The BBC Airs Documentary on Idols and Their Fans

Stabbings, stalkings, semen handshakes! Idol fans are the scum of the earth! The idol industry just encourages this mess! How many times have we’ve heard this before? Countless at this point (and yes, I admit that I have added fuel to this fire). Yes, the idol industry is problematic, but doesn’t it feel like this has all been said before? Well apparently not. The BBC recently aired Kyoko Miyake’s documentary “Tokyo Girls”, an expose on the idol industry and its fans.

“Tokyo Girls” mainly follows the story of a 19 year old idol named Rio Hiiragi and her fans, most of whom are socially awkward middle-aged men that have little to no prospects in life, professionally or romantically. Several of the male fans in “Tokyo Girls” admit to being awkward socially. Rio even performs a song called “Akiba Romance” (translated as “Akihabara, Mecca of Otaku”), in which she describes her fans as “commusho”, meaning that they have “communication disabilities.” There are also segments featuring idol groups P.IDL, Harajuku Monogatari, and Amore Carina and the same can be said for their fans as well.

Watching the girls, they are trying to live their dreams of becoming a star, and also using idoldom as a way of boosting their self-esteem. Their self-motivation in getting a career going for themselves is admirable.

But the men… Ohh, the men… Watching these men, I can’t help but think that they really must have mental disorders. They really think that these girls are into them on some level, these girls that are often young enough to be their daughters. But why are these men even going after girls this young? Because they can’t cut it with a woman closer to their own age. And that’s just sad. What’s even sadder is that one of these men, P.IDL fan Mitacchi, has essentially abandoned his elderly parents because he’d rather feed his idol addiction.

One of my favorite people in the documentary, because I agreed with her so much, was journalist Minori Kitahara. She’s an idol industry outsider and has faced aggresive backlash due to her criticism of the industry. During a segment featuring AKB48’s election, she says that society feed girls the idea that “making the most of your feminine assets and winning male admiration brings you ultimate happiness.” During the handshake portion of the Harajuku Monogatari segment, she states, “These men never try to hold hands with regular women. They think they should be loved and accepted without making any effort.” This idea is basically confirmed when Harajuku Monogatari fan Naoyamumu is asked why he doesn’t just find a girlfriend closer to his own age at his university. He replies that it’s too much work and he’d rather not be tied down. Kitahara later says, “Instead of connecting with women around them, these men choose girls they can dominate, girls who are guaranteed not to challenge or hurt them. This society will stop at nothing to protect male fantasies and provide comfort for men.”

In the documentary, Hyadain talked about how male idol fans often feel powerless in real life, but at an idol concert, they feel as if they are fighting alongside the girls against The Establishment.

It’s often asked where are the parents of underage idols. The mother of Harajuku Monogatari’s 14 year old Amu says that at first the idea of older men being fans of her daughter scared her, but after getting to know them, she realized that they are nice, and views them as father figures. The mother of 10 year old Yuzu of Amore Carina said that she was suprised at first when she heard the deep voices of old men screaming in support of her daughter. She didn’t think think men of that age would be interested in girls so young.

Continuing with the underage theme, there was a bit of what I feel was editing dishonesty in the Amore Carina segment. Shin, a fan who looks to be mid 20s at most, said “Their selling point is that they’re not fully developed. If they were older, they wouldn’t interest me.” Everyone who follows Japanese music knows that fans like idols in part because they like seeing their talent mature over time. There was an odd sexual slant presented here that I don’t think Shin was going for.

The most interesting thing in this documentary was cultural commentator Akio Nakamori saying that today’s Tokyo is like London in the 70s, in that the economy has stagnated and that the cultural scene is dead. People were looking for something new. London got the Sex Pistols, while Tokyo got idol culture.

I also found the comments of Itaru Tsurami, Tokyo Girls Update’s Chief Idol Officer, to be interesting. He said that that the line between the mainstream and otaku culture is blurring. Part of this is due to the rise in sales of idol groups over the past few years due to gimmicks like handshake tickets, which is something he touched on when he mentioned that idol fans often buy too many CDs, unlike normal people. Another interesting comment of his was “The fans want to feel like they’re the same age as the girls. The more childish the conversation, the better. They feel safe and can let their guard down. They can feel pure and free again. Idols have that healing effect.”

The idol industry doesn’t seem to be all benefitial to the idols or the fans though. Rio is asked if she wants a boyfriend. She answers, “I don’t go to events where I can meet guys. When my friends tell me what they’re up to, I realize they’re turning into adults. For me, everything’s about work now. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.” Her biggest fan, Koji, is asked if he’s looking for a wife, and he says that he’s having too much fun as an otaku, pointing out that there is a live show daily. He added, “Who’d fall for an otaku who just quit his salaryman job?” He continued, “Anyway, I’m 43. In 10 years I’ll probably get various diseases. If I don’t have fun now, I never will.”

Koji gets even more depressing at Rio’s 21st birthday concert. “I was in the middle of the front row. I looked behind me and saw all these faces. They looked happy and desperate at the same time. It was so moving. You don’t often see such joy and release. With these guys, I don’t have to worry about social rank and obligations. If it wasn’t for this, I’d be alone forever. Unmarried and alone in the truest sense.”

I find the idea of this documentary presenting AKB48’s members as stars to be odd. Anyone that follows Japanese music knows that the AKB48 brand name is bigger than that of any of its members, most of whom aren’t really easily named by the public (even fans have admitted that they don’t know all the girls’ names). To further show how strong the AKB48 brand name is over the name of the actual girls, look at how many of them have flopped after leaving the group. And look at the value of the names of individual AKB48 members against the names of actual stars like Utada Hikaru, Namie Amuro, and Nishino Kana. It’s also funny how all these women who are actual stars in their own right rather than being attached to a brand name are not under the male gaze, but instead rely largely on female support. How many real female stars in Japanese music are as high as they are because of the male gaze?

One really weird thing is that Koji, upon announcing that Rio had signed a major label record deal, also announced that she was no longer an idol, but now an artist. Umm, how does that work?

