Usually when I discuss K-pop and J-pop, it’s all about the music, but today there’s something a little more serious that has come to light. Being an idol in Korea or Japan is all about the image, no matter if you’re male or female, and every aspect of an idol’s life is strictly regimented to uphold that image. When that illusion of perfection is tarnished, however, the repercussions can be severe, and in this case that’s blowing up the internet gossip sites and fansites alike, the consequences almost seem akin to the abusive hazing rituals that we’ve come to know in America.
In the final days of January, Minami Minegishi, one of the members of Japanese super group AKB48, was caught leaving the home of another male pop star (Alan Shirahama of GENERATION) after spending the night with him despite the strict ‘no dating’ rule within the group. After being exposed, Minami was demoted to the position of kenkyuusei (trainee) despite being one of the longest participating members, being part of AKB48 since it first started in 2005. Not only that, out of a desire to show how truly sorry she was, she shaved her head and issued an apology on YouTube.
As to be expected, there has been a lot of backlash against the management that run AKB48 and an abundance of support going out to the poor girl. However, there’s also many cultural norms that need to be scrutinized when events like this rear their head. Japanese culture is so entrenched in the display of humility that even when small mistakes are made, people are quick to apologize even if there wasn’t really a problem in the first place. I think much of the problem has to do with the cultural idea of honne (desires) and tatemae (how people see you in public). Essentially, as a pop idol, one would have to be aware of tatemae at all times, leaving no room for their natural human desires to take stage because, in general, going after something for personal gain while being such an integral member of a highly regarded group tarnishes the group as a whole. The entire idea behind an idol group is to present a fantasy image to the general public and when that image starts to get cracks in it, someone has to fix it. However, just because this kind of thing is so deeply engrained within the culture doesn’t make it right or acceptable.
Truly, Minami is a strong person for being able to apologize not only to her country, but to endure every judging gaze on YouTube and manage to hold onto her desire to stick with her group despite her choices is certainly admirable. In this instance though, I do think that this time the punishment is a little too harsh. In my experience—and I am no expert on the issue—when a celebrity creates a scandal the usual course of action is to issue a public apology and then do some charity work to regain some face in the public eye. Demoting such a longtime member to the rank of trainee, while certainly sending a message, really does nothing but cause controversy and add a sense of shame to the group as a whole. While it is true that she did have other options—she could have simply “graduated” from the group or left to be a member of one of AKB48’s sister groups—for someone that has been a member for such a long time and has formed such a bond with not only the name, but the other members as well, it would have been essentially impossible for her to leave from a sentimental viewpoint.
Also, there’s another issue: if Minami chose to shave her head as a personal apology or if she was actually prodded to do it by her management. If it does come out that the management had something to do with it, I hope that it’s enough to warrant a redesign, or at least a closer look of the idol industry which, let’s face it, is already extremely unhealthy.
In retaliation, the fans have taken it upon themselves to flag Minami’s YouTube video and as of when I wrote this post, the official video has been made private. Honestly, this course of action seems extremely rude and whether or not you agree with her course of action, her fans should at least have the respect to keep something that obviously was deeply important to her and no doubt hard to do up where it can reach her intended audience.
My final say on the matter: I think it’s horrible and my heart goes out to her. I hope that someday her standing in the group will be restored. がんばれ、峯岸みなみ。
I am very sorry for worrying the members, you fans, staff members, my family, and many people for the article about me on a weekly magazine that will be released today.
As the first generation member of AKB48 that was formed back in 2005, I was supposed to be in the position where I always had to act as a role model for the junior members. However, what I have done was such a thoughtless and a lack of self-awareness behavior.
Since my mind is still in blank, I did not know what to do or what I can do, but as I just saw the magazine, I could not sit still, so I decided all by myself to shave my head without even telling the members or my agency.
I do not expect that I would be forgiven by doing this, but what I first thought was that I did not want to quit AKB48.
I was unable to think of leaving AKB48 now where the members I love and spent my youth together, and you warm fans are. I know this is being over‐optimistic, but I want to stay as Minegishi Minami of AKB48 if possible.
It was all my fault about this. I am very sorry.
I will leave everything to Akimoto-sensei’s and the management’s judgement. Though I haven’t been able to sort out my feelings, I just wanted to tell you how I was feeling right now.
Thank you. (Translation Courtesy of TokyoHive)