The image of a young girl in front of a camera, her head recently shaved, sobbing into the lens is one that's guaranteed to shock. But when that girl is a key member of idol group AKB48, the reaction is bound to be stronger.

After being caught leaving the home of Generations boy-band member Alan Shirahama by weekly gossip rag Shukan Bunshun, AKB48 Team B member Minami Minegishi was instantly demoted to the idol group's "trainee" team. More shockingly, a video was then posted on the group's official YouTube channel in which the newly shorn Minegishi gradually works herself up into a torrent of tears, punctuated with long bows of supplication and gasped apologies, as she begs forgiveness from her "wonderful and sweet fans" for her "thoughtless deed." She claims, implausibly, that the decision to shave her head was hers alone.

In Japan, the cutting of hair is often symbolic of a new start, or in more extreme cases of penance. The destruction of sexuality inherent in shaving it completely back, however, brings to mind more the humiliations inflicted by the French Resistance on women accused of sleeping with the occupying Nazi soldiers during what they called the épuration sauvage or "wild purge." Minegishi's only crime, however, was having a boyfriend.