Yes, I know, I’m probably not the target audience for “Tokyo Girls” since I already follow Japanese pop culture. But at this point, doesn’t the average person already think of Japanese pop culture as a bit odd?

But the bigger question I have is why is there this smear campaign by the media worldwide against Japanese pop culture? This narrative has been going on for years at this point, this narrative that Japan is a mixture of the cute and the crazy. Anyone who watches a show like the one I just posted earlier tonight, TV Tokyo Music Festival 2017, can see how ordinary Japanese pop culture really is. There’s this focusing on a particular niche by the media, the otaku one, rather than a representation of what is really happening. Media is all about clicks and views these days, so this Kawaii / Weird Japan meme works for the media. But aren’t people tired of this by now?

At the same time, I can’t help but look at South Korea and think about how appealing their media coverage is for the past few years. But then again, South Korea left no real impression on people pre-Hallyu and was often confused with North Korea. South Korea was basically a blank slate. And I also can’t help but think that a lot of the media coverage in the West of KPop specifically is very self-congratulatory in a way, as in Look at what we, the West, are doing, and look at how these Asians are copying it, meaning that we, the West, must be amazing. It leads me to think that if South Korea was more unique in terms of pop culture, it wouldn’t be as covered by Western media, or even favored by Western fans as much for that matter.

So I get it, Japan gets the coverage it does because it doesn’t subscribe to Western hegemony in terms of pop culture. But why not focus on something else, besides this meme? Because it takes work, and the media is largely lazy at this point.

I’m reminded now of all those reports about how Japanese people aren’t having sex, leading to population decline. Instead of investigating why, the media often just chalks it up to Japan being weird, when it’s quite easy to see that it’s a mix of economics, social anxiety on the part of men, and the lack of equality for women.

In the notes on the documentary, Miyake says that she did this documentary because she felt that the idol phenomeon “had something to do with what made me uncomfortable about being a woman in Japan and I wanted to explore it.” I don’t want to tell her how to do her job, but watching “Tokyo Girls”, I felt as if no new ground was really broken. She would’ve broken new ground if for once Japanese women were portrayed in international media as strong figures, as opposed to these cute, submissive beings. Why not do a documentary on strong, relevant female figures in Japanese pop culture today, instead of just filming irrelevants because it garners views?

Watch “Tokyo Girls” before its inevitable taken off of YouTube for copyright infringement!

  • Comments

    • Guest

      Is the lack of comments an indicator of how “done” this topic is?

      • cosmic lad

        Lol I guess the topic isn’t “done” anymore

      • Kusen Goto

        you commented this like 30 minutes after it was posted

    • it was very interesting to see your point of view. Thank you.

      The most relevant point i believe, is to distinguish what the wota are, and what the occidental view wants them to be. That’s probably why they continue portraying this sub culture as weird, because it implicitly flatter their’s.

      On the other hand, we have to accept our part of darkness. There’s few example of family friendly and female fanbase of idols, but how the system works, it is indeed promoting a way of sexism.

      • About female idol fans… International fans always talk about how there are so many in Japan, but I never see that many in any capacity. There were few in this video. There are few in concert videos. There are few in music show performances. In general, there are few that are seen. So they bring up female only shows, but that’s a small percentage of the whole picture. Why is there this overpushing of female fans in Japan by international fans (who are mainly female) when there are very few examples that they exist?

        • nothingsover

          Female fans exist but the reality is a lot of them are uncomfortable at these events because of male fans. I’m a big Japanese stage play fan, and I’ve met quite a few girls who besides liking anime and stage actors, also like female idols. But when I talk to them, they all say they don’t really go to shows often because the overwhelming majority tend to me middle-aged men which makes them feel uneasy rather than free. They’ll buy the cds and listen to the songs, but being an “active” fan is quite difficult.

          But while they exist I think the fact that a lot of international fans are deluding themselves if they think female fans make up the majority or even a huge part of these fanbases. In Kpop, girl groups are still very much reliant on the support of young female fans, but in Japan, most of these idols do ultimately depend on male fans for their success.

        • Serenyty

          I think it depends a lot on the group – Momoiro Clover Z, for example, has a lot of female fans and their concerts tend to have a lot more diversity in its fanbase. Dempagumi.inc has quite a few female fans. Keyakizaka46 is incredibly mainstream and has a lot of female fans, AKB48 has a ton of female fans,etc. Indie groups or performers tend to still be mostly male. But mainstream groups get more and more female fans, to the point where, for some groups, it’s a lot more equitable.

          I haven’t gone to shows in Japan myself but I went to Momoiro Clover Z shows in LA and New York in 2015 and 2016 and quite a few hardcore fans flew to the US for these shows. The fan groups that are super hardcore genuinely seemed to be fairly close to 60% male 40% female- a lot of male fans but a lot of female fans, too.

        • Guest

          Individual idols have big female fanbases (Mai Shiraishi; Kojima Haruna, etc) but the groups in general — and most female idols — are popular with old man. I mean, even when those groups have a very very sizable female audience — AKB/MomoClo in their peak; the 46 groups — they are still outnumbered by men (or at least is 50/50).

    • Soyeon

      I don’t know this is all so complicated. There’s no denying the idol scene has A LOT of issues but I find some criticisms to be over exaggerated at times.

      Look at Sashihara Rino. 24 year old woman with a dating scandal, who then went on to publically mock the no dating rules. Should she not be burned at the cross, instead she just won an election for the third time in a row basically proving she has the most fans out of any female idol.

      • Niche’s Commenting Regulars

        The narrative, they have to maintain it.

      • Serenyty

        The dating ban in general has gotten a lot more lax – there have been various photos that have come out that in the past might have been something that would be punishable / get an idol kicked out but for the most part it blows over. Some groups are starting to actively say they have no dating ban and no one really cares. it’s an archaic rule that’s loosening considerably.

        • Soyeon

          I think it’s great that the dating ban has got more lax. Even like 15+ years ago it seemed no one really cared, at least with H!P. Gocchin dating Johnny’s Yamapi comes to mind. Abe Natsumi around 2000/2001? was said to be dating an actor too I think whose name is escaping me, list goes on.

