We all know about the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Every year we gather our families together around the radio and listen to Vin Scully paint pictures with words. As he describes the gallant men consuming dozens upon dozens of hot dogs, every young boy imagines one day growing up and having such eating prowess, and every young girl imagines growing up and marrying one of these titans.
Yet October 9th marks the anniversary of the first officially sanctioned, major eating contest which took place in 1942. However, there used to be a little twist. During Japan’s invasion of China in World War II, soldiers competed to prove their supremacy in all facets of depravity. Most famous is the anecdote regarding the beheading contest between two Japanese army officers.
Less famous, however, was Hirohito’s eating contest – which translates literally to the name of “Honor Food Storm Garden” – which was issued as a challenge to his officers. Instead of seeing how much could be eaten within a time limit, a group of officers were each presented with ten pounds of salmon and the winner would simply be the man who could eat it the fastest. Also in attendance at the contest would be 5,000 Chinese prisoners of war – civilians and soldiers alike – whom the Japanese had starved in a pit for a week prior to the contest.
The victor was presented with an ancestral sword. The losers committed ritualistic suicide.