Girl group bases style on Nikkei ups and downs

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Kanon Mori, Yuki Sakura, Hinako Kuroki and Jun Amaki have been following the Nikkei 225 stock average obsessively since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December. The oldest of the foursome is Mori, but she is still only 23. The youngest is Kuroki, 16 and still in high school.

None of them are studying for a degree in economics, let alone playing the stock market. Instead, the four are members of a new idol group, Machikado Keiki Japan, and stocks play an important part in their performances.

“We base our costumes on the price of the Nikkei average of the day. For example, when the index falls below 10,000 points, we go on stage with really long skirts,” Mori explained.

The higher stocks rise, the shorter their dresses get. With the Nikkei index ending above 13,000, the four went without skirts altogether on the day of their interview with The Japan Times, instead wearing only lacy shorts.

While some have raised eyebrows over the group’s daring concept, Mori explained that they are merely letting the economy take charge of how they dress — mimicking economic trends of the past.

The miniskirt boom of the 1960s coincided with Japan’s strong economic growth in the era, she pointed out. The disco boom of the late 1980s also saw women dancing in short skirts in Tokyo discos as the Nikkei kept breaking record highs until the collapse of the bubble economy ended its run above 38,000.

The notion that a strong economy results in shorter dresses on women is dubious at best, but instead of trying to piece together an elaborate “butterfly effect,” members of Machikado Keiki Japan have chosen to condense the process and just let stock prices, which have spiked upward on Abe’s watch, directly decide the length of their uniforms.

Machikado Keiki Japan (roughly translated as Economic Conditions on the Streets of Japan) released their debut single, “Abeno Mix,” on April 7. It pays homage to Abe’s ultraloose economic policies that have been dubbed “Abenomics” by the media.

“Fix the yen’s appreciation. Quantitative easing. Don’t forget public investment,” a line in the dance-pop tune goes. “Monetary easing. Construction bonds. Let’s just revise the Bank of Japan Law.”

The group’s fans — who not surprisingly are 95 percent male, from high school to their 50s — have special chants that they perform during the song’s interlude.

“They yell out economic terms during our concerts, something like Shinzo Abe! Monetary policy! Private investment!” Mori said.

“Economics are often just about the mood of the people, which is something intangible,” Sakura, 20, pointed out.

The University of Tokyo student hopes that her group’s concept and performances, as well as their music, can add to the positive domestic vibe that is beginning to heat up.

Stocks are at their highest in nearly five years after an Abenomics-driven hammering of the yen and a newly compliant BOJ sent investors flocking to sure bets in exporters. Abe also still enjoys a high support rate, although he won’t reveal his true economic policies until June.

But Sakura warns that much more needs to be done for the public to be able to enjoy the good economy.

“Previous administrations were overly conservative and couldn’t push forward huge changes. We expect the administration to implement drastic changes that will stimulate individual spending,” she said.

The young ladies are eager to see the economy get on a roll, although they have yet to decide what their costumes will look like if the Nikkei tops 15,000.

“The image I have of the bubble economy in the ’90s . . . is people dancing around and exposing their body,” said 17-year-old Amaki, who was born in 1995, well after the bubble imploded. “I think Japan needs to seek strong economic growth, but it should be sustainable,” she added.

Kuroki said she had no interest in economics before joining the group.

“But now I know what is going on whenever I check the news,” she said. “The idea of having my skirts getting shorter surprised my mom, but she is very supportive today about what I do.”

Much of Machikado Keiki Japan’s future remains uncertain at this point, just like the economy. Members say they could call it quits if the Nikkei reaches a certain level, or if it falls too low.

But as an idol group, their eyes are set on cheering up their fans and maybe even stimulating the market with their anthem and their performances.

“We don’t see AKB48 and other idol groups as our rivals,” Mori said.

“If I had to pick our rival, I’d say it is an economic depression.”

  • Robert_in_Japan

    Too damn funny. This was the best comedy I have seen in a long time. Seriously! Economic songs! Why—they can probably play at all of the economic conferences throughout Japan. I have to check to see what my economics colleague thinks about this, but too bad, it is the same ole superficial mimicry of support government policies that you see in the Cuba or China. I would love to see a protest, YES, a protest group in Japan, putting old songs like “insurrection” or “rebellion” like the British group Muse. BUT that will never ever happen in Japan. The younger generation has been taught too well, and are simply too passive and too obedient to critically think much less protest.

    • http://twitter.com/ahm Avery

      Why don’t you read about the Japan Red Army and the Lod Airport massacre, and you will learn why protest songs became unfashionable among Japanese youth.

      • Robert_in_Japan

        This makes no sense. You mean to say that all of the youth in japan looked at this and said, “ah–no sense of protesting and expressing ideas because of these people?” There were no protest groups EVEN BEFORE this happened, though there were protests, say in Toyko protesting Narita airport, etc, etc, but the protests never expressed themselves in music, and never will. I am so cynical (as women never care about economics–check the numbers of women actually in this field, and teenage women!???), that I wouldn’t be surprised that the LDP sponsored or suggested this two-bit nonsensical “group” to get coverage in the media, why not a anti-nuclear group. There must be two or three singers there, I would imagine.

