AKB48 turns to an American studio


AKB48’s  commercial success in Japan is often derided as a sign of the culture’s patriarchal infantilization of women, and the girl group’s inability to appeal to Western audiences a sign of Japan’s increasingly isolated ideas about femininity, sexuality and pop music. Put simply: outside of Japan, AKB48 will never be Psy.

But inside Japan, it’s a reliable moneymaker. Its most recent single, “We Won’t Fight” (Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai), topped the Oricon charts in June. The idol group is the no. 2 bestselling music act in the entire history of Japanese pop music in terms of singles sold. And Japan is the second-largest pop music market in the world – just behind the United States.

Cuteness sells in Japan, especially if it’s well-marketed. Which is why AKB48’s latest music video is puzzling. The ironically titled 12-minute epic, “We Won’t Fight,” was released this summer. In it, the kawaii (cute) girls are more Ronda Rousey than Sailor Moon.

The start is standard fare. The girls are featured in a fashion show, dressed as angels. But an alien attack interrupts the proceedings and sends them into a refugee camp. Their environs are suddenly spare, “Walking Dead”-rural. Then they start to fight.

The combat scenes are violent: Diminutive Japanese pop idols taking on aliens, kicking, bobbing, weaving, punching.

It’s not what you’d expect, and there’s a reason for that.

Samurai-movie “Rurouni Kenshin” director Keishi Otomo directed the video; it was edited by award-winning studio Cutters, an American post-production studio that opened its first overseas branch in Tokyo three years ago.

Cutters thinks Japan’s advertising industry is out of sync with the rest of the world. Founded in Chicago, and with branches in three other American cities, it’s hoping to change the Japanese model, where domestic giants, such as Dentsu and Hakuhodo, use celebrities to market products, even if they have no connection to the product being hawked.

“I don’t want to insult anybody,” says film editor Aki Mizutani, who worked for two years at the studio’s Los Angeles branch. “But here in Japan, the industry is lazy.”

Cutters is trying to prod Japan out of apathy and into greater creativity. Part of their mission is the AKB48 video, which showcases Japan’s best-selling pop idols behaving like guerrilla group rebels, briefly turning a Japanese female archetype askew.

Trans-cultural collaborations, however, are notoriously shaky. “Afro-Samurai,” the 2007 Japan-U.S. animation project starring Samuel Jackson, tanked.

Cutters CEO Ryan McGuire, the son of founder Tim McGuire, believes the core of the problem is Japan’s deep aversion to risk. “We’re trying to fight the status quo here,” he says. “Talent is one thing. But what about innovation?”

The prizing of celebrity over creativity in Japan irks McGuire, who says that the country is rife with creative ideas that never get developed.

Mizutani doesn’t think one company can change a culture, but she is hopeful about Cutters’ recent successes. In its first year in Japan, the studio became the only non-Japanese winner of the All Japan Radio and Television Commercial Confederation’s Grand Prix and Craft Awards, for a commercial that was part of Wieden+Kennedy’s Nike Japan campaign.

AKB48 outsells American and European acts in Japan. The Cutters video, which features the girls making Mixed Martial Arts moves, is nearing 3 million views on YouTube. Could it signal a collaborative trans-cultural future for the domestic industry, where creativity and celebrity work in tandem?

For his part, director Otomo was taken aback by the talents and work-ethic of his American partners, and says the experience made him feel more American, at least in spirit.

“I had to negotiate with (AKB48) to get the girls to work on the fight scenes,” he explains. “They are all super busy. It made me wonder how they manage to learn their dance routines. But the Cutters’ office and editing studio were very stylish and relaxing. It was the kind of environment that allowed me to concentrate on my creative work without distraction.”

McGuire adds that the Japanese and American industries approach filmmaking differently. In Japan, the director is saddled with every task, while in the U.S., the director’s raw footage is passed along to an editor, who works together with fellow artists to produce the finished work.

Otomo gave his footage to Mizutani with notes and says he was amazed at how well she captured the nuances of his direction. Even more impressive to him was that she actually seemed to enjoy the process.

“Cutters embodied the feel of the American creative offices I once visited in LA. Their kind of ‘American style’ really suits me. Plus, they always had my favorite beer ready for me after the shoots.”

Roland Kelts is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the U.S.” He is a visiting scholar at Keio University in Tokyo.

  • GBR48

    Psy was a one-hit wonder outside South Korea. AKB48 have franchises in Indonesia and China. Given how inward-looking and monolingual the entertainment industry is in Japan, that’s damn near a miracle. The format could translate to Western success, but the margin for error is thin as popular culture in most nations is heavily skewed towards domestic products, controlled by the restrictive practices of each nation’s industry. Wherever you go in the world, entertainment industries wear their blinkers with pride.

    Foreign sales of AKS group Japanese releases are ignored by the Oricon chart as a matter of policy, but CDJapan, YesAsia and Ebayers ship plenty of them to the West and plenty of foreign fans make the pilgrimage to the shop and cafe, even if they stand no chance of seeing a performance. The music videos are often more creative than those of other Jpop MVs. Multi-million hit counts aren’t unusual for ’48 MVs on YouTube (which AKS have successfully embraced as an advertising medium to generate interest and sales, whilst other groups just whine endlessly about copyright).

    Music snobs and hipsters may hate everything ’48, but this is one of the few areas where the Japanese entertainment industry can go head-to-head with that of South Korea and come out on top.

    • blondein_tokyo

      They will never be popular in the rest of the world, and the article explains why quite clearly: empty headed cuteness with no real talent doesn’t sell in places where women performers actually have *real* talent, and intelligence.

