National / Media | Japan Pulse

Japan's insatiable appetite for watching strangers binge eat

by Rachael Merritt

Contributing Writer

Consuming a 5-kilogram hamburger and a plate of wedges in a single sitting is more than most people can stomach, but it’s all in a day’s work for one of Japan’s ōgui consumers.

Ōgui eaters are ordinary people who have the extraordinary ability to consume vast amounts of food. They can even attempt to devour as much as 10 kilograms in a single meal, stretching their stomachs to maximum capacity for a slice of online fame.

The online aspect is important to understanding why anyone would go to great lengths to eat so much food. It follows a popular South Korean activity on social media called mukbang in which YouTubers live stream themselves devouring calorie-laden meals in a bid to attract millions of views and subscribers.

Unlike mukbang — a portmanteau of the Korean words for “eating” (muk-ja) and “broadcasting” (bang-song) — ōgui simply means “gluttony” in Japanese and is perhaps more a description of the eaters themselves, less so the act of filming and sharing their meals online.

The Japanese videos follow a similar structure to their mukbang cousins, usually beginning with the ōgui eater demonstrating how the food is prepared in a cooking segment before divulging the artery-clogging details of how much the meal weighs and the number of calories it contains.

While you might assume young men with already hearty appetites are behind this trend, some of the most prominent Japanese gluttons are slim young women.

Take, for example, Yuka Kinoshita, a competitive eater who turned to YouTube in 2014 to share videos of herself downing super-sized meals. The 34-year-old now has a YouTube following of more than 5.3 million, with many of her videos accompanied with English subtitles to help expand her popularity overseas.

The petite YouTuber has been known to eat as much as 8 kilograms, her meals soaring well above the recommended daily calorie intake, which currently sits around 2,000 for women. Her videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers, with some even sending Yuka food to eat on camera.

Joining Kinoshita in the affectionately named “ōgui squad” are fellow eaters Angela Sato and Moeno Azuki, who appear on Japanese competitive eating shows and international competitions, where they are constantly underestimated due to their thin frames.

It’s a stereotype that was put to the test at the Battle of the Big Eaters Queen’s Match in May, which saw a cast of female eaters, some as young as 18 years old, push their stomachs to the limit.

There is something about the notion of tiny women consuming massive amounts of food that continues to fascinate audiences. A recent Instagram post of Azuki appearing in a bikini sparked comments surrounding the 31-year-old’s body image, particularly how she manages to retain her trim figure while devouring the calories.

While much of the United States is struggling with obesity, the percentage of underweight Japanese women between 30 and 50 years old is on the rise. On average, women between their early teens and their 40s believe they overeat compared to men of the same age group. Similar to a stereotype that continues to be reflected in Western media, the image of a super thin woman remains desirable.

As impressive as it is for female ōgui eaters to outshine their male counterparts in terms of popularity, it’s a little hard to understand their audiences’ motivation for tuning in.

There’s obviously a degree of intrigue involved but also other attractions as well, including entertainment, enjoying some company at the dining room table or even feeling better about the portions of food they are consuming themselves.

Whatever the motivation, one suspects that watching someone eating on social media is probably a lot more fun than, say, watching them run a marathon to burn those same calories off later in the day.