I chose the idol group AKB48. With the Austin City Limits musical festival on my mind, I “Googled” popular music festivals in Japan. I eventually stumbled upon a blog discussing the addition of AKB48 to the Asia Song Festival. From there, I completed a general Wikipedia search to discover that AKB48 seemed interesting.
AKB48 is an idol, Japanese theater group consisting of all females. Producer Yasushi Akimoto created the group in 2005. After a series of auditions, forty-eight members were eventually chosen and divided into three teams of sixteen: Team A, Team K and Team B (hence the name AKB48). AKB is also short for Akihabara, a shopping area for electronic and anime goods in Tokyo, as well as the location of the AKB48 theatre.
So what does this group of 48 members do? AKB48 is at times labeled the “theater group” because they own a private theatre where they perform every day. The group has released two albums, with almost all songs ranking on the Oricon Singles Chart. Yasushi Akimoto produces all songs for the group. AKB48 released “Sakura no Shiori”, their fifteenth single, on February 17, 2010. This single sold over 300,000 copies in the first week, topping the Oricon Singles chart, causing the song to be the best record for Japanese female artists in seven years.
If not performing, members of AKB48 work constantly; they participate in fan events such as autograph signing, answer fan mail, create AKB48 movies or appear in commercials for other companies. They even have their own TV program, entitled “Akbingo”. Once a member becomes famous, they leave the group to become an actress or pop star, allowing new members to take their spot.
Many characteristics attribute to the uniqueness of this group. Besides performing, an emphasis is placed on their physical appearance. Idol girls must wear schoolgirl uniforms during performances, and at time bikinis in music videos or photographs. One source indicates that the groups’ goal is to appeal to a “geek crowd” or otaku—people with obsessive interests such as anime. In fact, the group performed at an anime expo in America, on July 1, 2010. AKB48 put their personal lives on hold in order to focus on the group and their fans; this includes the banning of personal relationships with men in an attempt to lessen distractions and heighten their appeal. Therefore, their physical appearance is equally important as their talent.
Of course, I immediately connected this group with the American Idol series in America. The two phenomena obviously differ in many ways—especially the requirement of school uniform wardrobes. I wore a plaid uniform for thirteen years and refuse to wear them ever again (especially for my career). However, both AKB48 and American Idol produce members that begin as a speckle in massive waves of contestants, and eventually receive independent fame.
When Ibister discusses culture, she describes Japan as a strong collectivist culture, where the boss nurtures employees, looking after them until the last worker goes home for the night. From the material I have read about AKB48, this collectivist attitude is apparent. Akimoto, the producer of the group, controls the group in many ways. He chooses their wardrobe, creates their songs and establishes rules for the group such as no relationships with men. In an individualist society, this type of administration over a group seems rare.