      And most of the world is disgusted by the idea of promoting young girls as sex objects.

      • Given that the article’s “explanation” is painfully biased nonsense, no, it doesn’t really explain anything at all.

      • blondein_tokyo

        It’s music, so of course people are going to bring their own personal taste into their opinion of an artist. I’m not disputing that there are people who enjoy this style of pop. What the article is saying is that, generally speaking, audience ls in the US or Europe have different taste in music, which is why J-pop and K-pop haven’t found much of an audience there. Then there’s the issue of this band being made up of young girls who are sexualized and promoted to older male audience, which is rather pedophilic. This is endemic in Japan, and most of the world sees this as problematic and, well, rather disgusting.

      • Jeffrey Mejia

        “Most of the world”?! Hah, you must mean just the prudish White-majority countries of the Anglosphere. Why do you think child prostitution, child pornography, and child marriage are still SERIOUS BUSINESS in every part of the world that is not Canada, the USA, the EU, Australia, and New Zealand eh?

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        How prudish of us whiteys not to want sex with children, can you say “watch list” Jeff?

      • blondein_tokyo

        I have to wonder why you think it is prudish to be disgusted by child prostitution, pornography, and child marriage?? That you made this comment scares me.

      • nouse

        World must be so easy if you only take one aspect of something and base your entire opinion on that.

      • blondein_tokyo

        One aspect? I believe I listed several.

      • nouse

        Actually not. You base your judgement on something you would describe and obviously perceive as the objectifying of young, mindless and brainwashed girls – what you list are just different morphologies of the same thing. On the surface, one might feel this is justified, but what you seemingly did not get is that 48G is basically a GIANT talent agency for idols with an enourmous bandwidth of styles and shapes. Others have described it as a big idol convencience store. And they are right.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I’ll just repeat what I said elsewhere: I really can’t understand why people in this thread are arguing this
        point when it is patently obvious and well-known all over the world that
        Japan has a huge problem with older men having pedophile-like obsessions with very young
        girls. AKB feeds this, as do other girl groups.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        People can read. Thus, if you have nothing new to add but repeating the same thing 3+ times almost verbatim, perhaps you’d best take your leave. It gets boring to see you not pay attention to what other people have said, and then use the exact same thing as your defense. (Or you could try new words – nothing against that, just your copy and paste BS)

      • Steve Novosel

        Where in the heck does empty headed pop not sell? The vast majority of pop worldwide is the same. It’s escapist entertainment, everywhere.

        AKB is not going to be popular with a non-Japanese speaking audience for the same reason pop music in other Asian languages is not popular outside of Asia – the language. Or are American/English/French consumers gobbling up Cantopop or Bhangra and I somehow missed the trend?

      • blondein_tokyo

        I agree. Empty-headed pop sells everywhere, that’s for sure. However, the style of pop varies wildly even within the genre, which means that there are also going to wildly varying styles in each individual country, according to the music culture in that country.

        What I’m saying is that J-pop in particular is not going to be popular in the US or Europe because it is made for Japanese taste. And yes, language is a factor, too.

        Undeniably though, most of the world is additionally turned off at promoting underage girls as sex objects. Case in point, look at the flack Miley Cyrus got, and she was 20 at the time.

        The fact is that most people see marketing 13, 14, 15 year old girls as sex objects as morally repugnant. And that is the essence of AKB.

      • SlightlyDisappointed0

        Who are these “13, 14, 15 year old girls” being marketed “as sex objects”? Can I get the names, pretty please? Just to make sure you aren’t arguing out of baseless preconceptions? :^)
        Do you know what is the age of the most popular members, the ones that appear in the summer singles and on seinen manga magazines? I can tell you they aren’t 15, 14 or 13 by a long shot. :^)

      • Steve Novosel

        Language is not “a factor”, it’s THE factor. Name any foreign language act with a significant following among English speakers – there aren’t any. In the US you get the occasional novelty hit by a Psy or a Las Ketchup, but if foreign language artists actually want to succeed in the English speaking world they best start singing in English – see Shakira for a prime example.

        Far be it for me to defend AKB – I generally like J-Pop but they are sonically bankrupt and exploitative, some of the worst that J-Pop has to offer. But they are not 13, 14, 15 year olds – all of them are quite a bit older. Do they really look that young to you?

        For grins, I looked up the member rankings for this year – who is the most popular. Here are the ages, in order – 22, 24, 21, 18, 22, 24, 21, 18, 22, 24, 19, 17, 25, 25, 28, 23. That’s the top 16, only one is of a dodgy age and most are well into their 20s.

        So who are these 13-15 year olds you are upset about?

      • blondein_tokyo

        You are probably right about language being the biggest factor for English speakers. I would also imagine that tastes in music are formed partly by cultural factors, so people naturally tend to favor artists from their country of origin. It’s what they are used to; what is readily available; what they hear all around them.

        Thus in Japan it’s not unusual for bands to feature very cute, innocent looking young girls, while in the US pop stars emphasize their power and a more sultry, sophisticated sexuality.

        No, not all of the band members are under 18, and I didn’t mean to imply they were. I’m mainly speaking for the way they are marketed, which, as the article says, emphasizes empty-headed, cute, submissive innocence.

        Which of course, is what people from other countries would find objectionable as it is rather sexist and yes, infantilizing.

