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

  • Yosemite_Steve

    This whole industry is really sick. The taranto make a lot of money but not for themselves. As always Japanese courts side with the rent seekers.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Deplorable, the judge (and the “law”) is an ass.

  • Hans Gruber

    This wouldn’t happen in the US. The company fined her but under common law only the state can punish a citizen and only if their actions harm society. No company nor citizen has the right to punish a fellow citizen. The plaintiff would have had to have shown they suffered economic damages but there isn’t a scrap of evidence they suffered any. Unable to prove economic damages they wouldn’t have got a cent. The teen is a minor so can’t enter into contracts. Controlling her private life is akin to treating her as a chattel. Should employers have the right to decide how we spend our private time or who we spend it with?

  • That law is ridiculous.

  • blondein_tokyo

    This is hugely misogynistic. I find it hard to understand how those clauses can possibly be legal. Companies should not have the ability to gain this kind of control over this aspect of the private life of employees. This ruling is only going to encourage agencies to keep tight control. Pandering these fan’s pedophiliac fantasies of “sexual purity” is hugely damaging, not just for the girls themselves but society as a whole. Japan already has a huge problem allowing female sexual autonomy and sexually shaming women, and now this ruling legitimatises it as well as adds a yen value. I’m disgusted; beyond disgusted.

  • ipatrol

    “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.”

    This, this is what’s wrong with our society. People are treated as commodities to be bought, sold, and exploited as their employers desire. It’s not just an aidoru problem, it’s not just a Japanese problem, it’s a problem with our sick global society. That a court of law defended what amounts to sexual enslavement by the talent agencies is sadly unsurprising, but is no less disgusting.

    As I think JT reported back at the beginning of this saga, these girls really need a union. All idol singers do. Only then can they break the back of this pseudo-patriarchal corporate madness.