          The Minegishi Minami head shaving publicity stunt didn’t help though, especially with the worldwide coverage it got.

          • Serenyty

            Yeah, when Fujimoto Miki got caught with her boyfriend her fans got mad at the tabloid for breaking the story rather than at her for having a boyfriend. Matsuura Aya had a boyfriend all through her Hello!Project career, too.

            Yeaahh, the Miichan stunt wasn’t a great look. A lot of it was her being strict on herself as a role model but AKB should have stopped it, especially since other AKB members had scandals around the time and no one cared at all.

          • Rikachii

            There was no proof of Goto and Yamapi though and Nacchi got the golden treatment for sure. Rika was dating Miyake Ken when she was center for The Peace but although 2ch was angry there was no proof. The rule boils down to if you get caught or not, and whether you’re popular or not.

    • I’m going to post the director’s full comments here because they are of interest:

      What made you first want to explore the subject?
      Growing up in Japan as a girl was a confusing experience for me. I was a very clumsy girl and whenever I wasn’t acting cute, it was taken as a sign of defiance. I left Japan at 26, and began to understand things didn’t have to be that way for me. So I decided not to return.

      A few years ago, when I became aware of the phenomenon called idols during my visits back home, it felt like it had something to do with what made me uncomfortable about being a woman in Japan and I wanted to explore it.

      How long did it take to get the film off the ground?
      About one year

      What were you most surprised to learn in the course of production?
      Initially, our idea was to follow a few aspiring idol singers. I also thought that I could sympathise and identify more easily with the girls as I was once a girl in Japan. And I didn’t want to have much to do with the fans even though they are the same generation. I had all sorts of preconceptions about middle-aged men who fantasize about teenage girls.

      The film ended up becoming as much about their fans – the men who have become increasingly disconnected from women of their age and shy away from real relationships. Making this film really forced me to look at our generation and what we have gone through in post-bubble Japan. While I don’t condone their behavior, I now have a deeper understanding for why they act or think the way they do.

      What was the most difficult part of the story to tell?
      To find the balance between the inside and outside perspectives. We wanted to have a critical look without judging negatively from a western point of view. It was surprising for us how quickly our initial sense of creepiness went away. After a few concerts, a sense of normalcy kicked in. Idol scenes are not seedy and we never saw a drunken person even though the venues often sold alcohol. It’s actually very orderly and there is an unwritten rule of conduct. So for us, going back and forth between Japan and UK/Canada, was in fact, apart from logistical nightmares, very helpful. The physical distance helped us to restore our psychological distance and to keep remembering how uncomfortable we felt at the beginning while constantly asking ourselves how much we can accept while retaining our critical perspective? This balancing act was perhaps the trickiest part.

      What have been the differences in reception to the film in countries it has now travelled to?
      I haven’t noticed any differences among the countries. What has been very encouraging for me was to meet many young female audience who came to tell me after the screenings that they saw parallels between the film and their own experience, and really appreciated the story.

      Did you have a social media strategy?
      We post updates on Facebook and Twitter but we didn’t really have a strategy.

      Has there been a positive response on social media to the film?
      So far, it’s been mostly positive.

      Any updates on contributors since filming finished?
      Rio is still performing. Koji made some bad investment in his new business and filed for bankruptcy, but he’s still going to all of Rio’s concerts.

      Best recent read?
      ‘Gender and Nation-State’ by Yu Sato and Minori Kitahara

      Best recent film?
      O.J.: Made in America

    • rkc

      A bit off topic: I know some readers might be put off by Ronald’s writing/reporting style (especially when it’s about their faves), but I think good writers present both the issue and their biases clearly. It makes for a much more interesting/provoking read.

      Also, the part about how the West sees Japan had me thinking I was on r/JCJ for a sec lol

      • HyperMoot .

        Well I won’t wallow into that ‘old stuff’ again but frankly this is day and night. I don’t see anything provocative, divisive or aimed at hurting anyone’s sensitivities in that article. Therefore it’s good enough for discussion and debate.

        • rkc

          Even the “old stuff”, I mean Ronald can come off as abrasive, but I’d rather read someone who believes in what they write.

          To me, provocation and division are good things, more enjoyable than circlejerks like the articles you find on Seoulbeats or – *shudder* – allkpop. After so many 4/5 or 9/10 handed out, they lose all meaning.

    • hasawa

      First question that came to my mind after reading this article : Why are Japanese men so afraid of Japanese women (of their age)??

      • They don’t have any money to support a family and they’re intimidated by women because they can now do what men can do for the most part.

      • Because they arent afraind. It is just “mendokusai” :)

      • The Dark Dudette

        Because many grown ass men, even those with deep enough pockets don’t want to make the effort to appeal to a woman of their age because god forbid a woman have opinions and self respect. Younger girls are easy targets . They can be tamed, have little life experiences or confidence and are unlikely to speak up. As one ages, one stops giving less of a shit about what others think and that just isn’t what a patriarchal society wants its women to do

    • HyperMoot .

      very interesting reading.

      This part kind of puzzles me though “The most interesting thing in this documentary was cultural commentator Akio Nakamori saying that today’s Tokyo is like London in the 70s, in that the economy has stagnated and that the cultural scene is dead. People were looking for something new. London got the Sex Pistols, while Tokyo got idol culture.” Sounds like an attractive shortcut, not sure the reasons that brought the Pistols in the UK are the same that led to the idol culture in Japan. Also not certain that Tokyo has been economically in the state of decay London reached back in the seventies.