      • Steve Novosel

        I don’t agree with you at all on cultural factors. Most of the super cutesy pop music in Japan is not oriented towards adults but to kids and teens. That’s why it’s cutesy. There’s plenty of examples of strong female presences as well – two of the biggest selling female artists for a long time have been Amuro Namie and Koda Kumi, both of whom nobody would seriously argue are not in full control of their sexuality. I mean, have you listened to the lyrics for either of them? Meek about their sexuality they are not.

        Meanwhile tripe like One Direction sells big overseas. English language boy bands sell this image of pure boys next door to young girls. Same thing as with the idol groups in Japan. It’s really no different at all.

        Are groups like AKB sexist? Sure. Hard to argue otherwise. They’re a bad example for young women and girls. But I would hesitate to call them infantile. They don’t strike me as that at all. Infantile isn’t sold with young women in bikinis on every other magazine cover.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Amuro and Kumi are not in the same category as AKB.

        I’ll just repeat myself once again here: I really can’t understand why people in this thread are arguing this
        point when it is patently obvious and well-known all over the world that
        Japan has a huge problem with pedophile-like obsessions with very young
        girls. So yes- in Japan, infantile is very definitely absolutely being sold with very young, often underage, girls on magazine covers. You can find what amounts to soft child porn in any random bookstore. AKB feeds this market.

        I’m really done arguing this. It’s just beyond ridiculous for people to continue denying the obvious, so its pointless to continue.

      • nara

        Japan has a huge problem with minors and sex, yes.

        AKB48 catering ONLY to that market, nope, or else female fans such as myself would not exist and there wouldn’t be numerous reports about how young men makes up the majority of the fandom or the instances of families and little children coming to their events (some even aspiring to grow up to be members themselves).

        Besides, arguing against the notion that a popular group is just “a bunch of cute girls with no intelligence and substance” is hardly denying the obvious.

      • SlightlyDisappointed0

        The magazine covers on which those “often underage” (…) members appear are actually manga magazines aimed at a shonen or seinen audience (Big Comic Spirits, Manga Action, Young Jump, etc…), something that would be readily understandable by looking at the title and the headlines on the cover. So, if anything, they help feed the shonen and seinen manga market (as if it needs helf) by doing pin-up shots between one manga episode and the other. All of which is something that tons of gravure idols ( who definitely aren’t “children” by any stretch of imagination) have already been doing for years anyway.

        Your accusations are getting more and more obtuse and misdirected, and now I see you’re trying to compensate for your lack of knowledge by exasperating your few talking points to a comical degree.

      • Steve Novosel

        Of course those two are not in the same category as AKB – that was exactly my point! They are far more representative of the Japanese mainstream pop scene than AKB, yet you are claiming the exact opposite.

        It’s so strange, you are intentionally seeing only what you want to in order to make your point. Seriously, how does bikini pictures of pop stars who are 22, 24, 25 years old feed a pedo market? It makes no sense at all.

      • SlightlyDisappointed0

        I’m pretty sure a group where Minami Takahashi is the general manager and speaks on equal terms with the rest of management on the decisions to take, while Rino Sashihara is the theater manager and has a story as an event and concert organizer (show me another legit idol group where such things are possible), plus an intricate system of team captains and vice-captains, proves that AKB is anything but “submissime”, sorry.
        Just waiting for you to justify this other blunder as yet another of your “subjective judgements”

      • blondein_tokyo

        I’ll just repeat what I said elsewhere: I really can’t understand why people in this thread are arguing this
        point when it is patently obvious and well-known all over the world that
        Japan has a huge problem with pedophile-like obsessions with very young

      • SlightlyDisappointed0

        Because you keep making factual mistakes that even a rookie can disprove. Let me guess, you read some scaremongering articles here on this site, got emotionally confused, and since these articles refused to provide all the full details, you tried to fill the huge gaps with your own twisted speculations borne out of your dark fantasy, which is the part where I come in to correct you.
        Rather than being worried about someone else’s non-existent criminal record, you should wonder why you are wasting your day here blathering about things you don’t know and you aren’t willing to research because “oooh they’re so icky”.
        Surely you know that story of Don Quixote fighting windmills, right?

      • Jeffrey Mejia

        WHITE WESTERN LIBERALS please dare to fix the ISLAMIC UMMAH first before you dare to fix JAPAN.

      • blondein_tokyo

        A problem for me, because as a woman living in Japan, I have to deal with this at the same level as Japanese women. Thus, the issue is personal for me.
        And as someone who participates in Japanese society, it is also my responsibility to do my best to make the place I live better both for myself and others.
        I’m not sure why you think I should feel responsible for fixing problems in a country I don’t live in.
        I also suspect you’re nothing but a troll, considering that most people don’t write in full caps and make odd, resounding accusations like you’re doing here.

      • Jeffrey Mejia

        No, I am not a troll but I am a fan and friend of AKB48! When you dare attack the sacred idols of Akibahara, expect them to be defended to the death!

      • Ken Hayashi

        I’m not a big fan of AKB48 although I find some of their songs really catchy but hey, you gotta admit that they have more talent than most other people out there. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even be able to top the Japanese music charts at all.

        If you’re looking for sexualized young girls, try the US – there’s Miley Cyrus swinging around on her wrecking ball or if you’re in the mood for someome with a little more twerk, there’s Nicki Minaj.

        Just have an open mind, Blondie!