      • http://twitter.com/ahm Avery

        “the protests never expressed themselves in music, and never will.” what? you clearly haven’t even googled up this subject, I don’t know why you make such an assertion. look up fun ditties like 「自衛隊に入ろう」 from the 70s or the anti-nuclear idol group 制服向上委員会 who appeared recently. Listen to these repugnant songs and you will understand why Japanese kids will naturally avoid protest music.

        anyway, don’t write uninformed comments like that, it’s just boring to respond.

      • Robert_in_Japan

        So the protest songs were so repugnant that a whole generation gave up on them and embraced the dribble of Mr. Children, Glay, and AKB48 as more meaningful alternatives? Too funny! There is good protest music out there, I am sure, but the corporate music industry will never let it be distributed, so we get real stupid lyrics from the stupid mainstream bands that Japan has to offer, and I can see from your comments, that this is just A-Ok.

    • Masa Chekov

      Are you paying attention at all? Because the young people are quite politically opinionated and like to protest. Go talk to young people about their political opinions and you’ll find many are surprisingly well connected.

      “Passive” Japanese youth is a poor stereotype.

      • Robert_in_Japan

        Really? Passive is the perfect stereotype. How many Japanese do you see starting up new companies? How many even have the initiative to express an opinion or question in a group discussion, either in Japanese or English? Damn few! Abe wants to push TOEFL and English (which is what my university started last year and will implement by next year–classes, that is) but unless students have the courage to speak out and to participate, there is no point. The difference between my Taiwanese students and my Japanese ones is shocking. They are never afraid to present or to ask questions, interject, etc. So, it is a serous cultural problem, and denying it takes you nowhere.

      • Masa Chekov

        Huh. So you are relying on your opinion of Japanese youths based on… ESL? A little sample bias, perhaps?

        Do you know any Japanese youths in Japan? Do you talk to them in Japanese, or in English only?

        The 20-somethings I know are quite opinionated. Just ask them. I suspect you don’t do this, and since you clearly have your mind made up about them I doubt they’re going to speak freely to you.

        Perhaps you should stop worrying about “denying a serious cultural problem” and trying to learn more about the people you are criticizing?

      • blahblahblah

        Amen to that, Masa. This Robert guy has no idea what he is talking about. I know a lot of Japanese people that speak their mind as well. To judge the whole youth population on just your class alone is preposterous.

      • Robert_in_Japan

        I was NOT implying that EVERY young Japanese has no real opinions and having lived here for 20 years and teaching thousands of young Japanese over the years at an elite university I can say, yes most Japanese do NOT have clear opinons about so many topics like politics, economics, history, philosophy, etc. They may have some ideas or vague preferences but this is BECAUSE of the educational system which does not teach essay writing and critical thinking. So, yeh, it is a MAJOR problems as my Chinese and Taiwanese students are far more confident in presenting and have clear opinions and reasons. Light-years ahead of so many Japanese students, so it is a real shame. Pushing TOEFL is at least a step in the right direction!

      • blahblahblah

        For someone that has taught at an “elite” university, at least check your grammar and spelling (“…a MAJOR problems” *fail*) next time. Anyway, it looks like you should be teaching in China or Taiwan instead. I feel bad for your Japanese students having you as a teacher who berates them.

      • Robert_in_Japan

        Petty petty person you are. So, I mistakenly added an “S” to a word in an email. Like this doesn’t happen all the time. Deal with the facts little person and focus on something more important. When you are losing an argument, you know you have lost when the best comment is to point out a tiny error. Sad life you have.

      • syrup16g

        I went to high school and currently go to college in Japan. I find very few “young” people (meaning they haven’t worked for a few years yet) to be knowledgeable about their country’s political situation or have their own critical opinion. The ones who know a lot tend to be strong conservative nationalists and are eager to spout their rhetoric. Most of the people I’ve met will flat out say things like “I’ve never really thought about politics or religion.” Particularly younger women.

        I can’t judge the entire youth population on the hundreds of 17-22 year olds (I guess the cut off for “youth” is 22?) I’ve met and talked to, but I have to say the political awareness, even with something like the situation in Fukushima, to be rather low. For a class assignment I asked 50 college students to tell me one difference between the DPJ and LDP. Only five students could answer, and they were all male. These were all students in a level (偏差値) 69 private school.

        I’ve found a pretty intellectual big gap between someone who is job-hunting in college and someone who has been working and paying taxes for a few years though. Just my personal observations.

      • Masa Chekov

        To be pretty fair, a whole lot of adults can’t tell the difference between the LDP and DPJ, which says way more about both parties than it does about the adults.

      • kevin Vuong

        “When the economy is good the skirt lengths get shorter,” says 20-year-old band member Yuki Sakura.

        Right now, Japan’s developed country, as I should say, have a decreasing birth rate of young people as the aging entities are more focus on other important things than having children. Even as we speak, the fertility rate is steadying to a constant or even dropping rate over 1,000 people of the remaining population.

  • Smokey Snaps

    Uncool, Japan. I feel sorry for the girl wearing what looks like an unchi on her head…