      • hasawa

        I’m lowkey into economy and I heard several time that Japanese economy was actually in the same desastrous state as the US or Europe ones. But Japan, true to its tradition of saving face has doing a good job at keeping the “visible results” of this economical collpase out of sight (QE : “quantitive easying” aka monetary printing to make artificial inflation, helped a lot too)

        But to come back on the topic I’d say : “Nature hates vacuums”. Japan’s subscultures are slowing dying all after another, so it was up for idoling to overtake the vacating space. helped with strong marketing strategies and capitalizing of mens sentimental and social misery, which is pretty much an unlimited ressource in Japan lol

      • gck_

        i liked that part, the Uk had Sex Pistols & punk & Japan has idol culture – i love that idol music is celebrated but there are some music scenes celebrated in Japan that don’t get enough Western media coverage, imagine if the Guardian or NME featured City Pop artists on it’s covers back in the 80s or if NME or Clash or Noisey featured the band boom artists that are only talked about in Japan Times, AramaJapan or some forum on Japan music. I find The crazy-cute thing is amusing but i think that it’s bound to offend nationals if that’s all we thought of Japan & it’s music. I love that there is an idol scene, band boom acts, visual kei bands, urban-inspired etc acts all exist. I guess it starts with all of us to show the world a different side of Japan. Say a skilled writer in AramaJapan regularly does pieces for artists in Guardian, the lineofbest fit or Noisey coz there is so much good stuff released in Japan. Idol culture makes Japan unique and i find it’ cool although some of the music is not exactly my thing.
        Oh man, i hope these fans fix those issues that they could be facing- man idk what to say about that.

        I do hope Japan’s economy like recovers too!

      • The strange thing about this comment by Nakamori is that the idol culture is nothing new. What we have today is a direct continuation of the ’80s idol scene and even the whole idol revival is nothing new, it all started around 2000 when Morning Musume rose to fame. So, then what’s the point? And also, as you suggested as well, ’70s London and today’s Tokyo is absolutely not in a similar level neither culturally nor economically, so I honestly have no idea what that comment was all about.

        • Serenyty

          I think that the economy argument isn’t a bad one – Morning Musume’s biggest hit, Love Machine, came during a bit of a recession, and one of its most famous lyrics directly references it (‘no matter how deep the recession / love is an inflation’). AKB’s RIVER, which has positive lyrics about getting through tough times, hit in late 2009 during the recession and (IMO) started their meteoric rise. People want media that’s going to tell them it’s going to be OK during tough times.

          That said, idols have existed in one form or another in Japan since around the 70s and bits and pieces of various idol groups and singers has made up idol culture today – Yamaguchi Momoe and Pink Lady in the 70s, Matsuda Seiko and Onyanko Club in the 80s, Morning Musume in the 90s/2000s, AKB48 in the 2010s, etc etc (not mentioning every important idol/group because that would take all day). So acting like this is a new phenomenon is completely false.

          • Guest

            all of those you mentioned were huge with the general public though. even Onyanko Club in the ’80s. idols today are targeted to otaku. so yes, this is in a way a new phenomenon.

            • Serenyty

              Yeah, I mentioned the most influential ones but there have been TONS of idols since the 70s at various levels of popularity. Idol fan culture has evolved but has its roots in these older idols (i.e. fan chants have been a thing for decades). In fact, I’d say the recent idol boom did a lot to mainstream idols from being a more otaku interest. Idols have consistently existed for decades, at various levels, and their tie to otaku culture isn’t a new one. The one thing that is newer is the level of fan interaction, but this has been happening to some degree for longer than the most recent financial crisis.

              Also in general culture is becoming more niche due to distribution becoming a lot easier – you don’t only find out about new artists on the radio or on tv but through the internet.

              • Guest

                I don’t really agree with you. The biggest female idols in the 80s (Seiko Matsuda; Akina Nakamori; Onyanko Club); in the 90s (Speed) and in the early 2000s (Morning Musume) were initially targeted to the general public and became huge thanks to them. Yes, they all had wotas but, at least in their first few years and through their peak, they weren’t the bulk of the audience.

                All the current big female idols are SPECIFICALLY geared to otakus. That is definitely a new situation.

                • hhhh

                  But at the same time, the biggest female idols are now dropping their otaku-geared image to appeal more strongly to the general public. AKB haven’t had a bikini single in three years, BABYMETAL and Perfume barely exist outside of music, and the 46 groups are aiming their music and its messages mainly at the youth market.
                  There’s a big difference between groups aimed “SPECIFICALLY” at otaku (who almost never break out of the underground, Dempagumi.inc being the sole exception I can think of) and those groups that try to continue sustainaby growing by aiming at a larger audience.
                  You’re not entirely wrong in that these days, groups are using otaku to establish themselves in the scene – but they’re no longer the be-all and end-all of idols, and more of them are beginning to realise that.

                  • Guest

                    The key difference is that those groups were still made with otaku fans in mind. Yes, of course they don’t want to be restricted to it and they get more fans/change their image when their popularity grow but the fact they are the original target is already very different from idols of previous generations, when anything being clearly target at otakus would be enough to make most of the G.P. public disgusted.

                    • hhhh

                      Understandable, but that’s still a far cry from uppercase “SPECIFICALLY” targeted – and the fact that pretty much every consumer of underground idols is called “otaku” means there’s no real distinction between a group like BiSH and one like Ebisu Muscats. Of course idols will initially be marketed at core idol fans. But the implication that comes with the word “otaku” is one of an unhealthy obsession that isn’t actually catered to by a lot of idols. It’s a disingenuous point to try and make, and one that ultimately just boils down to how entertainment in general has developed more niches than there were 30 years ago.

        • Guest

          Idol culture is nothing new but this level of idol culture is definitely a 21st century thing. Underground idols, idol cafes in AKB, etc, — all of those are direct influence from AKB48 success which is pretty recent. Also, idol from the 80s and even from the 2000s used to have wotas but they weren’t the majority of the fanbase, those idols had a lot of casual/mainstream fans which is not the case anymore. So I definitely think idol culture as it is today is a new phenomenon, even if idols per se are not.

    • hasawa

      “The mother of Harajuku Monogatari’s 14 year old Amu says that at first
      the idea of older men being fans of her daughter scared her, but after
      getting to know them, she realized that they are nice”
      SOO? Since when being “nice” was incompatible with being a f*cking predator?? I’m not saying all idols fans are predators ofc but reading this I do’nt know if this mom is delusional, naive or irresponsible….