      • blondein_tokyo

        I personally would not call them talented, but perhaps my criteria for that is just different from yours. My reasoning for that is that, for example, they don’t play instruments, don’t write their own lyrics or music, don’t produce their own music or choreograph their own videos, and really…most of them can’t sing that well. They always sing in chorus. They remind me of SMAPP…they sound good together, but individually, they sound no better than average. I have friends who sing better than that in karaoke. :)

        And I’m not quite sure what I am supposed to be open minded about, exactly. There is a world of difference between adult pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Niki Minaj, Beyonce, and Madonna controlling their own images, and making the active choice to market themselves as autonomous, strong, sexy pop stars; and 13-, 14-, and 15-year-olds being marketed by a promotion company as cute, submissive, and childish. As the article notes, the infantilazation of women in a patriarchal country like Japan is a huge problem, and the majority of people in the US and Europe are going to be extremely critical of that.

        Don’t get me wrong. I love me some sexy pop stars and have been a huge Madonna fan for YEARS. I also thought the criticism of Miley Cyrus was misplaced and overly vitriolic. I simply object to making teenage girls into sex symbols and promoting them to older men with the clear intention of feeding the hunger for Lolita fantasies. It’s really quite disgusting.

      • SlightlyDisappointed0

        “AKB doesn’t play their own instruments”.
        That the group formed an experimental band for their Give Me Five single is a pretty well known example, actually, but don’t worry about if you dont know that, those who can play instruments do it live very often anyway. Sayaka Yamamoto has experience as a guitarist, so she sings along her own live instrumentals on her own solo songs during theater and concert shows. And plenty of members give their own piano instrumentals in concert. For that matter, one of AKB’s pianists, Sakiko Matsui, even went on to release her own piano album, so how about them apples?

        “doesn’t write their own lyrics”
        Members are often called on to write lyrics either for either their own solo singles or their sub-groups. Just by running a quick research on Google, examples include: Yuki Kashiwagi, Atsuko Maeda, Yuko Oshima, Asuka Kuramochi, Tomomi Kasai, Tomomi Itano, Sae Miyazawa, Sayaka Akimoto, Ayaka Umeda, Amina Sato, Rie Kitahara, and the list probably goes on…

        I’m starting to believe that wannabe critics making light of this group has actually more to do with a chronic tendency of not doing enough research before slamming fingers on the keyboard, rather than some “patriarchal infantilization” or some other mind-numbing collection of buzzwords.

      • blondein_tokyo

        To the first point, I was speaking in general and giving an entirely subjective opinion based on my personal music criteria. You are of course free to disagree and use your own criteria to judge the music you enjoy.

        As for the band image, that is an entirely different issue, and not based on subjective opinion but rather objective facts. Dressing girls, some of whom are underage, in bikinis and having them dance to pop music; forcing them to maintain a virginal image to the where they are not allowed to date or have boyfriends without being penalized and shamed; and marketing them to feed a market of men with Lolita complexes, is a fully accurate description of AKB48.

        I am rather bemused by the number of replies my original comment has garnered. The fact that all of them are men who seem upset that someone is calling out the aspect of Japanese culture that degrades and sexualizes young women for the consumption of older men is very telling.

        I don’t plan on pursing this discussion further. I don’t see how it could possibly be productive, since I doubt there is anything I could say to change the minds of people who would jump to the defense of men with pedophilic tendancies. You just aren’t worth talking to.

      • Steve Novosel

        You’re “bemused”? You set your outrage level to 11. You got exactly what you were looking for, Blonde.

      • SlightlyDisappointed0

        “Dressing girls, some of whom are underage, in bikinis and having them dance to pop music”
        The bikinis I’ve seen in those music videos all seem to match the size and shape that the normal Japanese girls use when going to the beach, I see no point in discussing this part, when common people seem no have problem with wearing these kind of garments themselves. There’s also the slight detail that by now AKB and their sister groups combined have produced something around three hundred music videos at the rate of 3 or 4 per CD release (yes, even coupling songs get their own music videos), with a wide variety of themes and costumes even within the same release. For example, the one described in the photo on top of the article, Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai, is as far removed from your description as it can get, but it’s not even the first in its category (lost of fight scenes even in the music videos of Flying Get and Show Fight).

        The bottom line is that your obsessions with (seemingly) underage girls in bikini speaks more about your own interests than AKB’s music video directions, so please don’t project.

        “forcing them to maintain a virginal image to the where they are not allowed to date or have boyfriends without being penalized and shamed”
        Did your clock stop on the day you read about THAT Minami Minegishi video? Judging by the latest mishaps, it seems they’re pretty much allowed to go on a date with married men and male idol members and get anyway unpunished, without even losing their previous position in the group (Sayuri Matsumura, Yuki Kashiwagi, do those names ring a bell). So, yeah, let’s toast to the sexual liberation of AKB at last. :^)

        “I doubt there is anything I could say to change the minds of men”
        If you’ve come here to evangelize me, you clearly lack the knowledge on the subject necessary to do so. Also be glad you are on the Internet behind a pseudonym. People in real life wouldn’t react as calmly to a guy whose last defense is throwing cheap offhand ad hominems. ;-)

        “You just aren’t worth talking to.”
        Well, look who wrote three paragraphs of text to me.

      • Here’s the thing though. Miley Cyrus &c. were all marketed exactly the same way as AKB48 members are (with some irrelevant cultural differences) before they turned 18. In fact it’s only after that magical age that things start to differ, and by and large it’s the Western stars that turn to sexuality to cover their lack of talent, not the Japanese ones.

      • blondein_tokyo

        No, it really isn’t.

        In Japan, the marketing of very young girls feeds a market of Lolita-hungry older men. There is a world of difference between the US and Japan in this regard, and I really can’t understand why people in this thread are arguing this point when it is patently obvious and well-known all over the world that Japan has a huge problem with pedophile-like obsessions with very young girls.

