National / Media | Japan Pulse

Celebrities use social media to counter criticism online in 2018

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

Celebrities are just like the rest of us: They eat, sleep and would probably be better off if they reduced the time they spend on their social media.

Japanese celebrities frequently find themselves tied up in controversy — 2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of pop star Koda Kumi’s “amniotic fluid” gaffe — and the growth of sites such as Twitter and Instagram have only increased the chances of ruining a career with a few poorly chosen words.

The year got off to a bad start as a number of celebrities found themselves in hot water.

AKB48 member Yuka Tano went on Instagram Live in February to talk to fans, and revealed she doesn’t particularly like people who enjoy Korean culture. Around the same time, anime director Kazuyoshi Yaginuma stirred controversy by posting a torrent of anti-semitic views in English on Twitter. As you’d imagine, the reaction to both weren’t well-received, prompting Tano to apologize (she left the idol group later that year) and spurring several studios to terminate any relationship they had with Yaginuma.

A number of celebrities used social media to fight back this year. In January, weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun reported that music producer Tetsuya Komuro had been involved in an alleged affair with a nurse. However, public opinion soon turned against the publication online, with Komuro winning support following a heartfelt Instagram post in which he announced his retirement. Meanwhile, celebrities such as Enon Kawatani and Yu Darvish piled in as well.

As the year progressed, model-and-influencer-turned-celebrity Ryuji Higa, better known as Ryucheru, also used social media to counter criticism. The 22-year-old performer welcomed a son into the world and celebrated the event by getting a tattoo that included the name of his child, which prompted some to call him “selfish.”

Rather than ignore the criticism, Ryucheru praised his family in an Instagram post. Similarly, model Rola counteracted criticism of her desire to “change the world” by posting images of her donating to charity and promoting eco-friendly platforms.

As plenty have figured out, entertainers can connect with fans online by highlighting charming aspects about themselves that might not be immediately obvious from their performances. Actor Mackenyu Arata’s English skills (and dashing looks) had fans gushing online, while Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Twitter account attracted more than 6 million followers by the end of the year.

Sometimes, all it took was for an entertainer to post a picture of themselves as a baby to create discussion online — comedian Hiroyuki Ariyoshi posted a photo of himself as a kid chowing down on Pocky, a post that has garnered almost 170,000 “likes.”

Over the course of the year, some celebrities have discovered that it’s probably better to keep your feelings to yourself — no matter how honest you might like to appear.

Singer Boku no Lyric no Bouyomi’s prospects for the future had looked encouraging at the beginning of the year. By fall, however, his outlook had changed considerably after he expressed a desire to lead a normal life and then asked people to offer their criticisms of him. The rapper didn’t respond well to the comments that were put forward, calling several people “old hags” until, ultimately, his mom took his phone away. He later said he would retire from music early next year and even though it may not be a direct result of his Twitter meltdown, it does look a little suspicious.

Yet worse was still to come as the annual M-1 comedy competition was held in December. Kubota Kazunobu, part of manzai duo Toro Salmon, tweeted that the show’s judge, comedian Emiko Kaminuma, was an old hag in menopause. He quickly apologized, but the damage had already been done. Many now think Toro Salmon will be blacklisted from the comedy scene, given how much sway Kaminuma has in the industry. It turns out that expressing your frustrations online can have a real-world impact.

One final development last week hints at where celebrity usage of social media could go in 2019 and, once again, Ryucheru and Rola are at the center of it. Both shared posts expressing their support of groups who oppose the existence of military bases in Okinawa. Celebrities rarely share controversial political views — it’s all but shunned by mainstream outlets — but social media allowed both Ryucheru and Rola to circumvent traditional channels and share their opinions. Time will tell if others follow suit, but at least they showed that it’s possible.

Kosei Nagashima contributed to this report.