      About the idol fan : “He continued, “Anyway, I’m 43. In 10 years I’ll probably get various diseases. If I don’t have fun now, I never will.””
      Okay this part pinched my heart big time!!! ;_;
      Bruh, there is so much more to life than dying on your 50s from a random disease! Pretty much like you’re not wasting your life just because you don’t make enough money to provide for a potential family! There is so much to life than creating a false sense of happiness or purspose watching girls thrice younger than you at concert every day!!! LIFE isn’t about all of this!!! YOU deserve so much BETTER than all of this!!
      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bd6670850bb6165afb67107613904245091dbc199a137e1947080f66d6a3ea77.gif

      • It worse!: Koji gets even more depressing at Rio’s 21st birthday concert. “I was in the middle of the front row. I looked behind me and saw all these faces. They looked happy and desperate at the same time. It was so moving. You don’t often see such joy and release. With these guys, I don’t have to worry about social rank and obligations. If it wasn’t for this, I’d be alone forever. Unmarried and alone in the truest sense.”

    • lwavesurfer

      This is sad. No irony. Just sad.

      • hizurisama

        exactly what I thought when I read this article.

        • lwavesurfer

          I mean, this is the ultimate level of escapism. How do these people can even go this low is beyond me.

    • I will just start watching the documentary, but this is a great opinion piece raising some very interesting points.

      I think it is a bit paranoid to blame the media worldwide with a smear campaign against Japanese pop culture though. In the last couple of years there were several very interesting documentaries about specific Japanese music scenes and also about other aspects of their pop culture, like fashion and so on (on Vice and the like). Sure, the mainstream media mostly reports about the weird and the scandalous, but then, aren’t they doing the same with everything everywhere? And also, it is not as if the Japanese themselves are not to blame as well.
      First, the idol scene is not just some marginal phenomenon that the media blew out of proportions (as it did with so many other stuff coming from Japan and Asia in general), it is really a huge and quite fucked up thing, that is somehow still manages to hit new lows all the time.
      And also, the Japanese are also pushing this whole “we are weird, really!” thing a lot… Cool Japan, Moshi Moshi Nippon and the like are also all about idols and Harajuku weirdness, so again, it is not something that the western media just randomly picked up.

      • Niche’s Commenting Regulars

        It’s more about the idol culture which gets slammed when it’s Japanese but praised by Billboard when Koreans do it.

        • hasawa

          Are idols in Korea as young as in Japan? Do their fans are twice or thrice their age as well?

          • Niche’s Commenting Regulars

            Every teenage heartthrob industry will have it’s share of middle age fans, some are just more obvious than others.

            Think of the times when people go on about how certain female teen celebs are about to be legal. The only difference right here is not many female idols go on to destroy their innocent image aside from the odd bikini and lingerie shoot. It isn’t like their music takes a more dirty turn like Spears and Cyprus did.

            • hasawa

              I personally ok with girl beginning as teen tho. I’m not really into Kpop so I’m no specialist about the scene, but I feel like Korea has a more ‘healthy’ relationships with girls entertainers. Like, the sick obsession of youth purity and innocence isn’t as palpable as in Japan.
              I tend to bitch about Kpop as a music genre but I always appreciated how the most successful singer/bands in this scene were actual ADULTS in their early/mid 20s and not tweens. Added to the fact that most of them worked their ass off out of the spotlight to prep up, which is a game changing experience in comparison with 12 y.o idols with little to no singing abilities but cute enough to keep delulu men to look forward their “artistic Blow”.

          • Adestya Ayu

            the same most probably. they also have idols debuting at 15. i am sad as this only points out the fanboys not fangirls because sasaeng korean fans are real too. Watching this I feel like these middle-aged men are saints compared to the hardcore korean fans.

            • hasawa

              I’m not really into Kpop so I’m no specialist about the scene, but I feel like Korea has a more ‘healthy’ relationships with girls entertainers. Like, the sick obsession of youth purity and innocence isn’t as palpable as in Japan.
              I tend to bitch about Kpop as a music genre but I always appreciated how the most successful singer/bands in this scene were actual ADULTS in their early/mid 20s and not tweens. Added to the fact that most of them worked their ass off out of the spotlight to prep up, which is a game changing experience in comparison to these 12 y.o idols with little to no singing abilities but cute enough to keep delulu men to look forward their “artistic Blow”.

              • PigeonPop

                I do admire the emphasis on training and older debut approach Adestya Ayu mentioned regarding Korean idols. That said, in the end of the day their mainstream music scene is just as age-obsessed, if not several notches lower when we’re dealing with musicians past age 30. I’ve yet to see a female soloist in the Korean mainstream match the type of public relevance and commercial pull still seen by the Namie, Ayu (~2010), aiko, Shiina, Utada generation, nevermind the even older triumvirate of Miyuki, Yuming, and Mariya. It’s a similar story with bands (Southern All Stars, B’z, Mr. Children etc.).

          • Ann

            I’m a kpop and jpop fan. I find that on average, Korean idols are much older than Japanese idols are. There are girls debuting at 14-15, but it’s much more rare and it doesn’t get much younger than that because many years are spent training. Two of Girls Generations’s members are 28, while most jpop idols seem to “graduate” or leave in their early 20’s. I read somewhere that the average age of a kpop fan is 19. Probably not completely accurate but I definitely think that older kpop fans are in the minority.

            I’m a 21 year old woman who prefers girl groups over guy groups (surprise) and feel more comfortable following groups like Passpo and Fairies because the girls are similar in age to me. Like, I used to be a fan of Sakura Gakuin and I can’t anymore because the girls are just SO young. (Youngest girl is 10 years old… )

            • hasawa

              I feel you about relating more about more “mature” idol bands!
              A shame so many of them got disbanded lately (Berryz Kobo, °C-ute, Buono…). The end of an era…
              I remember when I got into Morning Musume (circa 2013) some members were the same age as me so it was indeed easier to relate as being part of audience, but after Michishige graduation (+new members added) the medium age dropped drastically, I just couldn’t anymore! lol (I’m not fond of their music anymore as well)
              Props to Kpop for capitalizing on training these girls at an age they are the most vulnerable (I mean, there’s no wonder former idols are getting wild doing porn and shit as soon as they graduate when they spent they’ve been scrutinized under the spotilight since their childhood…) and getting them ready for the real deal when they will be fit to handle to it.