      • Japan does have a fascination with youth, yes. With recapturing lost youth, vitality, innocence, whatever. And for some that crosses the line into a “pedophile-like obsession”. Certainly there are also an unfortunate number of very young girls being marketed to appeal to the latter. However, AKB members by and large are not. Some members adopt a “loli” image, most don’t. Most that do grow out of it and “somehow” manage to maintain their fans. It’s really difficult for me to understand how the group can be seen as “a sign of the culture’s patriarchal infantilization of women” when its most popular, best-selling members are young women like Takahashi Minami, Sashihara Rino, Yamamoto Sayaka, and (formerly) Oshima Yuko and Shinoda Mariko. Unless your definition of “infantilisation” means “not having boyfriends” I guess… but there we’re never going to agree.

        I’m not denying the problem exists, rather I object to the typical lazy Western assessment of a group that quite often challenges the very same stereotypes its supposed to be a sign of.

      • blondein_tokyo

        1. AKB IS marketed to men who obsess with young girls; those men make up a substantial part of their fan base. You even conceded this later on when you pointed out that the same thing was done to Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears.

        2. Infantilization means the dumbing down of women down to make them less threatening to men. This is quite typical of marketing campaigns of female “talent” in Japan. It’s the heart of “kawaii” culture. This type of sexism is endemic in Japanese society, and as a result, women don’t get respect at home or at work, make less money, and are seen as less important and less intelligent and less capable than men.

        3. It was harmful when it was done to Miley and Britney, too.

      • Ron NJ

        Look at this guy comparing Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus to a group whose members are as young as 13 years old.

        If adult women want to sell sex that’s fine. When you start using minors who are way below the age of majority/consent, things are very different.

      • SlightlyDisappointed0

        Huh? Did you just go to Wikipedia and find the youngest possible member age, then returned here to report it thinking it could impress anyone?
        For one thing, the average age of the front girls (lineup chosen by fan votes, anyway) of the latest single is 21, with many being as old as 25.
        If it doesn’t disturb you, before you play the age card of “poor clueless young girls” or invoke the sexual age of consent (huh?) in vain, do me the favor of getting a clue at least.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        “And most of the world is disgusted by the idea of promoting young girls as sex objects.” Ha! That’s pretty funny. Where do you do standup?

      • Susukino

        Clearly you have not checked any top 10 list in America or even some places in Europe the last 10-15 years! When did the likes of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Nicji Minaj or for that matter Britney Spears get “talented”?

      • blondein_tokyo

        “When did the likes of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Nicji Minaj or for that matter Britney Spears get “talented”?”

        I didn’t say they were. For the record, though, I’m not a fan of any of them.

        And at any rate, “talented” is subjective. And even if you think someone is talented, it doesn’t mean you like their music.

      • Susukino

        Clearly you insulted some otaku´s out there, cause I´ve rarely seen anyone else have these many angry responses to their posts;)

        And to be honest, most of what you wrote are misconceptions and also awfully generalizing.

        In your last few posts you have repeatedly wrote about the problem with pedophiles etc in Japan. Do you have any valid statistics to back that up with?

        Even if a guy thinks an 21 year old girl with a petite frame is more beautiful than a curvy looking 18-year old with all the “womanly attributes” that are the beauty-norm in some cultures, doesnt in any way mean he is a pedophile. It means he likes a certain type of girl more than others. Like all guys do. And newsflash: Japanese girls often have a more petite frame than Western girls. Period.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I didn’t insult anyone. There’s nothing insulting in pointing out that there’s something deeply wrong with a society that ignores the problems inherent in catering to men who have pedophilic tendancies.

        I also didn’t insult anyone’s taste in music. I’ve repeatedly noted that is entirely subjective.

        The reaction is, I think, prompted by an ignorance of the effect of infantilising women, along with the typical knee jerk defensive reaction from people who don’t like hearing that their views on women are sexist.

        Case in point: I’ve never claimed Japan has more of a problem with pedophiles. What I said is that there’s an industry that caters to men who openly have an unhealthy sexual interest in young girls. I’ve also never said it’s about appearance- in fact, I’ve gone out if my way to make plain that the real issue is the infantalization of women.

        People hear only what they want to hear. They know there’s no real defence of the Lolicon industry, so they strawman the argument and try to pretend that’s not what it’s about.

        Then of course there’s the brigade who just likes arguing, particularly if it’s with someone they perceive as female. The sexism is heavy in every single one of these comments.

        But it’s no skin off my nose if that’s how they want to behave. It’s nothing to do with me. They can stew in their own sauce.

      • Susukino

        there’s the issue of this band being made up of young girls who are
        sexualized and promoted to older male audience, which is rather
        pedophilic. This is endemic in Japan, and most of the world sees this as
        problematic and, well, rather disgusting”.

        How can it be pedophilic when the girls are not underage? I dont know enough about AKB to know how old all the members are, but from what I´ve seen all the ones who are being promoted in media, posters and who appear on TV-shows are well above 18 ( the biggest female popstar in Sweden and the 2nd biggest one in Norway is btw both a lot younger than 18, and are just as sexualized as your average AKB girl..)

        And who is saying they are being “promoted to an older male audience”? How is that even possible? As far as I know, most AKB fans are pre-teens, teens and young adults, with the occasional old otaku who fits your description, but if indeed the producers purposedly promoted AKB towards these “older perverts”, then they would have been out of business REAL soon.

        I dont defend the Lolicon industry, and nor do i have much interest in it, but within its boundaries I dont really see anything wrong with it. Its much worse what goes on in the American pop industry imho.

