Hello blog! Since life has been a bit dull lately, I decided to post a ‘rant post’ about something I recently learnt about (not really a rant but more of an informative post). It appears that every day I learn more and more about the Japanese culture, especially the fame aspects of it because I enjoy the music. I came across this term whilst casually researching popular Harajuku models; a photo came up of a crying girl with a shaved head, and I was interested to learn about this well-known Japanese scandal.
The term I discovered is ‘idol’; I have heard the term used before, we use it here in England of course and to me it just meant somebody who was in the media spotlight that people looked up to or liked a lot. We used to have a show called ‘Pop Idol’ which is a bit like today’s X-Factor, where people would enter a singing competition and the best singer won (will always remember how disappointed I was that Will Young was the chosen winner over Gareth Gates); these people had real talent though, they could actually sing and that was the main focal point over how they looked.
The term ‘idol’ in Japan has a much more exaggerated definition though; there are companies out there searching for people, mostly based on their looks, of both genders to put on a pedestal even if they have no special talents. The aim is to have a young, good looking person with a ‘pure image’ that people can look up to; this person has to be perfect in every situation they are placed in and be an excellent role model for young people. They are promoted purely for the reason of being adored and to have a large fan-base. It is important they have as much media coverage as possible and this is why they do not need to have any particular talent; they may become pop singers, panellists on a variety of programmes, models, special guests etc. with the majority going into the music industry. These aspiring stars/starlets usually have little experience within the entertainment industry; they must project a profile of innocence but at the same time be a person that people can fall in-love with.
Wow, that’s quite a lot of pressure but if you are young and beautiful, then it seems relatively easy to get into the spotlight. However, as fun and easy as this sounds, idols must follow strict rules and have their private lives carefully controlled; in order to remain a figure of pure image, idols are forbidden to smoke, cause trouble or date. They must remain innocent and sincere, and the no-dating rule plays an important role in this especially for female idols; for as long as they are an idol, they must remain as someone who their fans can fall in-love with (I guess to some extent to keep the male fans dedicated and hopeful that their female idol could fall in-love with them), someone who is inexperienced and innocent as to not tarnish their fan’s views of them. I’m sure most of us girls have experienced a little heartbreak when that gorgeous boy band member revealed that he had a girlfriend, so I guess the same goes for these idol’s fans (that and innocence seems to be highly valued in Japan).
This portrayal of innocence and youth not only counts for idols, but for many other young Japanese celebrities. When I discovered that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu had been seen with a boy that was presumably her boyfriend (it is yet to be confirmed), I was shocked (forgetting that she is 21 now, she seems too innocent)!
I wondered if KPP was considered an idol and I had read in her interviews that she kept saying she wasn’t an idol or someone to be idolised; I thought she was just being modest about her growing fame but now I’m aware of the Japanese understanding behind the term ‘idol’. During a visit to France whilst on her ‘100%KPP WORLD TOUR 2013’, Kyary had an interview on the local French TV show ‘Le Petit Journal’ where she explained her views about the idol culture following the Minami Minegishi scandal:
“In the Japanese idol world, they are very strict about relationships. It’s like in return for male fans’ support, idols keep out of relationships and love, devoting themselves to their jobs as idols.”
She was then asked by the interviewer – “What about you?” to which she responded:
“Because I’m not an idol, I can fall in love freely. In my opinion, an idol’s job is to suck up to men and do what they can to get their attention. What I do though is something guys will never love. What I’m doing is more like an artist than an idol.”
I found this on an article and a couple of other articles used the same text; I am not sure if the translation is supposed to be as harsh as how Kyary is actually saying it, but then I don’t know her personally and how she speaks, she could well have said it this way as I know that she doesn’t like the term ‘idol’ as mentioned in previous interviews:
“It’s not that I hate the ‘idols’, but I really think that I’m not an idol. I think that the people who are calling me an idol don’t really know that much about me.”
I had a little think about this and as much as I love KPP, if I didn’t know much better then I would think she was an idol; she doesn’t write her own songs, she gets dressed up and appears across a lot of different media types. However, she is not labelled as an ‘idol’ on her profile and her personality shows through a lot of her songs and outfits, whereas an idol would be made to dress and sing whatever they are given depending on what is popular at the time. Kyary’s songs reflect her personality strongly and everything she is interested in, she may not be writing the songs herself but it is evident that her presence is in her work. She is not scripted in her interviews even if her image is somewhat of an act; she even did an extensive interview about her personal life (especially before her fame) that became a book, something that would not be allowed for an idol as they are incredibly strict on what personal information is released:
“But I guess the things I do are similar to them, like wearing flashy clothes then smiling when I sing and dance.”
“I think that a lot of people think that this ‘Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’ character is being created by a bunch of adults from behind the curtains, and a 20-year-old girl is just playing the part of something that’s completely fabricated.”
“Well, I won’t deny that I’m not doing everything by myself as the people around me have been giving me support, but I’m still doing things my way within my own ability.”
KPP is already aware of how she may come across to some, but it is clear that she is an individual artist and not an icon; from my research on her and the expectations and rules that idols must follow, KPP does not fall into that category (yay)!
Now, focusing on that scandal that I mentioned at the beginning; Japan’s biggest idol group ‘AKB48’ contains 140 members to date, and one of them broke the no-dating rule last year creating one of the biggest scandals in the Japanese entertainment industry.
