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AKB48 may be the pop the economy needs: ex-chief cabinet secretary Edano

J-Cast

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano recently praised the business model of the pop idol group AKB48 in a magazine essay.

Edano gained global fame via media exposure while he was the chief government spokesman following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. The politician lauded the AKB48 business model in his contribution to the April 1 edition of Witchenkare magazine, which compiles essays written mainly by writer wannabes or b-list novelists.

In his essay “Popular Songs Change with the Times; Yasushi Akimoto, the AKB strategy and the Japanese economy,” the Democratic Party of Japan Lower House member of Japan argued that AKB48’s business strategy “could be effective for the economy in general.”

‘I seriously considered buying AKB48 CDs’

Although CD sales as a whole have been slumping for the past decade, AKB48, produced by Yasushi Akimoto, has been enjoying brisk CD sales because they come with vouchers allowing the holders to shake hands with an AKB48 member or vote for their favorite member in an AKB48 popularity poll.

The right to shake member’s hands and vote “is an added value you can’t get through pirated music, iTunes or YouTube,” Edano said in his essay.

“I normally listen to music on iTunes, but seriously considered buying the group’s ‘Sayonara Crawl’ CD,” Edano said. The CD came with a voucher allowing the buyer to vote in the group’s annual popularity poll.

He also said in his essay that AKB48, a group of roughly 48 girls in their teens and 20s, does not have the same culture as K-pop, which competes for Western-style perfection. Rather, it has Asian-style spontaneity, he argued.

He also said the members are slow to mature and fans enjoy watching them grow, another reason the group is successful.

‘AKB example of economy of scale’

Japanese today have diverse preferences in music making it difficult for a national superstar, such as Hibari Misora, Sayuri Yoshinaga or Momoe Yamaguchi, to emerge, Edano argued.

“In order to maintain popularity in such an environment, it makes sense to form a group whose collective popularity is large, even if each member of the group only enjoys a small amount of popularity,” he said. AKB48 has three teams within it and sister groups outside Tokyo, each of which has fans. Each individual singer also has her own following, contributing to AKB48’s popularity.

“Even though popularity of each individual and sales of each individual product are small, collectively they are an economy of scale. This strategy is effective for Japanese economy in general,” he said in his essay.

Internet users were amused at seeing a former senior governmental official seriously discussing AKB48 in a magazine catering to low-level writers. They posted comments such as “Does this guy have a thing for AKB?” and “Yukio Edano commented on AKB. This is crazy!”

This is an abridged translation of a story that was first published on April 22 on J-CAST News, a Tokyo-based news site established in 2006.