Pop star shaves her head to apologise for sleeping with her boyfriend

CHIBA, JAPAN - JUNE 25:  AKB48 perform  during the MTV Video Music Aid Japan at Makuhari Messe on June 25, 2011 in Chiba, Japan.  (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

CHIBA, JAPAN - JUNE 25: AKB48 perform during the MTV Video Music Aid Japan at Makuhari Messe on June 25, 2011 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images) Photo: Getty Images

Pussy Riot band members are serving a two-year sentence after protesting against Russian President Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral. Afghanistan’s girl band, ‘Burka Band’ have never performed in their own country for fear of reprisals from religious fanatics.Even in the land of the free, the Dixie Chicks received death threats in 2003 for exercising their rights under the First Amendment to protest against the Iraq war.

And then there’s Japan, where female pop singers end up looking like Fantine from Les Mis for the crime of having sex. Singer and actress Minami Minegishi, a founding member of the Japanese pop sensation AKB48, shaved her head as self-punishment and a symbol of her shame and guilt after she had sex with her boyfriend.

She then tearfully begged for forgiveness for being ‘thoughtless and immature’ in a video released on the band’s YouTube channel. The gut-wrenching video was viewed over 7.3 million times before it was removed.

Pictures of the roughly-shorn head of Minami Minegishi, 20, were emblazoned on national newspapers and Japan's Twitter scene was abuzz over news that the pop princess from cash-generating juggernaut AKB48 had broken the band's cardinal rule: No Dating.

Pictures of the roughly-shorn head of Minami Minegishi, 20, were emblazoned on national newspapers and Japan's Twitter scene was abuzz over news that the pop princess from cash-generating juggernaut AKB48 had broken the band's cardinal rule: No Dating. Photo: YouTube

‘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 said in her recorded message.

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The band’s management have demoted the star to a trainee team of AKB48 as punishment ‘for causing a nuisance to the fans’ by having sex. And it wasn’t even newsworthy sex. She didn’t bang half the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. Nor did she do the deed in some exotic locale in public view. She spent the night with her boyfriend in his apartment and was photographed leaving his place.

What’s so terrible about a 20 year old woman having consensual sex? In Japan, pop singers are required to project an image of both overt sexuality and virginal innocence and cuteness, known as ‘kawaii’.

The cardinal rule for the 90 young women in AKB48 is that boys are off limits. They can perform soft-porn scenes — such as a commercial where they pass candy from mouth to mouth while decked out as schoolgirls — but they must also remain virginal.

Sex is something they project to the world for other people’s fantasy and pleasure, and not something they’re entitled to enjoy for themselves. Presumably the point of their abstinence is to indulge male fans in the wet dream that the girls are saving themselves for them.

It’s worth remembering that the obsession with the purity and virginity of young women isn’t confined to Japan. It wasn't so long ago that the western world was pre-occupied with Britney Spear’s virginity and quite a fuss was made of her Rolling Stone cover, where she posed in a bra and undies while talking on the phone clutching a Tellytubby. And the film clip for her debut hit Baby One More Time where she dressed as a virginal vamp, oozing sexuality from her skimpy school uniform, can only be described as a Western version of kawaii.

At a 2002 press conference for her movie Crossroads, the then 21 year old was still being asked about her virginity. ‘How do you feel about the constant speculation about your virginity?’ one reporter asked. When Spears dodged the question the reporter followed up with, ‘Have there been any changes on that front?’.

And how did things turn out for Britney? Oh that’s right, she shaved her head.

It may not have been an act of contrition the same as Minami Minegishi or have the same cultural meaning, but the world has done its best to heap shame and guilt onto Britney when we could no longer pretend she was simply a sexual fantasy, but a real, live flesh and blood woman.

When her sexuality couldn’t be contained within the standard packaging — Lolita or, later, sex goddess — she was portrayed as a disgraced, Fallen Woman like Minami Minegishi has now become in Japan.

Of course, continuing with the standard script, there aren’t any Fallen Men in these stories. Just as Justin Timberlake and Britney’s other male sexual partners escaped public scrutiny over their sexual practices, there has been no word of Minegishi’s boyfriend Alan Shirahama — also a member of a pop band —shaving his head, tearfully apologising or being demoted.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

87 comments

  • One thing that hasn't been made clear in the media coverage of this is that AKB48 isn't a typical Japanese pop group.

    It is a fantasy group that targets the "otaku" (or "nerd") population of Japan with the promise of being their girlfriends. Hence the name. Akihabara (AKB) is the nerd capital of Tokyo, full of technology shops, comic book stores and fantasy cafes.

