remember when I was on Japanese TV
In the year before I joined AKB48, I was in the spring of my second year of high school. Even so, I already had experience as part of two talent agencies before then.
The first time, when I was in fifth grade, I was discovered by a scout while walking in Harajuku with my mother. I was with this agency for about four years, during which time I entered in more than 100 auditions. It wasn’t unusual to have two auditions per day, or 4 auditions per week.
My mother accompanied me to all of my auditions. At the same time, she had to get up early to go to work and rarely had a break. All of my legal procedures and paperwork were also left to her. Along with all the cleaning, laundry, and other housework; it must have really been tough for her.
However, I passed few auditions. I spent most of my time as extras in movies and stageplays, or appearing in small photos in magazines. However, I hoped that one day, luck would turn in my favour. That’s how I cheered myself on.
Even so, when the renewal period for my contract came up, the agency informed us “We cannot renew her contract anymore.”
Of course, I was very shocked, but that evening I saw something even more shocking. After all the family members had gone to bed, I saw the tear-streaked face of my mother crying silently to herself.
While it was originally my own wish to make it in the entertainment industry, it seems that as she accompanied me through all my efforts, my dream naturally also became my mother’s dream. In the end, her own time became wholly devoted to her daughter’s dream.
The next talent agency that I joined, I didn’t last even two years. With this one, I also did not receive a contract renewal.
In the train station on my way home from school, my phone rang, only for me to hear, “We regret to inform you that we do not believe we can sign the next contract.” Dumbfounded by this sudden notification, I forgot about getting onto the train. Wah… What should I do? How can I explain this to my mother?
When I got home, all I said to my mother was, “I’m hungry.” In short, I couldn’t even bring it up with her (laugh).
After that, on the days I was supposed to have my weekly lesson at the agency, I would leave the house saying “I guess I should go to the lesson,” and then, wonder where I could kill time that day. I would go hang out at the same park every week—that’s how the situation was. On one occassion, as I was leaving the house, I even tentatively suggested to my mother, “Incidentally, let’s go shopping together.” Hiding it forever would be almost impossible, sooner or later it would be found out. I knew that much.
However, because I did not want to make her sad, I would make up the next dance steps on my own to report back to my mother.
Two months passed like this. The day that I would have to tell my mother the truth drew closer and closer. Although I felt like I ought to tell her that I had been fired from the second talent agency, it was much easier to tell her good news after all. I finally faced her and told her, “I passed for AKB!”
Then, talking very quickly, I told her about the bad news from the previous agency, and apologized for not telling her for the past two months.
To my mother who had always been supporting me up to now, although we had been in an “epic repayment battle,” sure enough, success was finally achieved somehow.
However, my mother, having just heard news from both Heaven and Hell in the same moment, didn’t know whether to be delighted or to be sad, to be angry or to praise me, and could only make a very complicated expression on her face (laugh).
Even now, once in a while my mother and I will laugh together when remembering that day.
(Translation courtesy of Melos no Michi.)
AKB48 研究生 平田梨奈 (Rina Hirata)
HILLAAAAAARRYYYYYY YES MY PRECIOUS BABY
god i’m the worst at being an idol blogger i just look at the pictures like HOW WO WOWOEORAEOAREW OW WYOU R ARE SO CUTIE I LOVE U and then forget to reblog because feels.
Trying hard to drop it, but I confess I’m still thinking about the way this has blown up, and how frustrated I feel as a fan at how utterly misconstrued it all is at this point.
I don’t know if non-idol fans are aware of the fact that over 60 girls graduated from AKB and its sister groups last year. They left to pursue studies, careers, and even ordinary teenage life, by their own choice and request, including the most popular and famous member in the group’s history, after spending years with the company.
The “no dating” rule is tricky, it IS. As a western feminist as well as a long-time idol fan, I’ve had to do a lot of hard thinking about my feelings on it. It’s a difficult situation, because when girls become famous (in like… ANY COUNTRY), they become the subject of a lot of adoration and even obsession. In Japan, the idol industry stemmed from other forms of entertainment- acting, singing, TV personalities- but focused on the “image of youth”. I read a wonderful article comparing idols to Annette Funicello that I wish I could find, and the likeness between her career and early idols’ careers was very similar. Unfortunately, the draw of young, beautiful women who are expected to be perfect (again, I’m sorry if you don’t think women in the American entertainment industry also have rigid standards simply because they are DIFFERENT from the standards of teenage girls in the Japanese national spotlight, but… uh… lol) is that… they get a lot of attention, and that puts pressure on them. The no dating rule also puts pressure on them, but is, in many ways, there for their protection. Removing the “threat” of men from the picture, even if the removal is only for show, placates intense fans to whatever degree because it makes the girl seem more unattainable. I don’t feel that this justifies stifling the consummation of young love entirely (and I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that the girls still end up being involved with people, even if they aren’t “supposed to”), but that’s not my choice to make. In the end, the choice to abide by that contract goes to the girl who signs it.
