AKB48 to promote suicide prevention

Kyodo

The government has unveiled a new poster for its suicide prevention campaign featuring an image of AKB48 members, even though previous posters parodying the group’s name as part of a catchphrase had to be scrapped following harsh criticism.

The Cabinet Office said Friday that members of the all-girl pop idol group will also appear in TV spots to air in March — designated by the government as “the month to redouble efforts on measures against suicides.”

An official in charge of the campaign said the alarmingly high national suicide rate is a serious social problem, with not only middle-aged and elderly people but also young people killing themselves.

“We’ve decided to ask for AKB48′s cooperation, as the group can reach out to people in a broad range of generations,” the official said.

The original posters prepared for next month’s campaign featured the pop group and the catchphrase “Anata mo GKB47 sengen!” (“Declare yourself as a member of GKB47!”).

The Cabinet Office had explained that “GKB” stood for “Gatekeeper Basic” and that the number 47 referred to the number of prefectures. The government had hoped the slogan would encourage the public to serve as “gatekeepers” by listening to distressed family members and friends to prevent them from attempting suicide.

But mental health experts, lawmakers and even Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said they felt the catchphrase wasn’t serious enough for such an important issue.

The new posters use the catchphrase “Anata mo gatekeeper sengen!” (“Declare yourself as a gatekeeper!”).