Where Is “The Contestant”'s Nasubi Now? All About the Comedian Who Got Trapped in a Reality Show

Tomoaki Hamatsu, nicknamed Nasubi, became a reality star in Japan in 1998 and didn't even know it

<p>Courtesy of Disney</p> Nasubi in a still from

Courtesy of Disney

Nasubi in a still from 'The Contestant'

Tomoaki Hamatsu, known as Nasubi, became a massive reality TV star in his native Japan — without even knowing it.

In 1998, Hamatsu auditioned for a Japanese reality show, which ultimately led to him living alone naked and struggling in a single-room apartment for 15 months until he earned 1 million yen (about $8,000 today) through sweepstakes contests. Unbeknownst to him, his life was being recorded and broadcast to millions of viewers the entire time.

Hamatsu's experience on the bizarre show is chronicled in the new Hulu documentary The Contestant. The documentary, released on May 2, examines Hamatsu's journey to reluctant celebrity on a Japanese reality show, as well as his mental health struggles and impact on pop culture during and after the program. The Contestant features interviews with Hamatsu, his mother, sister and friend — as well as Japanese television producer Toshio Tsuchiya, the man who created the infamous show.

“If there is a god of television, then I am the devil,” Tsuchiya said in the documentary.

Related: The Contestant Explores True Story of Man Who Starred in Reality Show Without Knowing It: See Trailer (Exclusive)

The comedian's time on the 1998 program also frighteningly parallels the concept of the film The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey, which was also released the same year.

"The only person who really truly understands the feeling of what Truman went through is me," he wrote in a Reddit Ask Me Anything in April 2024. "It felt like it was my story. His life was much easier than what I had, but it was a similar situation that everyone was watching both Truman and me, and we had no idea we were being observed."

From his 15 months of isolation to what he has said about the show, here's everything to know about Tomoaki Hamatsu — "Nasubi" — and all that he has been up to in the decades since.

Who is Nasubi?

<p>Courtesy of Disney</p> Nasubi in 'The Contestant'

Courtesy of Disney

Nasubi in 'The Contestant'

Hamatsu was jokingly given the nickname Nasubi, Japanese for "eggplant," due to his long face. Born in Fukushima, Japan, on Aug. 3, 1975, Hamatsu became a household name when at 22 years old, he was selected from an audition to star in a TV show that may or may not air. Wanting to achieve fame as a comedian, Hamatsu agreed despite not knowing any real details.

Without signing a contract, Hamatsu was taken blindfolded to a small apartment in another location, where he was ordered to remove all of his clothes. For him, it was one of the worst parts of the experience.

"It wasn't just my personal sort of shame or sort of issues about nudity, per se," Hamatsu later explained on This American Life through a translator. "My dad is a cop, and when I first announced that for my career choice, it was going to be comedy, he was not thrilled. And we had to go through some things to get him around to the idea. And he said [that] the one thing that I must never do in public is strip."

At the time, Hamatsu didn't know that the show would ever air, let alone that it was being broadcast and live-streamed in real time.

That was just the beginning.

What reality show was Nasubi in?

<p>Courtesy of Disney</p> Nasubi in a still from 'The Contestant'

Courtesy of Disney

Nasubi in a still from 'The Contestant'

Hamatsu was the oblivious star of 1998 Japanese reality show Susunu! Denpa Shōnen. Hamatsu had to stay in a small apartment with just a shower (plus utilities like heat, running water and electricity), a pillow, a gas burner, a radio, a television (with no cable or antenna connection), a sink, a coffee table and a large collection of magazines and stack of postcards. He had no clothes, no food and no company, except for a small camera that he had to use to record himself every two hours or so. From there, he was told he had to live off of whatever he could win by entering magazine and radio station sweepstakes, and he'd win prize money after he won 1 million yen (about $8,000 today) worth of prizes from sweepstakes.

The earliest days of the show saw Hamatsu lose a drastic amount of weight because he had no food or water, leading producers to briefly supply him with bread and water, he told This American Life. Once he won his first edible prizes, however, that stopped, and he was on his own.

For over a year, Hamatsu lived off of sweepstakes winnings, but even good prizes like packages of rice were at times bittersweet, as he didn't have anything with which to cook it.

Throughout his time on the show, later called A Life In Prizes, his physical and mental health deteriorated: he lost weight, was later diagnosed as being malnourished and wasn't ever able to wear clothes during filming because the only clothing he won in sweepstakes were women's underwear that were too small for his tall frame.

There were bright spots: Hamatsu danced and celebrated his wins, including howling at the moon and playfully barking for the camera when he won a bag of dog food (which he ate out of necessity). He bonded with a toy seal, made an action figure into his sensei and briefly enjoyed a PlayStation game until he realized it took time away from his sweepstakes entries.

