Rino Sashihara on Saturday captured the coveted No. 1 spot within the all-female pop group AKB48 and its sister groups in this year’s popularity vote.
Sashihara, 20, who last year moved from AKB48 to HKT48, a sister group based in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, garnered 150,570 votes to clinch the No. 1 spot for the first time.
Sashihara, who transferred to HKT48 after a scandal, said, “I felt I’m not lonely. My heartfelt thanks go to all the people who voted for me.”
Coming in second was Yuko Oshima, the 24-year-old top vote-getter in 2010 and 2012, while Mayu Watanabe, 19, was the third favorite.
The result of the annual poll, the fifth of its kind, was announced at an event held in Yokohama. Votes by the groups’ fans totaled 2,646,847.
The poll, conducted from May 21 to June 7, had 246 contenders including those from sister groups in Japan such as HKT48 and SKE48 in Nagoya.
The top 16 vote-winners in the latest poll will appear in a new single to be released in August.
At the event in Yokohama, Mariko Shinoda, 27, who was ranked fifth in the poll, said she will leave AKB48 in July.
AKB48, created by producer Yasushi Akimoto and named after the Akihabara electronics and subculture district in Tokyo, is known for having churned out consecutive million-seller singles.