            • Serenyty

              Some idol groups are getting older (Dempagumi.inc’s members are all definitely adults, with the youngest member in her mid 20s iirc, Momoiro Clover Z’s youngest is 21) but the biggest reason is that idols in Japan are definitely not seen as being a long term solution, but (as mentioned in the documentary) either something you do in your youth or as a stepping stone to another career (variety, singer, actor, etc). It’s supposed to be an education and it’s supposed to prepare you for your career, not be your long term career.

              I don’t know if I always like how this goes (I’d prefer older idols myself) but that’s the culture. Also Korean idols train for years and years, but Japanese idols debut in groups with fairly minimal training, maybe a few months or so, but that’s all 100% on purpose too.

            • Lord of #20YearsAndCounting

              When Girls Generation debuted, Sooyoung and Sunny were hounded by their uncle fans though . The members themselves have talked about it on variety shows. They have aged for sure and are hanging around because of the name value of the GG brand but let’s not pretend they never had creepy older men that were weirdly obsessed with them. Many of them have simply moved on to the next cute thing , which is TWICE at the moment. Once TWICE ages into their mid 20s, kpop will have found its next young GG to be crazy about.

          • There are some examples of KPop idols that are uncomfortably young (just look up NCT Dream’s Chewing Gum from last year), but it is a rarity really, and the general target audience is also just what you would expect for girl / boy groups anywhere, so, it is all clearly aimed at the youth market, mostly girls / boys in their teens or early twenties.

            But I noticed something pretty weird in Tokyo when I was there last Sept… there is a part in Shin-Okubo called “Korean Town” with Korean restaurants and the usual stuff, but more importantly shops after shops after shops selling KPop merch (99% bootlegs, which is also an interesting thing, but is off topic now) and there were a lot and I mean a LOT of middle aged Japanese women buying random merch stuff from the teeny KPop boy bands. It was a bit creepy, like the mid-aged otaku geek guys experience, just the other way around. But besides this, even in Japan, the main audience for KPop are girls between 15-25.

            • Niche’s Commenting Regulars

              Not much different from how Arashi and Johnny’s are. They are a lot more accessible and not bound harshly by fanclub rules.

          • Lol

            Some of the fans of k idol is older..and the older fans like the middle age japanese fans tend to buy the release more..
            Mostly of korean idol fans are teenager and when they entered uni they dont follow their idol much or being casual fans

            And i aggree with commenter who said why billboard or other intl news rately featured about saseng culture in korean idol scenes. It is creepy and unhealthy and sometimes the opportunity are provided by the agency..

        • Guest

          I think the main difference is that K-pop is targeted at teenagers and young people while a lot of those Japanese idols are targeted at grownass man. That is why it’s weird.

          • yamakita

            I guess you’ve not heard of ahjussi fans.

            • Guest

              “targeted”. K-pop groups may have ahjussi fans but 90% of them are not target at them.

              • Alexdhamp

                SNSD, when they were first debuted, were aimed at middle aged men. So don’t give us that BS.

                • Guest

                  So one group was targeted at middle aged men for a few hot minutes? Guess this rivals the entire J-Pop female idol industry them!

          • Lord of #20YearsAndCounting

            You weren’t around when IU and Sulli were in their teens ? Or when ‘fans’ were doing countdowns for the 18th birthdays of Got7 Yugyeom and the BTS guy whose name evades me atm. Never heard of the term ‘pedo noona’? And try looking at the lyrics of songs that kboy groups are singing. Many of them are about young boys professing their love for their older noonas. Try looking at pics of fans who turn up to concerts. I think you are extremely deluded if you think that kpop isn’t aiming for that older people demographic. The kpop idol scene is much younger than the Jpop idol scene that has been around for decades. The folks who grew up looking upto the first generation of kpop idols are relatively younger…maybe 30s and 40s. You need to give them some time. A decade or two perhaps? Then you’d find an entire generation of oldies who never grew out of their idol loving phase.

            • Guest

              Reading comprehension fail.

              I never claimed K-pop idols don’t have old men fans.

              I suggest you to re-read my comment before you get into defensive mode.

              • The Dark Dudette

                Lol. I read your comment. Still looks as deluded as ever. Maybe you should read yours before posting them if you don’t want your ass handed down to you.

        • iGleaux

          I think Korean companies are willing to pay for good press and at this point Kpop has a big enough niche market that the sites will post praise articles just for the fan clicks. They’ve seen how hard Kpop fans ride for Kpop. Japanese companies on the other hand don’t give a shit and the Jpop fandom always seems so dead. Nothing more nothing less.

      • cosmic lad

        this doesn’t apply to just pop culture, but I think worldwide media loves to paint Japan with the “crazy, wtf!!, so weird” brush, and not in a fun way but in a very insulting one.

      • Guest

        Exactly! All you said is true. Also, the filmmaker behind the documentary is Japanese (a woman actually), so it’s not even made with a Western P.O.V.

        • It kinda is though if you look at her comments.

          • Guest

            She was inspired by her upbringing as a Japanese girl and she is Japanese so even if she lives abroad, it is definitely not made with a Western P.O.V.

    • King of the Kats

      Very interesting, point out lot of stuff I’ve thought about idol industry and the fans. One thing I’ve never accepted is underage idol, children, and adult fans. Still creepy, still macabre. And the mothers, so…naive? I don’ t know. I can’t swallow that.

      • Naive..? I think it is more about greed or maybe they are accepting that this is the normal way of things… which is an even more scary option.

        • King of the Kats

          Agree.

    • starlightshimmers

      I don’t really see the idol scene as any different from Justin Beiber or Ariana Grande, and if we’re talking about crazy fans, nothing is crazier than bombing your concert.

      • Niche’s Commenting Regulars

        By someone who isn’t a fan, but I have to agree that teenage heartthrob industry has a lot of problems.

