Every Monday night at 7, Japanese TV viewers are treated to the sight of comedians being locked inside a fast-food restaurant. Formica tables take the place of iron bars, and instead of three square meals a day the cast is fed a steady diet of the shop's specialties — tonkatsu breaded pork cutlets, donburi rice bowls, pizza. The prisoners can only win their freedom by identifying — and eating — the 10 most popular items on the menu. Several hours and tens of thousands of calories later, they emerge from their confinement, cursing the gray light of dawn and vowing never to touch food again.

Until the next episode.

Such is the sadistic pleasure of "Otameshi Ka!," a hit program on Asahi TV that presents Japan's mania for food in an offbeat and entertaining format. The contrived setup offers plenty of opportunities for wisecracking by the hosts, comedy duo Taka and Toshi, while the weekly guests, ranging from sumo grand champion Hakuho to J-pop duo Every Little Thing, are shown in an informal, unscripted light. The show has featured such ubiquitous restaurant chains as Gyu-Kaku (Korean barbecue) and Tenya (tempura), offering viewers a glimpse of the current state of mass-appeal Japanese dining (and, no doubt, ensuring lucrative cross-promotions for the producers).