not Candy, a show where contestants have to take a bite out of stuff and see if it’s — you guessed it — candy or not candy (The Tonight Show enlisted Kendall Jenner to take part in a 2019 adaptation of this, in a segment called “Food or Not Food”). There’s also sexier-sounding games like The Bum Game, where men have to kiss someone’s butt through a wall and decide who it is; Spread Your Legs, where one female contestant spreads another’s legs into the splits using a machine; and Orgasm Wars, where a straight guy has to resist cumming while being sucked off by a gay guy in a box.
According to Tokyo-based journalist Patrick St. Michael, who wrote about the “misunderstood history” of Japanese game shows in a 2013 article for Atlantic, these shows — particularly the sexually explicit ones — weren’t primetime staples in Japan, but rather late-night segments that had their heyday in the early 1990s. In fact, St. Michael says that nowadays, “more and more Japanese people say their TV choices have become boring,” with many preferring to watch ordinary quiz shows with celebrity contestants.
And yet, the “bizarre” Japanese game-show stereotype prevails. Unbeknownst to many Western viewers, this is in large part because of a show called Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (which, according to Reddit, means something along the lines of Not an Errand Boy or No Task for Kids). As St. Michael points out in The Atlantic, when you search “Japanese game show” on YouTube, the first clips are from this variety show, which is best known for its segments where men are getting hit in the balls. These contextless clips — in which seemingly normal people get whacked in the nuts for no discernable prize — feature Gaki no Tsukai’s resident comedians, Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada, who make up the comedy duo Downtown, as well as Hōsei Tsukitei, and Naoki Tanaka and Shōzō Endō, aka the comedy duo Cocorico.
The show, which premiered in 1989 and has its own subreddit, sees the veteran comedians taking part in a number of ridiculous challenges. At the end of the various contests, the comedians who fail are forced to succumb to brutal punishments, which sometimes means getting their balls busted on television. Hitoshi once said of the show’s comedy nut shots: “It’s been a while since I’ve been hit to the point where I might suffer from hemorrhoids. Just now, I made my manager go out to buy injection-type ointment.”
But that wasn’t Gaki no Tsukai’s only groin-pummelling moment — from dick-slapping contraptions to actual rockets getting shot into their knackers, the series is renowned for its cock cruelty. What better way to honor this feat than to round them all up?
The Chinko Machine (aka Penis Machine)
Gaki no Tsukai’s so-called Chinko Machine — which literally translates to “penis machine” in English — is arguably the show’s most famous punishment device. To begin retribution, the losing contestant is strapped upside down onto an upright Y-shaped device, with his groin exposed to the dick-thwacking instrument behind him. When the buzzer rings for the punishment to begin, the device — a long black stick (or “catapult arm”) attached to a moving contraption — slowly approaches the spot where the comedian is held, before stopping and striking the arm down onto the contestant’s balls at increasingly fast speeds (monitored by the device’s “strength meter,” much to the joy of the punishment’s onlookers).
The Chinko Machine can also be modified to mix up the drama of the show. In one version, the device’s long black stick has been exchanged for a wheel of black sticks, each of which slaps the loser’s nuts as it turns. The punishment ends when the contestant simply can’t take it anymore.
Technically an off-shoot of the Chinko Machine, the Chinko Slap gives each contestant his own personal punishment device. In one particular segment, the comedians have to correctly recite a tongue twister-like promotion for Gaki no Tsukai, or they get smacked in the goolies by the Chinko stick that shoots up from the platform they’re standing on. It’s arguably more fun to watch than the original Chinko Machine because of the nervous looks on the contestants’ faces when they fuck up, and the instant gratification of the quick in-the-nuts hit. I’m a sadist, what can I say!
The Thai Kick
This punishment is more of a butt/gooch strike than a nut shot, but seems to be a favorite among Gaki no Tsukai fans. It’s pretty self-explanatory: Fail a challenge, get kicked in the ass by a Thai kickboxer. According to the show’s fandom site, Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! Wiki, the Thai Kick was introduced in the show’s Ōgiri Daigassen (Great Comedic Riddle Battle) series, which aired in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and involved contestants answering a riddle in the funniest way possible.
However, it became a fan fave after being introduced to Gaki no Tsukai’s annual Batsu Games. Over the years, redditors have theorized over how much this punishment actually hurts, speculating about whether the comedians were wearing padding on their butts, exaggerating their reactions or even using baggy clothes to “dramatize” the sound of them being hit. But as one user whose friend apparently does Muay Thai (and has kicked him) said, it is, in fact, “pretty painful.”
The show’s Silent Library segment — allegedly a Japanese take on Jackass — sees the comedians undertake various challenges in a library, with the twist being that, no matter what’s done to them or how much pain they’re in, they can’t make any noise. Per Japan Yugen, the segment was actually filmed in real libraries with real, unsuspecting students — hence the importance of the contestants’ silence.
Among the torturous punishments — including something called “nose fishing,” which looks as horrible as it sounds — is the occasional penis thrashing. For example: In this clip, one of the comedians has to keep quiet while having his nuts stamped on. In 2009, the segment got its own namesake U.S. adaptation, which ran until 2011 and featured the likes of Justin Bieber, the cast of Jersey Shore and WWE “superstars.” In case you were wondering, yes, the American version also featured ball-busting.
Rocket Nut Shot
It’s unclear from Google as to whether this challenge/punishment was replicated on other Gaki no Tsukai episodes, but it was featured in the 2013 Batsu Game, Earth Defense Force. It involves a contestant stepping onto a platform above one or more rockets, which are then set alight and fired up into his groin — the aim is for the comedian to “stop it with his crotch.” As one of them says in this segment, “We train our groins more than any other part of our bodies. [We’ll] show you what it means to have a crotch as strong as steel.”
Fair play, Japan. Keep them coming.