Chaos and Kanji is the blog where I write about my adventures through Japan!

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

J-Pop on Cardboard: AKB48's Little Sisters

I had store credit through a point system that had to be used earlier this year at a card store in Akihabara. I couldn't find anything else at the time, so I grabbed a few super-cheap cards from the J-Pop group SKE48.
 SKE48 is a group of girls that is based in the Sakae (SaKaE) neighborhood of Nagoya. It's a spinoff of the extremely popular AKB48, based in Akihabara (AKiBa). The girls are divided into three groups (S, K, and E), with 16 girls in each group. They wear cute uniforms/costumes that frequently look like school uniforms, dance around and sing catchy tunes, just like AKB48. There are a few more -48 groups now.
 AKB48 is the main group, of course. If you're part of AKB48, you are a pop star - the most popular AKB members are almost household names. Along with the CD singles and daily concerts, there is a mountain of merchandise.
 Obviously, trading cards are a part of the merchandising machine, and several sets have been issued over the years for many of the groups.
 There is a lot of controversy surrounding the -48 groups, though. The performers aren't extremely talented; they are generally chosen for their looks. And many of them are teenagers. The schedules are pretty tough, too. With concerts every night, there is very little time to have a life; frequent appearances for fans and on television adds even more to their schedule. They wear revealing/cute costumes (as you can see in these photos), as their sex appeal is a big part of the image. To go along with that, performers are prohibited from having relationships to keep them desirable to (frequently older) male fans.
Of course, looking at American pop music, the same can be said for performers like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Ke$ha, and the Spice Girls.
But what sets the -48 groups apart from other pop groups is the way the girls are sold. I mentioned fan appearances - the performers attend frequent handshaking events where crazed fans get a few seconds to hold their favorite singer's hand and say hello. Many of the attendees are older men who spend literally thousands of dollars each buying hundreds of CD singles to get tickets to the events - the CDs essentially contain certificates that gain you admittance to these handshaking events.
Yes, one attendee will buy 150 or more CDs to get more time with their favorite artist. This, of course, drives CD single sales; the CDs themselves are then thrown away or sold for much less. An original new CD with a ticket is 1000 or 1600 yen; the unwanted CDs without certificates are usually 50-100 yen. Obsessive fans have gone into serious debt buying tons of CDs.
The handshake events can last all day over several days, which is tough to begin with, but then some of the "fans" are just gross to begin with (think about it - horny old men) and there are stories of some of them having ... substances on their hands. Apparently there is security in place to better protect against this now. The video above is from a JKT48 event, and it seems like, at least in Jakarta, these girls have mostly teenage boys looking for a quick handshake.
There are several other arguments about why AKB48 and the spinoff groups like SKE48 are bad, but many times the songs themselves are fun and pop music has a place in society, whether you like it or not. Pop is short for popular, after all, at least at its root.

What do you think about this? Be honest... have you ever been a fan of pop groups, stars, or pop music?


  1. I open to most genres of music... including pop. Back in the late 90's I memorized a bunch of New Kids on the Block songs, because I liked a girl who was obsessed with them. Lol... still have their cassette single "Step by Step".

    Not exactly sure why I shared that story ;-D

  2. Fuji: I don't know why I'm sharing this, but when I was a kid I wanted to be in New Kids on the Block. I've always been a pop fan for as long as I can remember, actually. And NKOTB is in karaoke here in Japan - I've tried a couple songs for the fun of it but I'm certainly not band material.

    Hackenbush: Abba counts! Now there's a band I've never tried to sing in karaoke. Or the Bee Gees. But that's probably a good thing...