        • starlightshimmers

          It has the potential to attract the wrong kind of people, like in the West it attracts terrorist activity. As far as I’m concerned the music scene in Japan is safer, diverse, and more organised, despite its flaws.

          • It does not attract terrorist activity. Crowds do.

          • Guest

            lol wtf, that is literally the most insane analogy you just made. Idols in Japan attracts paedophiles while in the West it attracts “terrorist activity”? Not only that is completely false it does not even make sense as a comparison.

      • hasawa

        I sorta feel like Bieber or Ariana’s fans tend to be around the same age or younger than them (I remember how medias where emphasizing how young the victims on Manchester were..) while on the other hand, a bunch of idol fans are wayy older than the girls they’re obsessing about.
        This crazy extraness is comprensible when you’re a teen but not anymore when it’s coming from grown ass adults who could be their dads…

        • starlightshimmers

          Except for the most part the idol fans are respectful of the idols. Justin Beiber fans go out of their way to look for his nude photos, videos of him peeing on a bucket, or having sex with a prostitute in Brazil.

          I have yet to see any actual evidence that the idol scene in Japan is somehow a horrible thing when in the West we partake in the same activity and the results are ten times worse.

          • hasawa

            Fair enough, while I defintiviely agree that Biebz fans are wild af, I think it’s a good thing that we in the West don’t mess that much with kids in the showbizz and that old men stanning on young girls is not considered an ok thing. For example here in France Beauty Queen election for kids have been fordidden while there are literally soft porn dvd with young girls/ gravure idols sold in Japan…
            Just we’re criticizing idol culture doesn’t mean the West is perfect. Both can be wrong on some aspect lol

            • Adestya Ayu

              how about the competition thingy like american idol or american got talent which have kids in it? idk but in asia there are lots of kids competition alike in tv and they have many fans as well.

              • hasawa

                I don’t mind kids getting in showbiz if they have actual “TALENT” (like child actors) but we all know this is not really what idoling is about…..

            • starlightshimmers

              I think its an aspect of Japanese culture, for some reason I kind of see the idol scene as a continuation of the very young kabuki actors and the very young female artisans during the Edo period (and some of which were involved in prostitution). Whether or not it will change in the future, we’ll never know, the idol scene is not a new phenomenon, the same thing was happening in the 90’s, 80’s and as previously stated, even during feudal Japan.

        • Azrul Hakim

          Well, in the West almost all child star especially from Disney became ratched, wild, partying all night and became crazy lol (Britney Sears/ Lindsay Lohan mentally unstable and Miley Cyrus/Aguilera, Selena Gomez, Biebar sexualised music as if it is a passage of rites, oh I miss the year of 2007s as the year celebrities breakdown lol!

      • Guest

        i mean, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande fans are young girls. If men in their 30s and 40s were the target than it’d be comparable.

    • WorldGN18

      sigh I’m tired of this already, my favorite idol was (and will always be ) Michishige Sayumi, I truly admire her and she is a source of inspiration for me, I started to follow her when she was already in her 20, but looking at old footage of her seeing how she went from this super shy, talentless brat to become this amazing, kind and intelligent woman was really touching for me, I don’t understand the need to keep saying the idol industry is gross, and idols are just cute, submissive stupid little girls that are just there to fulfill sad men dreams, sure some wota are sad old men, maybe most of them are, but I don’t think is as bad as they make it sound, for me is a fandom like any other, some fans are delusional about their idols, some aren’t , there’s all kinds of people in there

      • Niche’s Commenting Regulars

        Because they seem to lack the debauchery that most regular teenage heartthrobs fall into when they grow up. Japanese idol culture doesn’t have them trying to reinvent themselves (well only two examples vs the West where it’s expected for them to take an image change, what is wrong with having a quiet stable life singing relatively wholesome songs?)

    • PigeonPop

      I can’t help but go into a little bit of conspiracy mode when these documentaries almost always fail to cover the phenomenon of obasan fans–most visible with Johnny’s, but also noticeable in other groups like BOYS AND MEN as well as male K-pop groups that promote in Japan (as mentioned by Case).

      That’s not to say the Japanese female idol scene isn’t a huge mess and their ossan otaku need to rethink their lives, of course. As Ronald wrote though, we’ve seen this narrative already.

      • Guest

        That’s also an interesting topic but a theme for a whole other documentary. There are obviously parallels but there is quite a difference in how fans interact with female idols vs male idols. Also, most Johnny’s obasan fans are for the older groups, the most recent ones are mostly teenagers.

        And you don’t have nearly as many male idols as you do female idols. There are literally hundreds of idol cafes in Akihabara and thousands of girls working there. There isn’t something comparable with male idols.

        • PigeonPop

          Eh. I do agree with the observation on female idols being that much more prevalent in number (which is a huge problem), but the interactions and idol-fan relations are only getting more similar with the passage of time. This is especially notable in the smaller section of the idol pie–in particular the so-called idol seiyus where the fans of Uta no Prince-Sama, Ensemble Stars and what have you “succeeded” in fostering an environment that is just as profitable, delusional, and toxic as the male-oriented Love Live and such.

          The signs are already there in the larger portion of the idol pie as well with the younger Johnny’s groups holding “hi touch” events as a last resort tactic to secure an Oricon #1 spot when daily sales start to get a bit too close for comfort. LDH groups and male K-Pop groups have already been doing it for years, regardless of the Oricon #1 spot being iffy or not.

          I’m sure Akihabara (or in this case, Shinjuku or Ikebukuro) can easily pull the same sort of idol cafe horror with guys. Host clubs being profitable, BD/DVD sales of female-oriented shows having just as much weight these days, the existence of Johnny’s Jr…I’m honestly amazed that it hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully it never will.

          • Guest

            I know the market is there and it’s growing but it is nowhere near as huge as the female idol at this stage so it makes sense for the doc to focus on it.

    • Guest

      Do girls the same age as the idols even have the money to buy their shit? Probably not.

      You need the creepy dudes to profit.

      • Guest

        Actually they do. Yukirin used to have a female fan who spend a lot of money just to vote for her. Ex-member Iwata Karen used to have a female fan who bought and spend a lot of handshake tickets for one hs event just so she could speak with her. And a SNH member dated a rich female fan.

