Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Keep Calm and Cherry On



Mr. Cherry, Japan’s No. 1 record-breaker, is ‘officially amazing’

“Is history going to be made with a Japanese bottom?” asks the host of “Officially Amazing,” a kids’ program that airs on the BBC and features as many world record breakers as it does awful puns.

On that occasion in 2014, history, or the Guinness World Records’ version of history — history-lite, if you like — was made: Cherry Yoshitake, the most famous Japanese person you’ve never heard of, sat on 52 whoopee cushions in 30 seconds, roared on by rows of primary school kids in the English city of St. Albans.

Mr. Cherry, as he is also known, subsequently lost the record this year. Regardless, there are not many celebrities, apart from the obvious candidates of Beyonce and Kim Kardashian, who have milked their buttocks (a strange use of the idiom, but this is a strange subject) quite like Cherry, Japan’s leading world record holder.

Among Cherry’s other “officially amazing” achievements — that’s what Guinness World Records calls them — are: most jelly eaten with chopsticks in one minute (663 grams); most socks put on one foot in 30 seconds (26 in total); most tennis balls caught with a boxing glove in one minute (74); and most nuts crushed by sitting down in 30 seconds (48, and they were walnuts).

These feats have landed Mr. Cherry alongside athletes such as Usain Bolt (fastest human being over 100 meters and 200 meters) and swimmer Michael Phelps (most decorated Olympian of all time), but the Olympians are in a different league. Mr. Cherry works out by taking his socks off, and putting them back on really quickly.

The other thing about Mr. Cherry is that he runs converse to the “Big in Japan” cliche: He’s bigger outside of Japan. There’s every chance you haven’t heard of him, or his world-breaking antics, which have put him ahead of baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki (and everyone else in Japan) with a total of 21 records.


For the past few seasons Mr. Cherry has been a fixture on “Officially Amazing,” which airs on the BBC’s CBBC children’s channel, where his unbridled energy, slapstick brand of humor and world records have won him a prepubescent following. Earlier in the year he was the subject of a Vice documentary that introduced the comedian-turned-drag queen-turned-record-breaker to a more mature — or at least, older — audience.

“When I meet our audience, the first thing they want to know about is Mr. Cherry,” Haruka Kuroda, a London-based actress and one of the presenters on “Officially Amazing,” told The Japan Times. “The kids in the U.K. love him. We know that he trains really hard and even though some of the challenges are a bit silly, he does take it very seriously.”

Kuroda was with Cherry for his first appearance on the CBBC show, where he set a record for the most “nuts crushed by sitting down in 30 seconds,” to use the rather officious-sounding language adopted by Guinness for what are arguably fatuous achievements.

It was a freezing day in the middle of January as Cherry set a line of walnuts along the paving stones inside the snow-covered compound at Wakamiya Hachimangu shrine in Kawasaki. Then, in a hitherto unseen innovation, Cherry proceeded to slam his buttocks down on the walnuts “shrimp style.” In 30 seconds he set a new world record, crushing 48 nuts, and assigned the “crab method,” which has reigned supreme amongst walnut butt-breakers, to the dustbin.

“With the walnuts, I couldn’t do it at the start,” Cherry confessed in a recent interview. “I thought 30 seconds was way too difficult, so I asked myself if there was another way to do it. I was using the crab method but it didn’t work well, so I adopted the shrimp style and that actually works very well and allowed me to break the record. Right after that there was another challenge I had to tackle, so I have to take care of my body. That’s why my butt is insured.” For ¥7 million.

Whether it was the shrimp style that helped him land him his first record or the auspicious location, something clicked, and Cherry, who, by his own accounts, is a mediocre comedian, had found his niche: breaking world records, with “Officially Amazing” as an ideal global platform.

CBBC signed him up for the second and third seasons of “Officially Amazing,” and earlier this year he was in the U.K. to film season four. Thus far he has racked up 30 world records; 21 currently stand.

In the arcane world of serial world record breakers, American Ashrita Furman is the undisputed king, way out in the lead with a seemingly insurmountable haul. He has broken more than 500 world records and currently holds 200, including one for conquering Mount Fuji on a pogo stick.

The only time Cherry diverged from his goofy and good-sport personality in our interview was when it came to Furman, who is both an inspiration and also a supreme challenge. For the first time there was a flash of competitiveness, which he generally either doesn’t deploy or doesn’t entertain.

“I desperately want to return to the U.K. and attempt more records,” he admits. “It would be wonderful if I could battle with Ashrita.”

To return to Mr. Cherry, the vitals: He’s 35, originally from Gotenba, southeast of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. He grew up in Saga, where his father was a ranger in the Self-Defense Forces. He won a competition in kindergarten school for a painting of an elephant, which, according to Cherry, was, until his world record blitz, the only time he ever won a contest. He was a middling student and athlete, and he played on the B team for his high school’s soccer club. Nothing in his childhood or adolescence points to what he has become in the past few years: a serial world record breaker. Nothing, except perhaps his derriere.

It’s his “very soft” behind — “I wish you could touch it,” he said during our Skype interview — that was his ticket out of drag and into his jogging leggings, shorts, singlet and headband, which have become his trademark uniform.

Cherry has been his stage name since he was doing drag in Tokyo — the name comes from “cherry boy,” a nickname given to male virgins. On this point, Mr. Cherry says he is still cherishing his, which might explain all that energy.

Besides a Beyonce number, another of his drag performance acts was to have darts thrown at his buttocks. When CBBC came to Japan looking for contestants, his talent agency, Wahaha Hompo, offered him up. You get the feeling that his agency didn’t expect much, but Cherry’s act was well received by an overseas audience.
“Japanese people tend not to even ask what I am doing,” he told Vice, “but because I’m doing stuff like this, I thought people abroad would come and ask what I was doing — it’s more like, ‘That’s a strange guy.’ ”
With all that Cherry put his buttocks through — there is also a video online of him catching, or attempting to catch, CDs between his cheeks — you would expect him to have developed a thick skin, both for his tasks and for the public reaction. Sure, kids love him, but isn’t it all quite silly and embarrassing?

“Yes” is the simple and automatic answer (even Cherry was in agreement), but there’s a more complex reason hiding behind the answer: pride. Most of us adults are not wired for public failure and humiliation. Somehow, though, Cherry manages to float above the line between silliness and seriousness in his attempts to claim bizarre records.

“Nobody ever really becomes the best in the world,” Cherry says, referring to the fact that so many of the records change hands or are broken by new challengers. “To be even given such an amazing chance to (break records) gets me motivated. If I split a walnut or put on underpants real quick in the form of a challenge, people see that and find it funny, and that’s the No. 1 thing that gets me going.”

If Cherry has an Achilles heel, it might be his toes, which have let him down badly in the challenges that pit him against an American and a British competitor on the “Officially Amazing” program. But otherwise, he’s a hit, and you can’t help but admire him because, besides being “officially amazing” and not hiding his propensity to laugh at himself, he is, above all else, earnest.

Cherry on regardless!