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Court ruling sparks online outcry after teen idol told to pay damages for dating

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A recent Tokyo court ruling ordering a teen idol to pay damages for violating a “no dating” clause in her contract has spurred an online outcry, reigniting debate over an industry many say is rife with male-chauvinist views.

The Tokyo District Court on Sept. 18 ordered a 17-year-old former member of an unidentified idol group to pay her agency ¥650,000 in damages for going to a hotel with a male fan, in what it found to be a breach of her contract, which prohibited her from getting into a relationship. Her romance with the man surfaced in October 2013, three months after her six-member group debuted, forcing the band to subsequently disband, according to the ruling.

“With her being a female idol, the no-dating policy was necessary for her to win support from male fans,” presiding Judge Akitomo Kojima said.

The case highlighted anew the male-oriented norms long imposed on female idols in Japan, who are expected to maintain the veneer of purity and virginity to gain support from their fans.

In March 2013, AKB48 member Minami Minegishi shaved her head and posted a video on YouTube to apologize to fans for her “thoughtless” action of spending the night with boy band member Alan Shirahama.

Those who question such a trend, however, have taken to social media to decry the no dating policy and the ruling.

“How could the policy not be illegal in the first place? Not tolerating one’s romance is inhumane,” said Twitter user @sekido74.

“The fact that a ruling like this comes about explains why Japan is still recognized as a hub of sexual exploitation of teens,” said another, @DigitalMisaka.

Experts were divided over the latest ruling. “Banning employees from being in a relationship represents excessive control over their private lives and amounts to a human rights violation,” said Tokyo-based lawyer Kazuko Ito, who is also secretary-general of international organization Human Rights Now.

Such a policy breached the principle of what the law states is public order and morality and should have been judged null and void in the first place, Ito said.

However, Tokyo-based lawyer Yamato Sato, who often deals with entertainment industry cases, said the ruling was “understandable.” The way many “tarento” agencies saw it, he said, girls working for them were ultimately “commodities” whose value inevitably took a hit should they do something that antagonizes their male fans.

“Those agencies put an unimaginable amount of work and money into training and advertising the girls before they become popular,” Sato said.

“So if a girl’s dating of somebody prevented her agency from retrieving its initial investment in her and her group, I’d say it’s understandable that the court ruled in favor of the firm’s damages suit against her,” he said.

Information from Kyodo added