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The darkness behind the glitz and glamour

  The word “idol” is derived from the English word “idol”. However, in Japan, “idols” mainly refers to young women who sing, dance and act as their main profession, and most of their fans are men. They always present themselves as pure and friendly, and are touted as “role models for children”. It is puzzling that pictures of AKB48, Japan’s largest idol group, appear both in the adult magazine Playboy Weekly and in a corner of a children’s newspaper.
  In Japan, the operation of idol girl groups is a huge business, generating billions of yen in revenue for management each year. However, the seemingly glamorous idol industry is notoriously dirty on the inside. The uninitiated girl group members are under tremendous pressure to please their fans and make money for the management, often at the cost of their entire youth. It is only when they are too old to be of any use that they have to “graduate” from the idol group they belong to. In the meantime, many of them are suffering from depression or extreme self-harming behavior.
| An assault that caused a furore

  The first of these is a new one. However, the attack on Yamaguchi Mafan that broke out in 2019 was no less than an earthquake for the Japanese idol industry. At the time, the entire Japanese society was outraged when the victim of an attack by an unknown man, a member of the popular Japanese girl group NGT48, Mafune Yamaguchi, had to apologize for “causing a disturbance”. New revelations continue to reveal the brutal truth of the incident, which will hopefully impact the idol company’s operators and management to rethink the ethics of their current business practices.

Mafan Yamaguchi

  Let’s take a look back at the attack on Mafan Yamaguchi, who was attacked by two 25-year-old men who scratched her face and beat her outside her home on December 8, 2018. At the time, 23-year-old Mafan Yamaguchi was a member of NGT48, a group formed in 2015 in Niigata Prefecture to help draw public attention to the prefecture and promote local tourism.NGT48 is a sister group to AKB48, which also has 48 members.
  Fortunately, Niigata Prefectural Police arrived on the scene in time to arrest the two men for assault. However, the two men claimed that they were just avid fans of NGT48, and despite the charges filed by the Niigata Prefectural Police, the Niigata Prefectural Prosecutor’s Office decided not to prosecute the two men on December 28, 2018.
  The incident did not make the slightest ripple at the time, as it was not reported by local Niigata TV stations and the Niigata Prefectural Police did not make a case disclosure. Mafan Yamaguchi had apparently sought help from AKS, the operator of NGT48, early on, but to no avail. Deeply disappointed with AKS for covering up the truth and failing to protect its members, Mafune Yamaguchi publicly uploaded a video on social media on January 8, 2019, tearfully explaining what had happened to her.
  She said, “I can’t stay silent about this because what happened to me could happen to other members as well …… I wanted to tell the whole truth, but they (AKS management) wouldn’t let me. They have said that they will expel the black sheep of the group, but have been slow to act. I can’t bear the thought that other innocent members will have such a terrible experience in the future, at least I was lucky to be saved in the end this time.”
  AKS later admitted that one of Yamaguchi’s colleagues had revealed some personal details about her to her attacker, including what time she usually goes home, etc.
  It is still unclear which member of NGT48 had a problem with Yamaguchi and ordered two men to attack her, but some former members who have “graduated” have come forward to say that the competition between members of idol groups is fierce and it is not impossible for one member to plan an attack on another.
| Victim apologizes? The company’s main business is to promote the use of the products of the company. | The first time I saw the movie, it was a great success.

  In the extremely distorted world of Japanese idols, it is significant that Mafan Yamaguchi dared to come forward and tell her story and criticize the company management, the makers of the unspoken rules.
  Amina Joan is also a former member of a Japanese idol girl group, and she is currently studying sociology at a university in the UK. She empathizes with what happened to Mafan Yamaguchi: “Thank God that Mafan Yamaguchi had the courage to speak out about it all. I’m glad that more and more idols around the world are now brave enough to speak the truth. Idols are often told to remain neutral and maintain a ‘harmless’ image in front of the public. And what Yamaguchi Mafan and other idols who dare to tell the truth are doing is groundbreaking. In the past, if you spoke the truth, you would be silenced. And now, the rise of social media has provided an outlet for them to speak out.”
  The element of intrigue and reversal that pervaded the attack on Mafan Yamaguchi has angered Japanese netizens. If you also watched the video of Yamaguchi Mafan tearfully defending herself, it was hard not to be moved by it. Since then, the story has continued to fester, with coverage by Japanese public broadcaster NHK and other news outlets, as well as confirmation that Niigata police did arrest two young men who were not charged.NGT48’s agency, AKS, however, remained silent. Then, on January 10, 2019, at a concert celebrating NGT48’s anniversary, Mafune Yamaguchi took the stage to apologize for “causing a ruckus”. Many fans on stage thought she must have been forced to apologize, and they shouted at her, “It’s not your fault, it’s their fault!” “You don’t need to apologize!” “Don’t give up!”
  AKS released a statement on its official homepage, but the controversy remained unsettled, and on January 12, Japanese magazine Weekly Bunshun published a detailed report online that reasoned about the specifics of the incident. on January 14, AKS held its first press conference to clarify the matter, but its rhetoric was unconvincing. Subsequently, AKS issued a press release on its website titled “About a series of disturbances related to Yamaguchi Mafan”, saying that it “apologizes for the trouble this incident caused to NGT48 fans.
  In response to allegations that a member of NGT48 was involved in the attack on Mafan Yamaguchi, Niigata police said “there were no accomplices,” but also vaguely revealed that “other girls in the group may have spoken or acted inappropriately.
  On January 20, NGT48’s operations staff issued a message to the mass media: “Many reports (about the Yamaguchi Mafan incident) have gone too far, such as interviews with neighbors, family members, and even late nights. Visiting …… please restrain yourself from over-reporting as it can put pressure on the members and invade their privacy.”