Some girls join idol groups young before they think about being in love. Some girls join because they do not want their life to be ABOUT being in love and settling down. Some girls want OTHER THINGS. And being an idol can be an ideal outlet for that. Of course it’s complicated, but in the end, nobody is forcing ANY girl to be an idol. No contracts are signed in fucking blood. And management does not humiliate or physically punish the girls for ANY reason- honestly, fans can be way more cruel than anyone else (and again, if you think American fans are ANY better, I suggest you try reading fan opinions on any musician in the Top 40 today, especially people under the age of 25).
Minegishi herself was given the prompt to make a decision when the scandal happened, and CHOSE to stay with the group that has been her life and livelihood since her teenage years instead of quitting (which is ALWAYS an option). Her choosing to shave her own head without telling management anything was her own way of dealing with the guilt she had for the anxiety of the situation of breaking her contract. It was. HER. Choice. It may seem barbaric that the rule is in place, but today’s idol standards are already waaaay more lax than they were.. even five years ago. The industry evolves with mainstream culture, as does everything, and in a country whose principles and views are as homogenous as Japan’s, that shit takes TIME to change.
Meanwhile, I have seen a group of young women raise an entire nation’s spirits during a period of economic ruin with one song. I have seen girls reach out to people- queer and alternatively gendered people, disabled people, suicidal people, lonely, isolated people- and I’ve seen them do it fearlessly and publicly. I’ve seen girls wear what they want proudly in a nation where uniformity is desired. I’ve seen girls make names for themselves and develop legitimate professional careers instead of being expected to marry young and stay quiet and do nothing with their lives other than be demure. And those girls were idols. Maybe they could have done it in other ways, but being an idol gives you a leg up to accessibility and relevance in an economic market that is deeply competitive. So if you’re going to discredit the industry and the girls who work in it simply because you’re either misinformed or you think you know the weight of it without actually taking the time to understand what you’re so damn upset about, be my guest, But your scream overtaking the voices of fans who DO value these people is pretty fucking disheartening.
Ugh. The end. I know my voice probably won’t change peoples’ minds, but I still feel the need to say SOMETHING. That’s all.
Haha no worries! Okay, here’s the breakdown.
Japan’s biggest idol group, AKB48, like most other Jpop/Kpop idol groups, has this No Dating rule. It’s silly, but idols are supposed to be the ideal, unattainable girlfriend/boyfriend, so for them to be able to date would ruin that illusion for some people. Sometimes, members get caught dating anyway. Historically, this has almost always meant getting fired, because it’s a breech (breach??) of contract. Lately, AKB has offered some alternatives to girls who get caught in scandals (almost always revealed by tabloids) other than getting straight-up fired, such as transferring to a sister group, losing their leadership position, being demoted to an entry-level member, etc. Which does indicate that the rule is starting to see a bit of bend to it, which is (slow, but still) progress.
Recently, a first-generation member, Minegishi Minami (aka Miichan) got caught sleeping over at a male idol’s apartment. This is a big no-no. Rather than getting fired or quitting, Miichan chose to accept a punishment of being demoted to an entry-level member, and also chose to make a public video asking for forgiveness for her fans. And, in a rather extreme action, also chose to shave her head as a sort of personal atonement, similar to how a monk in training would shave his or her head to show their devotion. The video was very emotional and tough to watch, but the impression that I got is that the management, Miichan’s teammates and friends, and much of her fanbase are willing to forgive her and continue supporting her anyway.
However. The whole head-shaving thing has provided an extremely strong visual to non-idol fans who are really not used to this sort of thing. There’s all sorts of misinformation going around about her “being forced to shave her head and make a video afterwards” which is really, really not how it works. It’s upsetting to those of us who’ve been AKB48 fans for a long time, because it’s giving AKB and idol culture in general a really weird reputation that I don’t think it’s deserving of. Yes, the love ban sucks. Yes, idol life is extremely taxing and stressful and harsh sometimes. Show business anywhere is. What it comes down to is that Miichan loves AKB so much and wants to remain in this group so much that she shaved her head and begged for forgiveness, which is probably the ultimate act of humility she could make, as a Japanese person.
Miichan will be okay. What I think is far more damaging than her being brave enough to put out a video of herself during a tough time are people who really don’t get idol culture (or even Japanese culture, enough to understand the significance of headshaving) undermining her actions by freaking out without really understanding why this happened. So when I found that people on tumblr were freaking out and trying to crusade to get the video taken off of youtube…. I wanted to try to make the situation a bit clearer! Aaand I’m hoping that this helped clear it up for some people, too. :O