        But by most of the world it seems you are mainly referring to Americans.. In most countries of Europe the sexually age of consent is 16, so how could anyone there have a problem with this?

      • blondein_tokyo

        First of all, many of the girls ARE underage. But age isn’t the only, or even the most important factor here. The main factor, as I have said many, many times already, is that they are presented as guileless, innocent, virginal, empty-headed and “kawaii”. This is the main selling point for all of these girl bands, and is calculated to appeal to men who prefer their women to be submissive and under their control – thus I say “infantilizing” and “pedophilic”.

        I’m not saying that everyone who likes their music sees them in this way, or likes them for that reason. I have no doubt some people like their music just for the music itself.

        But the promotion company most definitively knows that if you want to sell music to Japanese consumers, you must have the “cute” factor; and this is also seen in many aspects of daily life for women in Japan – they are expected to act cute, be cute, not have any strong opinions or speak up for themselves or in any way that might challenge men.

        Please do not even try to argue this point. We all know Japan is a very sexist and patriarchal country, and women are oppressed in many ways. This is undenailable; and as I said, this is often the very thing that people who like AKB do not want to admit that something they like is sexist and contributes to the oppression of women.

      • Jeffrey Mejia

        “Please do not even try to argue this point. We all know Japan is a very sexist and patriarchal country, and women are oppressed in many ways. This is undenailable; and as I said, this is often the very thing that people who like AKB do not want to admit that something they like is sexist and contributes to the oppression of women.”

        Jesus H. Christ, the Islamic Ummah is infinitely worse than Japan, is endlessly multiplying ALL ACROSS EUROPE and yet NOBODY LIBERAL in the WHITE WEST bothers to criticize them AT ALL. Why the hypocrisy, eh?!

      • blondein_tokyo

        More caps, and more odd, resounding accusations. Well, let me answer your questions anyway, and we’ll see how this goes.
        1. Just because Japan is more sexist than another country doesn’t mean we should ignore the sexism here. No amount of sexism should be tolerated.
        2. People can pay attention to more than one issue at a time. I can be disgusted by the sexism in other countries while at the same time be disgusted by the sexism in the country I live in.
        3. I have no idea where you could have gotten the impression that no one in the west ever criticizes Islam. The fact is, the entire world is constantly criticizing Islam, so much so that it often boarders on Islamaphobia.
        4. You don’t need to SHOUT.
        5. It’s not hypocrisy to care more about an issue that is personal to you and effects you. It’s also not a bad thing to pick your battles according to whether or not you think you can effect change. Since I live in Japan, I can effect change here. Thus, I chose this battle.
        Is that clear enough for you, or are you going to shout at me some more?

      • Jeffrey Mejia

        Bah, it’s that uniquely WASPy mix of right-wing anti-sex purityrannyism and left-wing anti-sex feminazism which is part of the reason why Japan doesn’t want to let more foreigners migrate to Japan. SJW’s like you would be the death of the legendary ancient Japanese sex industry, the Mizu Shobai (Floating World)!

      • blondein_tokyo

        You didn’t answer any of my points, which doesn’t surprise me since trolls generally don’t adhere to the logic of discourse, ignore all rules of debate, and simply pontificate. Usually loudly, ignorantly, and rudely. I think we’re done here.

        But just so you know, I’m a sex positive feminist- meaning I’m pro-sex work, pro-sex worker rights, and an advocate for female sexual autonomy.

        And I know for sure that I know more about the sex industry in Japan than you do.

      • Derek

        There’s no equivalent to AKB48 in the west, so comparing their appeal to that of other pop music acts doesn’t make sense. A much closer comparison would be the popularity of “High School Musical” or “Glee”. Not a perfect comparison, but a closer one. Remember, AKB48 is part music group, part reality-TV social phenomenon. Personally, I like their music, but I also recognize the individual personalities of AKB48’s members are a greater factor in their success than their music.

  • Paul Martin

    Psy…K pop and Japanese much lauded film directors…all turn to America and Hollywood for guidance, experience and REAL talent because Asia CAN”T satisfy mass western audiences with their feeble attempts to imitate what they view from the West!

    British expat foreign corespondent

    • anon

      UK doesn’t produce much of anything nowadays, let alone something worth watching, so check your conceit. At least there is technology to compete with hollywood here. That’s far more than can be said about that has-been hole that you’re from. Cheers.

      • Paul Martin

        Well stupido I happen to be from Cardiff!

    • Steve Novosel

      How does racist crap like this stay unmoderated in the comments, JT?

  • Hemi

    I find it odd that the article does not mention Babymetal, because it is clear that they are a huge influence in this move by AKB48. And many AKB48 girls are fans of BM.

    If you are not familiar with BM, they are 3 teenagers that front a metal band, and fuse kawaii with metal. Dance moves, peepy voices, and a death metal band that shreds world class. And BM does not sexualize the girls, odd for Japan.

    BM had success in Europe and America before Japan. They are the hottest new band in Metal now in the west, and people in Japan are starting to take notice. I think this effort by AKB48 is due to BMs success.

    Which is a reason I have been a BM fan – they will inspire innovation.

    Japan has to look overseas for pop music growth. Their market although large, is saturated is and is beginning to shrink. Any growth must come from exports.

    • Paul Johnny Lynn

      In my opinion, please note that proviso, Babymetal are possibly the worst thing to happen to music since disco. If anyone remembers them in 5 years time I’ll dance naked in Abe’s front garden. Remember…in my opinion.

