When it comes to fame, fortune and success, there’s always a price to be paid. Sometimes those costs can be high. In Japan, the almost 100-member, j-pop girl group, AKB48 is considered among the best and it’s believed they got to that level by, not on employing the best performers, but by being a well maintained machine, functioning on intense training and intense training strict rules. One member of the group, 20-year-old Minami Minegishi, is finding out just how strict those rules are.
Minegishi got herself into some hot water with the group’s management after a tabloid photographed her leaving the home of her boyfriend, Alan Shirahama, a dancer for a boy-band, where she had spent the night. AKB48 has a strict no romantic relationship rule for its members in order that the girls maintain a clean image, show that their devotion is to the group and give their male fans the illusion that they’re always available.
Following this scandal, Minegishi was then seen on a YouTube video, head shaven and tearfully apologizing to everyone for her actions, which she called “thoughtless and immature”. The shaving one’s head is seen as an act of contrition in Japanese custom.
As I said AKB48 is a well-oiled machine when it comes to their routines. The girls, who range in age from mid teens to their early 20s, are broken into groups that rotate between the responsibilities of daily performances at their Tokyo theatre, concerts, band promotion and recording. They are to constantly maintain a constant kawaii image, as a part of the group’s overall image, which basically means one of cuteness and innocence. This applies whether they are on or off stage. As what many consider the most popular band, AKB48 is the dream of budding young performers and they change members constantly. Despite the hiccups that come from this, they’ve managed to stay on top of their game.
Minegishi is one of the more popular members of the group, who has been with them since it was started back in 2005 and fans have come to her defense following the video. There has also been wide criticism for the crappy treatment Minegishi has been put through by many. Minegishi, however, just wants to remain with the group. In her apology, she begged to be kept on saying:
I don’t believe just doing this means I can be forgiven for what I did, but the first thing I thought was that I don’t want to quit AKB48.
She was not kicked from the group, but she was demoted from her position she held in the top teams to “research student”, trainee status assigned to the low-level members. Management’s reason for this was that they punishing her “for causing a nuisance to the fans”. While they have denied forcing Minegishi to shave her head, they did air her very tearful, almost four-minute long apology on their website.
Don’t worry about going there to look for it there. It’s been pulled.
So, yes, rules are rules and if you want to be among the best you have to be willing to pay the cost. The real question is, how high a cost should you be made to pay?