"Initially, of course, I was there as a performer, and I wanted to be a comedian," he said of his animated reactions to winning prizes. "But somewhere in the middle, the whole business of staying alive became my full-time occupation. So I think what you saw if you saw me dancing, it was really just a human being expressing great joy."

How long was Nasubi stuck?

<p>Courtesy of Disney</p> Nasubi in a still from 'The Contestant'

Courtesy of Disney

Nasubi in a still from 'The Contestant'

Hamatsu remained in the small room for 335 days until he won 1 million yen worth of sweepstakes prizes. At that point, producers gave him clothes and put him blindfolded into a car — and took him to Korea, putting him in yet another small apartment and instructing him to earn enough money in sweepstakes prizes to pay for his airfare to get back home to Japan. Hamatsu told This American Life that he felt defeated and almost quit at that moment, but that a producer convinced him to stay. "Kudos to his skills as a negotiator," he said.

It took him another four months to make enough to fly to Tokyo. At that point, he was then blindfolded and taken again to a small room, where he was ordered to remove his clothes. After he did so, the walls literally collapsed around him, exposing a nude Hamatsu to a live studio audience and revealing to him for the first time that he'd been filmed the entire time.

Why didn't Nasubi leave the apartment?

<p>Courtesy of Disney</p> Nasubi in a still from 'The Contestant'

Courtesy of Disney

Nasubi in a still from 'The Contestant'

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything in April 2024, Hamatsu revealed that he could have left if he wanted to, but opted to stay. "I didn't think that the competition would last that long," he wrote. "The door wasn't locked, but I was determined to stay with it until the end. You could say it was Yamato Spirit, or Japanese [spirit], I would not quit."

Of course, there's another obstacle: He was naked and had no clothes, so if he were to leave, that may have posed a problem for him as well.

Of his time on the show, Hamatsu told Style Koriyama (translated from Japanese), "The hardest thing was not to be able to see and talk with anyone. My mental condition was at its [worst]. I was like, 'Why only me? Why do I have to do all these things? I'd rather die than feel like this.' "

He explained that the repetitiveness of his days of writing "hundreds of postcards" was painful, despite some of the show's edits making it appear that he was having a good time.

"Winning a prize gave me a small piece of hope every time," he added, "which made me manage to get through a year and three months."

Did Nasubi win any money?

<p>Courtesy of Disney</p> Nasubi in 'The Contestant'

Courtesy of Disney

Nasubi in 'The Contestant'

In 2024, Hamatsu told Decider he was ultimately paid about 10 million yen for his 15 months on the show, which equates to about $65,000 using today's exchange rate.

"I didn't do this to gain money. Have I gotten a reasonable amount that I deserve? No, probably not to your standard," he said through a translator, adding, "The [amount] of money that I have received was way more than an amount than a college kid could earn in a year. At that time, that was massive. But looking back, did I get enough? That, I'm not sure."

In his April 2024 Reddit AMA, Hamatsu explained that in part because he was a young fledgling comic and because reality TV was so new at the time (there wasn't even a name for the genre yet), he was less able to negotiate for more money — especially considering he didn't know it was being broadcast.

"Back in the early days of reality TV in Japan, they didn't give contracts to participants, it was an entirely new genre of TV," he said. "And my manager did not protect me in the same way that TV stars are protected now."

As far as his sweepstakes prize winnings, Hamatsu has a positive attitude about it, writing on Reddit, "I entered 200-300 postcards on a good day, it cost 50 yen per postcard, so around 70,000 postcards total were sent (give or take). I think the total cost of the postcards was 3.5 million yen, in order to win 1 million in prizes. So I don't think it's a good strategy to get rich!"

Where is Nasubi now?

<p>Stephanie Augello/Disney</p> Nasubi at a special event at NeueHouse on April 24 in New York City

Stephanie Augello/Disney

Nasubi at a special event at NeueHouse on April 24 in New York City

Following his time on Susunu! Denpa Shōnen, Hamatsu struggled for months to feel comfortable wearing clothes, as he'd gotten so accustomed to being nude. He also said it was initially difficult to connect and interact with others after being isolated for so long, but he adapted back to normal life in time.

"I'm doing well now, people around me support me, I have a lot to be grateful for," he wrote in his AMA. "Even if you get hurt, you can recover, especially with help from other people. A little happiness can go a long way."

In 2016, Hamatsu achieved his goal of climbing Mt. Everest, The Japan Times reported.

Today, Hamatsu still works as a comedian and actor occasionally, but spends most of his time as an activist and advocate, working with charities and raising awareness of his beloved hometown of Fukushima, which was devastated in 2011 from an earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster.

"I want everyone to know the people of Fukushima are working hard," he told the Associated Press in April 2024. "Life is gradually returning to what used to be in the exclusion zones. Of course, I realize the road to decommissioning the nuclear plants is still a long battle. But I would like people to know the Fukushima of today, feel hope by visiting Fukushima and watch Fukushima rebuild."

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