        • Guest

          those are exceptions not the rules.

          and i’m pretty sure Yukirin female fans were still outnumbered by men.

    • Guest

      This documentary does not present AKB girls as stars though. It says they are huge and omnipresent as a group and that’s a fact, it doesn’t say they are big individually.

      Also, I don’t think this is an unfair portrayal of Japanese pop culture at all. Fact is, there is nothing bigger in Japanese pop culture than idol culture. It is unfortunate but it is true. Walking around Tokyo this is pretty clear. It’s not like the 90s/early 2000s when there was a huge variety and people were generally interested in J-pop. Nowadays the Japanese music market is driven by idols and the average Japanese does not care about any act. There is no major star, no major phenomenon, except idol wotas, underground idols in Akihabara, AKB48/Johnny’s/LDH. It is sad but it is not false. Yes, there are other acts who have success and there is more to the Japanese musical scene but the most mainstream thing right now is idol culture.

      Also, worth noting this documentary is made by a Japanese award-winning filmmaker so it’s not from a Western “Japan is bizarre” P.O.V. at all.

      • The hit songs of the past few years say otherwise…

        And if you look at her notes, there is something on it being an outsider point of view.

        • Guest

          “The hit songs of the past few years say otherwise…”
          Yea, hit songs are not what makes $$$$$ to labels and agencies. Concerts revenues and physical sales are where money is at and idols are unbeatable. Plus, the media is over-saturated with idols too. So yes, I am pretty sure they’re the biggest thing pop culture-wise in Japan right now, with or without hit singles.

          • To the industry, but not to the public.

            • Guest

              But the industry feeds the media.

              You look at magazine covers, CMs, music shows, Oricon charts, concert stadiums and it’s all idols idols idols idols.

              And the public is generally uninterested in music and there’s no big music stars in Japan at the present so I’d say idols are the biggest thing right now in general.

              • Actually, there’s been a change these past few years. And Hoshino and RADWIMPS, the acts with the two biggest hits of last year, prove otherwise.

    • yamakita

      Am I the only one who thinks the fans are the ones getting suckered?

    • yacchaitai

      check the comments on that youtube video if you want to lose your will to live

      • Queen_Of_The_Yokai537

        Those comments were a freaking mess. I can’t wait for the day that youtube makes an option where you can just turn off all comments on all videos. Youtube comments are straight up cancer.

    • Just drop this crap and watch the Akb unranked members documentary instead.

      Also wasn’t that semen handshake thing just fake news made by that degenerate site shankaku complex or something? I remember them claiming it was a thing akb suffered while posting pictures of s/mileage lol

    • Lord of #20YearsAndCounting

      Westerners are too obsessed with the idea of Japan being ‘weird’. The most glaring example of it is ‘Boku no Pico’ . It’s a show that the overwhelming majority of Japanese people will never hear about or know of in their lifetimes , that was made by a few hundred people only to be bought by a few hundred people. Yet it was the internet of the west that made it a meme and gave it an identity by talking about it online and flocking to watch reaction videos on YT. Several ‘anime style vids’ that went viral over the years like the Trump ‘commercial’ were not even made or conceptualised in Japan. Articles about random ass things that most natives aren’t familiar with will frequently be overshared by an English speaking audience because it fits that weird Japan narrative. These collective media behaviours speak more about the western superiority complex than Japanese culture itself.

      • Azrul Hakim

        We in Asia on the other found western artist/singer/celebrities filled with strange antics, crazy behaviours, drug/sexual scandals feed to us no thanks from TMZ, E-News, Wendy Williams shows etc, etc, etc…. But to be fair Western media is savage and unkind to Western artists as well though

        • The Dark Dudette

          As an American, I do understand that the media isn’t kind to Hollywood celebs either. But I do believe that it also has this superiority complex against cultures that are doing well on their own. Like sure, we arent meant to understand every freaking country, there are 190+ of them but they could at least not try to sound all smug when they cover news from other countries.

          • Azrul Hakim

            It is unfortunately and that’s to be expected though, unless if you’re tied culturally, socially or linguistically like Americans did with the United Kingdom for example, American media just like to show the exotic part for the rest of the world. But since Japan is also one of U.S close ally in the region, some of the coverage about this country is positive somewhat such as sports, economy, gaming/video game industry (Nintendo and Sony is well beloved over there), technology and such.

            • The Dark Dudette

              Yes. The way the media covers Japan has definitely been more positive over the years than what it was in the past (thanks to an ever increasing number of youth watching anime), esp compared to other Asian countries. Take China for example. I can’t for the life of me understand why so many Americans loveto think of the Chinese as the children of Satan. The way China is crucified over there is absolutely disgusting. I guess Japan being an ally has helped improve the image Americans have of it. Not only do we have a shared history with Britain, it is also predominantly white, which helps the mainstream white audience connect better with it and treat it like a long lost cousin.

    • PigeonPop

      What the West really needs is a Rino Sashihara (or if we’re not dealing with idols, Matsuko Deluxe) documentary. It strays off the prescribed narrative a bit too far for either to ever become a reality, sadly.

    • Queen_Of_The_Yokai537

      Great article Ronald! One of my favorites from this site so far. I agree that I am sick and tired of the “Japan is weird” documentaries. Especially because Japan is so much more than it’s idol scene. Not to mention that weird to me is subjective just like beauty is (minus the creepy uncle fans that is not what I am referring to. I mean the music). I am waiting for a journalist who will interview rock bands across Japan. Japan has some AMAZING rock and metal music that could really compete with the U.S. and the U.K. I want to see teenagers skipping their high school exam tutoring classes to go and play in some shady bar, or young adults leaving their corporate jobs because they feel freer when they have a bass in their hand. There has to be these types of people breaking the freaking mold in Japan. But like always they get overshadowed by all of this idol BS. This whole idol thing is sooo old!

    • Nervi Taralin

      will it be better if those idols covered their face and only show their talent singing or dancing

      • Nervi Taralin

        or even weirder lol