The Music Industry in Japan – The Controversy of the “Celibacy Clause” in AKB48

If you have followed my last article, you would probably have some basic ideas about AKB48. AKB48 is the most successful girl idol’s group in Japan with 140 members. As of March 2014, the group has sold over 30 million records. In 2013, AKB48’s total sales accounted for US$128 million.

To belong to such a successful group, all members have to follow very strict rules. One of the rules is the “celibacy clause”, which means all members are not allowed to date a boyfriend. The main purpose of this “celibacy clause” is to maintain the virginal and pure image of all group members. With such an image, they can appear to be available and accessible by their fans.

In 2013, Minami Minegishi, a 17-year-old girl of AKB 48, was discovered of bringing a boy-band member back to her hotel room and spending a night with him. As a result, the management company claimed damages of US$42,375 from Minami and her parents for breaching the “celibacy clause” in AKB48. What’s more, Minami was forced to shave her head and apologize publicly. She said, in the video, “everything I did is entirely my fault. I am so sorry.”

In the Japanese society, shaving head means the lost of freedom or the abandon of dignity. Only armies, prisoners or secondary-school male students are required to shave their heads. It is very rare for female unless they are nuns.

Minami’s apology video raised a lot of controversy in Japan or even other western countries. Some Japanese women said, “I know she wanted to say sorry, but shaving her head is too extreme.” On the other hand, some Japanese boys said, “as a Japanese idol, I think she does have to follow the rules of the group.” Nevertheless, most of the western media condemned the Japanese culture of depriving of women’s rights.

From the perspective of artist management and record labels, it is their mission to develop a unique selling point of an artist as to earn money. The most powerful selling point of AKB48 is their image of purity and innocent. Therefore, it is very normal to set the strict “celibacy clause” or other rules to maintain their virginal image in order to sustain the super-fan base. Do you think it is the appropriate and effective way to manage an artist or a girl idol’s group?

One thought on “The Music Industry in Japan – The Controversy of the “Celibacy Clause” in AKB48

  1. Contractually, she infringed the conditions and then paid a fine, which I could understand because it could somehow influence the success of that band. However, morally, shaving her head is for me totally inappropriate and against my values and respect towards women who are free to have the sexual life they want. I think she’s not the only one from the band to date guys but she wasn’t careful enough!

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