| The idol industry in chaos under the capitalist profit

  The company’s founder, Yasushi Akimoto, is not the only one feeling the pressure of the NGT48 members.
  In the case of Yamaguchi Mafan, although the media has been attacking the AKS company, but rarely questioned Akimoto Yasushi. AKB48 was founded in 2005 by Yasushi Akimoto and partner Kotaro Shiba. According to Japanese police and Japanese magazines, Shiba Koutarou was involved in gangs and was a partner in the Goto Group, a branch of the Yamaguchi Group, a Japanese mafia group, which the management of AKB48 has never denied. The Goto group was later disbanded in 2008, while AKB48 continued to be active.
  Some of AKB48’s business practices do resemble those of the yakuza, both being adept at squeezing every penny out of the people they manipulate in any way possible. With 48 members ranging in age from 12 to 26 years old, AKB48 is a huge money-making machine that serves as a template for all the idol groups that have sprung up since then. –The AKB48 stadium in Akihabara brings in a lot of money for the production company.

Yasushi Akimoto

  The girls make so much money for the company, but they get very little for themselves. Having wasted the best years of their youth during their education, most idol group members have few skills after they are too old to be idols anymore (the so-called “graduation”) and have to find a low-paying job, and some girls even start working in the sex industry or other less decent jobs.
  To satisfy the fantasies of their male fans, members of idol girl groups are forbidden to fall in love, have boyfriends or maintain any kind of sexual relationship. If a member is found to be in a relationship, severe punishment awaits them, such as having their heads shaved and having to make a public apology. The agency will also prosecute “disobedient” members for “daring to fall in love”. What could be more outrageous than that? In a lawsuit, a judge dismissed the agency that sued the members for falling in love, saying that “forcing a woman to give up her lover in an agency contract is a violation of basic human rights.
  Ironically, the girls were forbidden to have boyfriends, but were allowed to have physical contact with their admirers. For Japanese idol groups, it is customary to hold “fan handshakes”. Male fans of these girls, including young college students and gray-haired grandparents, can touch their idols. Of course, tickets are also required for the “handshake”.

AKB48 “Handshake” ticket

  In May 2014, two AKB48 members and a staff member were injured when a man, who was later confirmed to be mentally ill, took a folding saw out of his jacket and killed him while attending an AKB48 “handshake. The vicious incident led to the suspension of AKB48’s “Handshake”, which did not reopen until three months later. In an interview with Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun the day before the reopening of the “Handshake,” Yasushi Akimoto said, “These injured girls decided to stand up and move on.” Clearly, he saw this as an act of courage.
  In addition to “Handshake”, AKB48 releases a single every year, each of which sells millions of CDs. why are sales so high? In addition to the group’s popularity, the most important reason is that each CD is a ballot for the AKB48 general election, which is the number one annual event for AKB48 and is considered one of the main reasons why AKB48 has become a national idol, as it determines the popularity ranking of its members by fans buying CDs and deciding the recording lineup for the next single. The more votes a member receives, the more prominent their position in the singles and performances will be. In order to get their favorite idols to the front of the “top circle”, fans vote like crazy, and every CD is a vote. Some fans even bought hundreds of CDs, most of which ended up in the trash. Members who were “too old”, “too independent” or “too much trouble” were also thrown in the “trash” because There is no more oil to be squeezed out of them.
  Yamaguchi Mafan, who speaks the truth, was already thrown into the “trash can” by AKS. Before the NGT48 anniversary concert, the AKS management contacted some tabloid reporters, suggesting that she was mentally ill, in an attempt to discredit her in advance and seize the initiative of public opinion. At the same time, Niigata Prefecture received a large number of protests and complaints against NGT48, which had a positive image and had lost the hearts and minds of the people. Some sponsors began to take notice of the public opinion and withdrew their funds. The local Niigata Chamber of Commerce also removed the Niigata promotional video featuring NGT48 from its official website.
  In some press conferences, the media questioned why the Niigata Prefectural Prosecutor’s Office would drop the charges against the two men who had attacked Mafan Yamaguchi. But in reality, such things are common in Japan: in many non-sexual assault cases against women, the suspects are not prosecuted. Publicly available information shows that only 1 in 5 women in Japan involved in sexual assault cases choose to go to the police because they know there is little chance that the police will seriously investigate and less than a 50% chance that the suspect will be prosecuted.

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