    All the marketing is based around the idea that these girls are the fans' perfect, devoted, innocent partners. A Japanese friend of mine (in his early 30s) is totally obsessed, to the point where, when asked if he is in a relationship, he will actually claim that one member of the band (Mariko-sama) is his partner.

    Fans like him are the largest revenue stream for AKB48. He once bought 1000 copies of one of their CDs, just to collect enough promotional tickets to shake hands with his "girlfriend".

    The music produced by AKB48 is totally incidental. It's bubblegum pop that is easy for them to dance to. In reality, they are selling the promise of companionship and a perfect relationship to lonely otaku. Exactly as is done in "hostess" clubs, except by (mostly) teenage girls.

    When the girls break this fantasy by actually dating, there is hell to pay. The fans are as enraged as if they had caught their girlfriend cheating. This is a major threat to the lucrative revenue from such fans, so it obviously isn't tolerated by the group's management.

    Japan has some weird ideas about gender norms, but AKB48 is an extreme example, even by Japanese standards.

    Commenter
    Jim M.
    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 7:02AM
    • I agree with this post completely, although I find it somewhat condemning, where there is comment to be made about Japanese culture in the particular focus of Asia Pop.

      And I have to say, the music may be incidental to the marketing machine, but it is actually remarkably well-crafted music, along the lines of a crudely updated Phil Spektor.

      Commenter
      Igomi Watabi
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 8:17AM
    • Perfectly summarised!! I agree completely. Having recently visited the AKB48 theatre in Akihabara, it is bizarre.... verging on the unhealthy. Many people, such as your friend by the sounds of it, lose touch of reality. Although I would say that it is at the behest of the fan, rather than what AKB puts forward - which is merely an unrealistic fantasy (although being publicly shamed for consensual and legal sex is far too extreme)! I have plenty of friends who have a healthy relationship with AKB48 - that is, they are just another pop group!

      Commenter
      Kris
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 9:33AM
    • Thanks for this context, Jim M. That all sounds a little unsettling to me.

      I also thought the connection to Britney Spears pretty rather ridiculous. The author seems to miss the point that Britney was constantly asked about her virginity pledge because it seemed incredibly old-fashioned and silly to most music journos. (And society at large, outside of some evangelical Christian circles.)

      Having said that, I wonder what the general public reaction to this girl's head-shaving has been in Japan, outside of the band's quirky fan base?

      Commenter
      AdamC
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 10:37AM
    • Sounds familliar (teenage girls and One Direction, twilight people, justin beiber etc) completly rediculous and harmful obsession.

      Commenter
      Emezie
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 11:28AM
    • That is still quite disturbing. It is bad enough that there is this sense of entitlement within the nerd culture in regards to women (the "I'm a person as much as everybody else, why can't I have a girlfriend?" kind of thinking), but the fact that there is an extreme group cantering to such entitlement is just wrong.

      Commenter
      Urabrask the Hidden
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 11:38AM
    • I don't think "putting it in context" really makes the situation any more forgivable. Cultural relativism doesn't mitigate the misogyny of it.

      Of course it shares the parallel of Western women and female entertainers today dressing and acting like pornsex objects for men, a la Katy Perry, without having any real pleasure and it reflects out infantilisation of women who need to look like girls, it reflects the policing of women's sexual behaviour to be attractive but it takes the idea to it's logical extreme.

      If any thing it highlight the similarities of sexism and misogyny across the cultural divide.

      One Direction isn't a 90 boy troupe pretending to be your virtual online boyfriend. Neither does Katy Perry, a small mercy but significant.

      Commenter
      J
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 12:50PM
    • Britney Spears' virginity was a product to be marketed and consumed by the general audience. It was pure voyeurism from the journos and the public, such is society's need to obsess over and judge the sexual activities of young women.

      Generally speaking, men feel the need to dominate these young women and women feel the need to vilify them. Spare a thought for these girls who are constantly scrutinised, worshipped or hated for their behaviour when in truth we should all just get a life, move on and leave these people alone.

      Commenter
      Josh
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 12:56PM
  • Has the boyfriend also publicly acknowledged his shame? Somehow, I doubt it.

    Commenter
    Deesby
    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 8:37AM
    • The boyfriend is not contractually obligated to refrain from sex. Given this is why she's openly proclaimed her shame (and not, as you imply, for simply having sex), why would he?

      Commenter
      Sunder
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 9:40AM

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