      • SudoMaasaKiss

        “Babymetal are possibly the worst thing to happen to music since disco.” ……. There’s no such thing as “worst” in music – there’s only subjective musical tastes ….. Besides, they’ve been called the “most divisive and polarizing metal band in ten years”, their album has been on Billboard’s World album chart for 64wks straight and they recently won two major UK metal awards (Metal Hammer and Kerrang!!!). They’ve also been endorsed by the “big four” metal bands (Marty Friedman and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, metallica, Anthrax, etc). So I doubt, any band with that impressive resume would simply vanish overnight ….. Therefore, you might want to rethink your oath of dancing naked in front of Abe and his security guards

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        You seem to have missed my disclaimer of “in my opinion”, and I stand by my prediction. Call me again 19.08/2020.

    • blondein_tokyo

      I disagree. The promotion company definitely sexualizes the girls in BM, as well as infantilizes them – why else the name “BABY Metal”? Their entire marketing scheme is based on the fact that they are A) very very young; and B) female. Their promotion has very little to do with the actual MUSIC that they play. In fact, the producers conceived of and formed the group themselves, purposely choosing young cute girls- it’s not as though this was a garage band that got attention though their talent and hard work.

      If that group survives into adulthood, is still together, and keeps their fan base, then I’ll eat my words. :)

  • Marouf

    It doesn’t matter if they will never be like Psy outside of Japan, AKB48 never tried to sell them self to the outside world simply because their concept is based on the theater that exist in Akihabara, their concept is so Japanese and so unique & it’s hard to describe it to the rest of the world.
    Saying they are talentless/empty headed girls/sex objects…etc is something easy to say from anyone who is not a fan/anti/don’t care.
    And I think right now Japan is always giving us something new & something unique (Like Babymetal for example), & compared to the music scene in the west that I love & adore Japan now is way better & more entertaining.

    Japan doesn’t have to be like America (coughKpopcough), Japan must be Japan.

  • Tangerine 18

    Talent-free paedo-pop cynically manufactured and marketed at Japan’s army of socially incompetent, ugly and poor men who will never have a girlfriend, let alone a wife.

    • Steve Novosel

      Certainly touched all the stereotypical bases in one go, I’ll give you that.

    • Jeffrey Mejia

      Well, since females like you obviously won’t have intimate sexual relationships with them to begin with in the first place, what are they supposed to do, just kill themselves?

    • Susukino

      Oh, so the Western (well, mainly American) music with sexually abusive, sometimes on the verge of racist lyrics that encourages young people to do drugs, get drunk and sleep around is better?

      Wow, you must be a fantastic person if these are the standards you are living up top.

      Go home.

  • Derek

    AKB48 doesn’t succeed in America because they make no attempt to do so. They rarely visit the U.S., and anyone wanting their music has to order it through Amazon as they won’t sell anything on iTunes or Google Play. As for the music they produce, it entirely consists of catchy pop tunes that sound like an intentional throwback to the sounds of 30 years ago…it’s not folksy or bluesy or hip-hop infused, something that enrages music snobs but that’s what their fan base loves about this group.

    There’s little musical talent among the members – none, in fact, but the music is only a fraction of AKB48’s presence. They also have their own game shows, variety shows, dramas (like Majisuka Gakuen, an interesting and extremely violent high-school drama), and every year the members are ranked in a massive, televised election in which their fans vote for their favorite members. AKB48 is an enormous reality-TV music franchise that continues to grow in size and influence in Japan.

    They have no need to market to America, and whatever Americans think about them is irrelevant.

    • Paul Martin

      Popular BECAUSE NO real competition from talented Western artists !

    • Paul Martin

      Free speech permits contrasting opinions…censorship is for dictatorships !

    • nouse

      “AKB48 is an enormous reality-TV music franchise that continues to grow in size and influence in Japan.”

      This, Derek, might be the most accurate description of the 48G i have ever read.

  • Max Erimo

    J-Pop and K-Pop. Can some one explain the difference to me?
    Both seem like manufactured crap designed to dull the brains of the masses.
    Where is the message that the artists are trying to get across with their music?
    Oh sorry, there isn’t one. Just the tunes which have been OK’d by the companies that run these enterprises. The ones they think will make money. These young people (mainly girls) are parts in a machine designed to make the company they are linked to a lot of money.
    These groups are good at doing what they are supposed to do, generate sales and make their masters money. As for making meaningful music ( even just a little) pitiful.
    Can’t wait to see the reunion tours in 30-40 years.
    Give me real artists who make their own music any day.

    • Susukino


      Take a look at any top 10 list in either Europe or USA. And tell me how many “meaningful” songs you can find. And then once you have done that, please come back and compare it to the so-called “manufactured crap” that you find in Japan and Korea.

      Look behind the likes of AKB, Morning Musume, Super Junior and Exile, and you will loads of music that equals just about any Western one in terms of “music with a message” etc.

      • Max Erimo

        Personally I was thinking of the artists in Japan who compose and perform their own music. Unfortunately the are labelled together with AKB. Thankyou for assuming I was referring to American music.

      • Susukino

        Well, good thing we agree then!;)

        With that being said, I do not think a top 10 list in USA is necessarily any better than a top 10 list in Japan just because it is more social approved. The songs are in both regions a product of manufactured music. Which I think is ok, cause some of the songs are of course very good.

        But then comes the question whether it is the record labels´ fault that it is like this, or if its the consumers who actually go out and buy it.