Her name is Minami Minegishi and she was caught leaving the apartment of her boyfriend, Alan Shirahama; although no one knows what happened behind closed doors (whether they were intimate, she just slept over or they stayed up all night talking jibberish), being discovered came as a devastating blow to her. Her management are clearly strict as they demoted her to a ‘trainee’ when she was exposed; she was so shocked that she buzzed off her long locks and posted an apology video to the public, complete with real sobbing and apology vomit. Lucky for her she was reinstated in August as a full member as well as a captain to Team 4.
The main point here is that this young lady must have been trained and worked to think that being an idol is the be-all and end-all, to the point that she would be in such a state of shock that it resulted in her shaving her head; apparently head shaving is a sign of contrition in Japan, and often done in extreme cases so it appears that she was genuine about her apology. The issue is that apparently male members have done similar acts, someone even got married without their management knowing and the repercussions were no where near as fierce, they didn’t even release an apology to their fan board. Either the majority of the adoration is focused mostly on the female idols and therefore their management is much stricter because their income is much higher than that of the male idols, or there is now some serious sexism issues occurring in Japan.
On top of that, their pay is apparently surprisingly low with the majority of it going to the musicians and writers, and they are worked hard (although their working and payment conditions have improved since the start of idol culture). They are allowed to show more of their personality now although what they say is still scripted in order to uphold the ‘pure’ image; it appears that as time has gone on, the management has loosened the rules to allow idols to appear more like their human fans and less like perfect angels. Many people believe that once an idol reaches the point where they would like to live their own life (rather than create ‘scandals’), that they should retire or ‘graduate’ their position as an idol; many however have retired in order to be seen as a professional, and whilst some go on to be professional in their talent, others are simply forgotten.
Reading and discovering all this made me realise that these idols must be under a lot of pressure; there are a lot of Japanese fans here in England who thoroughly enjoy dancing and learning Japanese, and I read that one of them had been given the label ‘aspiring idol’ in one of their interviews (although many disagreed, calling her ‘fake’ and a ‘Weeaboo’). How amazing would it be to go to a country you are crazy about and do what you love doing the most? Doing everything Japanese and being adored by thousands and thousands of Japanese fans, being famous in Japan and so much more, yes it all sounds wonderful; but do these girls actually understand the term ‘idol’ in Japan? Do they know that they would have to sacrifice so much in order to be a Japanese idol and will it be everything they had dreamt and hoped it would be? Not likely. It’s like all of the sacrifices one must make in order to become a Japanese Geisha, there is a lot to give up and the chances of it being what you thought it would be is very slim because it was seen through rose-tinted glasses.
One foreign girl in particular who is famous for becoming a Japanese idol is Natalia Castro, known by her stage name as Yukapon; from the drama, it appears that she got too big for her boots and started hanging out with guys and dating them. When her manager, apparently named Akira, scolded her for dating guys and hanging out with them in public due to the no-dating idol rule, she ignored him and continued to talk with guys IRL and over the internet. Apparently she enraged some ‘hacker’ boyfriends that she had made on the internet when a picture of her and her IRL boyfriend got posted, so they hacked her sites and posted dirty videos and photos of her. In order to protect herself, she claimed that Akira, who was her boyfriend as well as her manager at the time, harassed her and raped her, putting the blame onto him and claiming it was his fault. I don’t know that much about it because there isn’t an awful lot on the internet about her, I can’t seem to find much on her recently but it appears she is fading out. It seems that the strict lifestyle of an idol (as well as having just one boyfriend) was too much for her to handle, and being someone that so many people admired and desired got to her head… You can read more about it here – http://investigation.cyber-space.biz/ This was posted on Akira’s tumblr account and is labelled ‘YUKAPON TRUTH’ with screenshots and such; as I said, I don’t know an awful lot about it but this is what has been posted on the internet. I was just using her as an example of a foreign Japanese idol and whether or not it was how she expected it to be, I don’t think she realised what was expected of her when she aimed to be an idol.
Another thing I noticed, especially when typing either ‘Japanese idols’ or ‘AKB48’ into Google, is that I am bombarded with pictures like these:
At first I thought I had put something in wrong; these idols are supposed to be giving off a pure and innocent image, so can someone please tell me why they are posing in lingerie or swimwear in not-so-innocent poses? These girls are supposed to be ‘inexperienced’ and the idea of posing in next-to-nothing does not scream ‘innocent’ or ‘inexperienced’ to me. Is this to get the male fans off? That not only are these idols being used as something that young people can look up to and fall in-love with, they are also something that older men can fantasise and masturbate to?? Is that actually right?? I even searched up some of the AKB48 members and got similar results, sometimes with them all in groups hugging or leaning over one another; I’m a little confused, it seems that the Japanese love this ‘innocent submission’ that is always being portrayed by these idols and in Anime/Manga/Hentai.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the Japanese; what they like is what they like, and how they do things is entirely up to them. I just find the idol culture to be a little confusing and contradicting, especially with the many swimsuit shots. Japan is known for having a crazy and pervy attitude with tentacle porn and used panties in vending machines, so I guess this seems completely normal.
I just don’t know if I would be willing to give up my freedom in order to be a star, I guess these girls are really serious about it; I sure hope that foreign girls who are desperate to be a part of the Japanese culture and become an idol are fully aware of what they would be getting themselves into.
I hope I don’t offend anyone with this post, and I am aware that some idol management companies have lifted the rules on dating, and made working and payment conditions much better than they used to be. I just thought it would be an informative post, especially since I see a lot of YouTubers aspiring to be Japanese idols and it just makes me wonder if they actually understand what would be expected of them. It seems like a lot of pressure for these young people to always be in the public eye and to always be perfect; what do you guys think? Would you give up your rights and freedom in order to be a bigshot star with millions of fans and fame? I would love to be like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu but I’ve got no talent with singing. T_T