By MYVAWNY COSTELLOE
What on earth could prompt a bubbly, bright eyed, shiny haired, happy young woman to go from this:
Shame. Anxiety-inducing, mind blowing, self-esteem crippling shame.
The woman’s name is Minami Minegishi and she’s a member of hugely popular Japanese girl group called AKB48. AKB48 are enormously successful in Japan, so much so that they are more than just a pop group – they’re a phenomenon. Like The Spice Girls. Like One Direction.
There are 88 members in the band (yes, 88) and they’re divided into three ‘teams’ and one trainee group. The teams take it in turns to perform daily at their own special theatre in Tokyo. The aim being that the girls are more accessible to their fans than normal pop stars.
It’s an innovative approach that works; AKB48 has made over $200 million in 2011 through record sales alone.
But here’s the catch.
Members of Minami’s band AKB48 are forbidden to date boys. This restriction is part of maintaining the pop star’s illusion of accessibility and normality. The members of AKB48 are just regular girls, who boys their age might aspire to go out with.
Their image is one of virginial, well-behaved propriety. The ‘ideal’ in Japan.
Last week 20-year-old Mianmi stayed the night at a man’s house. She was photographed by paparazzi as she was leaving the next day and the photos were printed in a local Japanese newspaper.
After seeing the pictures, Minami was mortified. To show her contrition, she shaved her head and posted a tearful apology video on YouTube.
“It’s my responsibility to always behave as a good role model to juniors,” she says. “It was a thoughtless deed and I was completely lacking self-awareness.”
Take a look (and the translation is written below):
“I’m Minegishi Minami from Umeda team B of AKB48.
I’m very sorry to have caused enormous worry to members, fans, staffs, my families and a lot of other people with the article in the weekly magaizne that is published today.
As the 1st generation member of AKB48, the group that has formed in 2005, it’s my responsibility to always behave as a good role model to juniors. I deeply regret what I did this time. It was a thoughtless deed and I was completely lacking self-awareness as a senior member.
My brain blanked out and I’m still unable to figure out what to do, what I can do. But after I saw the magazine a little ago, I couldn’t help but doing something. And I decided to shave my head without consulting any member or staff at my agency.
Although I don’t think I would be forgiven by doing this, the first thing that I went through my head was that “I don’t want to leave AKB48.”
This is a place where my dear members, who I spent my blossom of youth together, are. And it’s unimaginable to even think about leaving the group where I’m with so many wonderful and sweet fans.
I understand it’s wishful thinking, but if it’s possible, I would like to still be AKB48′s Minegishi Minami.
This is all my fault.
I’m truly sorry.
I will leave my hereafter to the hands of Akimoto-sensei and management.
Though I haven’t been able to tidy my mind up, but I just wanted to tell my current feeling to you.
Thank you so much for listening to me.”
After the photos of Minami leaving the man’s house were published, Minami’s band manager posted a statement on his Google + page (a popular medium with the group’s fans).
He said that Minami had caused “nuisance to the fans” and would be demoted to the trainee group effective immediately. Minami herself followed up her YouTube clip with a post on her Google + page stating that she will do her best to ‘bring back everyone’s trust in me.’
Because apparently you can’t trust a girl who spends the night with a man.
Virginity – in Minami’s group AKB48, in the Asian pop world and indeed in Japan more generally – is currency.
Even thought her fans came to her defence, tweeting things like ‘“Why can’t AKB48 members fall in love?” and “I don’t think she needs to apologise to anyone,” Minami thought she had ruined her pure and chaste image, which would immediately downgrading her influence and popularity as a singer.
In Japan, this message is even more explicit. The power of kawaii – Japanese for ‘cute’ – is huge. Think super short pleated skirts, knee high socks, and exaggerated, fake eyelashes.
This is what is considered attractive and desirable in Japan. It’s an amped up version of the schoolgirl look – sexy but innocent.
It’s the trademark look of Minami’s band AKB48 and it sells, sells, sells.
Throughout Japan, girls receive the same message day in and day out:
Be sexy but don’t have sex.
Look available but don’t be available.
Be desirable but possess no desire.
Ultimately, it’s about women being kept young, vulnerable and powerless, in an effort to make them appear as non-threatening as possible.
Myvawny is a final year Media and Communications students who’s currently in Tokyo for a month-long journalism internship. She’s equally interested in feminism, fashion and film. Follow her at @myvawny.