      • Derek

        There seems to be some mis-understanding of what this group is. AKB48 are not a band – they are, first and foremost, a MUSICAL THEATER GROUP. They have their own theaters in Tokyo and several other cities, in which they perform daily. As for the music…it’s a mixed bag. Some songs are absolutely brilliant, others not so much, but even when it’s bad it’s still fun.

        It doesn’t matter that they don’t play instruments…the cast of HAIRSPRAY doesn’t play instruments or write their own music, but it’s still a great soundtrack all the same. Likewise, AKB48’s performances are big, colorful, and entertaining, but if you hate show tunes, then AKB48 is probably not for you.

    • SlightlyDisappointed0

      Punchline to Max Erimo’s tirade: the Japanese Communist Party even quoted the lyrics from AKB’s Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai on their recent issue of The Akahata, using their anti-war message to criticize Abe’s intention of changing Art.9 of the Constitution.

      • Max Erimo

        Could explain why they are always in opposition and not government though. Just a thought.

  • SlightlyDisappointed0

    For that matter, AKB already “turned” to an American studio when they had Joseph Kahn produce the music videos of UZA and Gingham Check. Or even before, if you consider those “alternate” RIVER music videos, that some fans might be already familiar with.
    So what’s the news, again?

    Not to mention that the comparison with Psy, which is supposed to be an unfavorable ones, I bet, is completely out of the left field. Psy was a one-hit wonder and the success of Gangan Style was based entirely on the stereotype of “lol those stupid Asians always doing senseless, inappropriate stuffs. They’re so funny in an inoffensive kind of way”. The fact that he didn’t manage to replicate the same success with anything more serious and quickly faded into the oblivion, giving way to other viral Internet fads is just proof of that.
    If this is what “being like Psy” is, I’m happy that AKB actually has a pretty tighthly-knight community (both nationally and internationally) which talks, discusses and evaluates things, instead of Facebook drones simply going “lol that weird Asian doing that silly horse dance”.

  • nara

    A few facts about the group would perhaps enlighten some people here?

    – Around 10% of their music videos catalog feature sexy themes or bikini. Their choreography have very little sexual movements as well. They do have bikini spreads on magazines, but this issue is more complex than meets the eye because some girls have expressed that they genuinely enjoy these shoots and are looking for opportunities to do more (usually for those that are confident with their bodies and feel good showing it off), so you can’t just very well ban the practice and call it a day. Their gravure shots aren’t that bad in Japanese standard and that’s not to mention how Japan is quite dodgy when it comes to gravure and pornography.

    – The lyrics to their songs varies greatly; some talk about social issues (suicide, war, hikikomori, homosexuality), some are about friendship, school graduation, and working hard, some are self-aware and comment of the girls themselves and AKB48’s history and aspirations, while others still talk about unrequited love and feeling particularly anxious about having a crush. There are numerous references to literature (Freud, Nietzsche, Dazai Osamu, O. Henry, Franz Kafka) and pop culture (Taylor Swift, etc) as well.

    – Takahashi Minami and Sashihara Rino are part of the staff team — they have a say on how the group is run. It should also be noted Captains choose the setlists of the shows and representatives of each team have a responsibility of choosing/drafting new candidates into the group. Additionally, Takahashi Minami and Shinoda Mariko decided their successors (captains) themselves, with minimal intervention by management. The girls are more involved than you think.

    – Members have defied and challenged management on several occasions before (Miyazawa Sae not accepting a concurrency, Matsumura Kaori publicly blogging about the misdemeanor of a staff, Yamamoto Sayaka commenting on her “scandal” even though the staff told her not to). Furthermore, they decide when to graduate themselves and if they wanted to reject a transfer or voluntarily offer to transfer to another group. Iwata Karen rejected a transfer and Kitahara Rie, Ota Aika, Nakagawa Haruka, and Chikano Rina asked to be transferred to another group. Hardly docile and submissive, if you ask me, and that’s not even counting the many many moments where members break the stereotype of being cute, lovely idols and just show themselves for what they are: normal girls that just happen to sing and dance on stage.

    – Yokoyama Yui and Kawaei Rina passed the test to be a certified pharmacist and food coordinator respectively. Iriyama Anna has proved to excel academically, particularly in maths (near perfect score in a test given on TV). Nakamata Shiori goes to Waseda university. Sashihara Rino pens her own book and after you’re through with it, being an airhead would be the last thing that you think of her. Kojima Haruna admits that she exaggerates being dumb on TV so the program would be more entertaining, and that it actually requires a lot of calculation of how to act and react on her part — something a simple dumb girl would be unable to do.

    – They raised money for the Tohoku earthquake and consistently visited the affected area and performed there for free. They do this every year since the earthquake.

    – Most of the girls aren’t talented. They’re not particularly beautiful either. But they worked hard for their dreams anyway and really, is it so hateful for people to support young girls who’s trying their best? Is there a rule that only the pretty and the talented can be popular and loved? Fans are happy and the girls are happy. What’s there to gain by raining on everybody else’s parade just to prove that you have a “superior” taste in musical acts?

    • Derek

      Thanks for informative post. Yokohama Yui is one of my favorite members; she continues to impress with her intellect and her willingness to take on the duties of general manager once Takamina graduates. She also has the most acting talent of anyone currently in AKB48 (that’s only my personal opinion).

      I agree that practically all of AKB48’s appearances involve conservative dress and behavior – the occasional swimsuit videos and pictorials are tastefully done and amount to some mildly suggestive sexuality at worst. If anything looks bad, it’s the gameshows like Ebisho! and AKBingo. Being covered in chocolate syrup and eating a plate of bugs is probably a lot more humiliating than some gravure photo-shoot.