Japanese New Year TV – Downtown’s “No Laughing” Series (絶対に笑ってはいけない)

No laughing DVD cover episode 18
DVD cover of Zettai Waratte wa Ikenai Episode 18 (stolen from Amazon)

There’s a lot of info out there about new year traditions in Japan, such as the food (osechi, toshikoshi soba, ozoni), otoshidama (giving kids money in an envelope) and hatsumode (visiting a shrine at the beginning of the year)…

Speaking of hatsumode, here’s how the shrine next door looks like right now:

This is pretty crazy. There aren’t that many visitors here on a regular day.


One “modern” Japanese tradition is New Year TV programming. The longest of this tradition is NHK’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦), which is basically a singing contest, but the singers/groups are all famous artists. Singers are grouped into two teams, one red (Kou) and the other white (Haku). At the end of the 4 plus hour music marathon, the audience and judges vote, and the winning team is declared. But they’re all already successful artists, and no single artist is declared “the best”, so I don’t really get the point of selecting a winner. I suppose it’s just for bragging rights.

Kouhaku is broadcast on New Year’s Eve.

To be honest, I’m not so interested in Kouhaku. I like Japanese music, but the bands and singers I’m into aren’t exactly mainstream, and NHK only selects mainstream Japanese musical acts (though they have invited a few foreign singers before).

The two shows I like to watch on New Year’s is Ultraman Dash (ウルトラマンダッシュ), shown on January 1st starting late in the afternoon, and Zettai ni Waratte wa Ikenai (絶対に笑ってはいけない – Absolutely no laughing), which is a direct competitor to Kouhaku as it is also broadcast on the 31st of December on more or less the same time slot. Both shows are on NTV (日テレ).

I might do a post on Ultraman in the future. For now, I’ll be talking about Waratte wa Ikenai. It is for me the epitome of a crazy Japanese game show.

Waratte we Ikenai is a show by a comedy group called Downtown, and was produced as a special episode of Downtown’s regular TV show called Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! The main concept is quite simple. The hosts of the show are placed in various situations that are supposed to make them laugh, but they are forbidden from laughing. Should you laugh, you get your ass whacked with a kind of bat. Watch the videos below so you can see what a whacking looks like.

Waratte wa Ikenai started in 2003, but it was not until 2006 when they decided to turn it into a New Year TV show. Running time is about 6 hours. That’s freaking long, eh?

Since at least from when I started watching it three years ago, the format has been basically the same. There is a theme, and the Gaki no Tsukai members are brought to some location to solve mysteries and accomplish tasks for 24 hours. Every time they laugh, they get a spanking. At the end of the show, they show the total number of whacks received by each member.

They usually start in some field where they meet this guy who tells them about the year’s theme. 2015’s theme was “Detectives”. The year before that was “Prison”. And in 2013, it was “Earth Defense Force”.

(Picture from NTV)

Then they get dressed to fit the theme. One of the folks from Gaki no Tsukai, Hamada, was made to wear female clothing for at least the past two years, so it was kind of a big deal that this year he was dressed as a normal guy.

Hamada is the dude in the middle, dressed as a girl, complete with a g-string and wig. This was 2013’s episode. (From http://gakituka-24hours.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2014-11-15)

After that, they take a bus to some building where most of the shooting takes place. The bus stops now and then to pick up passengers, who are usually famous people or comedians, and they play skits to get the Gaki no Tsukai folks to laugh.

These are some of the passengers who got on the bus in the 2014 show. The dudes on the left and right are comedians, the lady with red hair is a model and TV celebrity named Rola. Catwoman is Anna Tsuchiya, a singer/model/actress. In this segment Anna Tsuchiya breaks chopsticks with her butt. (From http://matome.naver.jp/odai/2142004601444793501)

Another recurring event is when Hosei is accused of doing something that he didn’t do. This year it was for theft. Last year it was for being the father of an abandoned baby. For his “crimes”, he gets slapped hard in the face by some big guy… I’m not sure who he is, but he seems to be a former pro-wrestler:

Bitch slapped! (From http://gakinotukai2015.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2014-12-03-1)

There’s also the “Thai kick” penalty. Here’s a video of Tanaka‘s son reading to his dad a letter of gratitude and love, but at the end of the note he states that Tanaka is getting a Thai kick. You can skip to the one minute mark to see the actual kick, from a supposedly real Thai kickboxer…

(I just noticed this video has been taken down. I’m going to try to add the same clip here soon)

This year’s Thai kick includes a product placement for Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker. Tanaka clears the stage, only to see the final screen which has a message written in Super Mario Bros. blocks that says “Tanaka Thai Kick” (田中 タイキック)…

Egashira, a very well-known comedian, seems to always make an appearance on the show. This is him from 2014 as a prison guard instilling discipline on some troublemakers in jail…

The funniest segment is probably the one where two groups of guys engage in various challenges in order to prove which group is manlier than the other. Here’s a part of that segment from 2014…

And from the 2015 show, eating ramen on the back of a car with hydraulics…

I always look forward to their show every new year. Even if you don’t know much Japanese, you can probably get most of the comedy. It’s too bad that videos are pretty hard to find online. Some people put them up on YouTube, but they get taken down after a while. You could also buy the original DVDs on Amazon, though they’re rather expensive. If you can somehow get your hands on them, they’re worth a watch!



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