Since I wrote my small take on the Minegishi Minami scandal, this thing has blown up, big time. I’ve seen news about the scandal hit various publications worldwide, and all over the internet. I was browsing Reddit (even though I occasionally comment in the JPop section, this is a primarily non-idol experience of mine) and I saw people referring to pop stars shaving her head. It’s no wonder, I think; it’s hard not to be moved by Miichan looking into the camera, crying, with a shaved head. That being said, this new wave of interest has made me think of even more things about this scandal.
The one thing that really stood out to me in this English-language look is that, unless the source is one that already primarily looks into idols, that there is a general misinformation and general lack of knowledge of Japanese culture, Japanese idol culture, and AKB48 as a whole. This is a topic that I once actually considered covering on Idolminded; giving a scorecard of sorts and holding these ‘news’ sources accountable. Because a lot of articles are poorly researched and clearly just focus in on “oh, it’s weird/crazy/perverted Japan” when there’s fairly reasonable explanations for a lot of things.
One aspect that obviously got people interested is Miichan cutting off her hair. This is what gets people most appalled, and understandably so; it’s shocking and a very visible reminder of Miichan’s status in the scandal. However, there are a couple of things. One is that shaving ones head does already have a precedent in Japanese culture; I won’t go into too much detail, but it is a sign of remorse. For a bit more on this, you all should check out this article at Shoujiki Media which is just in general a really great take at this situation and looking at Japanese culture. I’m not saying I agree with this situation, because I am not for the dating rules by any means, but it’s important to view this situation in its proper cultural context, instead of taking it out of context and saying “look how disgusting AKB/idol culture is.” People also forget that the rule against dating isn ‘t just enforced within AKB, but idol groups in general; remember Kanou Kaede of Super Girls? Really, if we accept that Miichan cut her hair off by her own accord, the punishment of a demotion is lighter than being completely fired.
Another question that has also been understandably brought up is the question of if Minegishi really chose to do this herself; this has been debated a bit in Idolminded, and I see this being a really tough question. Ultimately, I do believe that this was Miichan’s choice that she made. While she has never been my oshimen, I’ve always had a bit of a fondness for Miichan, and this really strikes me (and my friends who are fans of hers) as something she would do; she likely feels responsible and guilty. That being said, if we think about management potentially influencing her decision, we want to ask why. The consensus is that it would make fans feel sorry for Miichan and increase her popularity, which could be true, but shaving her hair is a pretty big risk, one that I don’t know the 48 group would take. We’ve already seen idols in the face of scandal survive (Sasshi, Sayaka) and the public does feel sympathy without this. The move to kenkyuusei is shocking enough that I don’t personally believe management influenced Miichan. The word from both Miichan and management is that she chose it on her own, and everything else is speculation.
One kind of alarming thing I’ve seen on tumblr especially is a call to get the apology flagged and removed from Youtube because it allegedly shows abuse (this is assuming that Miichan wasn’t the one who chose this. While there has been a great deal of misinformation, the one thing I worry about in this case is the effect on Miichan. the video getting removed could be see as a symbolic rejection of her apology, when I’m sure at this point she made her point and just wants to move on.
I’ve also seen criticisms of AKB48 fans, and I have to say that in following this in both English and (slightly limited) Japanese, I’ve yet to see one person negative towards Miichan; the only thing that comes close is that, in regards to the dating rule, idols know what they’re getting into, and to an extent I’d agree with that. I’ve seen people referring to the fans as being very disappointed and outraged when an idol dates, and I’ve yet to see this. So I think that while dating rules have been pretty stable, idol fans themselves have become more lenient (though, this has been the case for a while; I remember Fujimoto Miki fans were very upset with the tabloids, not Miki, when her scandal broke).
If you’re thinking or even wondering if you should stop being an AKB fan because of this, or have seen people ask something like that, I refer you to one of my favorite blog articles of all time, How to be a Fan of Problematic Things. While this isn’t about idols at all, it’s a really good look at being a fan of something, even if you disagree with some things in it. So even if you find this whole thing problematic and distateful, you don’t have to quit AKB or even idols.
Ultimately, it’s the time to support Miichan above all else, and if you’re a fan of AKB try to gently stop the spread of misinformation.