ethnic female gardener in boat with potted flowers in river
Asian Pop Idol

Many people in Asia know the name Haruna Kojima. Haruna, a graduate of the pop group AKB48, is one of the idols of Asian culture and AKB48 are one of the seminal pop groups, spawning off many other groups but very few people know the origins of the concept of the Asian Pop Idol.

One might be surprised that the origins of something which makes so many people happy was initially rather dark. In 1913 the Hankyu Railway company, in Japan, started The Takarazuka Revue, founded by Ichizo Kobayashi.

The Revue was an all-female cast of performers who would sing and act, still going strong today with adaptations of Western musicals and songs.

The ladies lived in dormitories and as they went into the theatre children, and other people, would line the streets to see their idols. There would always be one lady who was The Star, the Haruna Kojima, the number one idol, and would be the centre of many universes.

The Revue imposed very strong rules upon the women who were not allowed to date and men were not allowed to visit the dormitories.

The women, mostly young girls, were promoted as being pillars of virtue and most, if not all, were virgins. They were seen as being the protectors of the ideals of Japanese culture.

A hundred years later the tradition of the Revue continues with branches off, such as AKB48. Based upon the same principle as the Takarazuka Revue, AKB48 has over 130 girls, aged from early teens until their early-mid 20s (when they ‘graduate’) performing.

Although over a hundred years have passed, the concept has not moved with the times. The ladies are still seen as pillars of the virtue of the community and cannot date with any violations of this resulting in, possible, ‘expulsion’ from the group.

In 2013 a group member, Minami Minegishi, appeared in a YouTube video with her head shaven as penance after it was reported by a tabloid that she had spent the night with a man in violation of her contract.

She was also demoted to the status of trainee and took full responsibility for the, frankly, horrendous punishments meted out upon her.  

The irony of this is that some of AKB48’s songs deal with upsetting topics. The ladies perform on stage in pink clothes with the childlike innocence singing songs such as, Seifuku ga Jama o Suru” (制服が邪魔をする (School) uniform is getting in the way), which has lyrics that refer to Enjo-kōsai (援助交際).

Enjo-kōsai is when older men give gifts to little girls for sexual favours. Photoshoots and videos show the girls in their lingerie (sometimes nothing) showering together, kissing, being tender and other overtly sexually explicit situations including the use of teddy bears.

This has given (quite understandably) to claims of a paedophilic element to the concept.

Whilst relationships with people are very important and one must respect people, one cannot forget that we are dealing with people.

We look at Haruna’s glamorous life and dream of being part of it, little do we know that she may look at our lives and our freedoms and long to be part of it and whilst it is easy to be dazzled by the shinning lights, one must take care that everyone is being protected and the values which the group claim to have are actually being practiced.

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