Most people know about Japan via anime and manga. However, there remains another aspect of the entertainment industry that once you are absorbed in it, you can hardly get out of the void. It is called the Idol Culture (Otaku). Moreover, the idol industry dedicates millions of dollars to the music industry in Japan each year.
Idol (or アイドル), has become a general term for young entertainers in Japan, who are often promoted for being particularly cute. Idols are expected to be role models with perfect characteristics. An idol can do many jobs throughout their careers such as MC, seiyuu (voice actor), actor/actress, gravure idol or models for magazines and advertisements.
Being an idol requires a lot of effort. They must work their best to gain the attention from the staff in order to become recognized and gain more jobs, they must work very hard to gain more fans while maintaining their relationships with the old fans. An idol can end up being a big name, but the opposite can happen as well. It’s a 50/50 chance. Another point that drains the fans toward their idols is that idols are considered being flawed entertainers and that fans can track their idols’ progress of improvement throughout their career.
There are many idol groups out there in Japan. Spend a day in big cities like Tokyo or Osaka and you can engage in many idols’ activities done to promote their groups on the streets/outdoor stages.
The most well-known idol brand in Japan right now is PJ48 (Project 48) which consists of AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, HKT48 and NGT48. The total number of female members for this brand might have reached 400 and still counting. Too many groups, too many members and not many light spots. That’s why the competition within the brand is fierce and may be desperate for young girls. However, many girls would still give it a shot when they hold auditions.
PJ48 consists of female members, while Johnny and Associates owns most of the idol boy groups you have ever heard about: the legendary SMAP, V6, TOKIO, then ARASHI, Hey!Say!Jump…. Young boys and young men go for auditions and they have training period together before being chosen to debut in a group together, unlike PJ48 where they just group all the trainees together and later distribute them into teams.
Further research can bring you to Morning Musume, Momoiro Clover Z, Nogizaka46, Baby metal…
By many marketing tactics, such as including Handshake tickets within their singles, or especially for PJ48, the voting tickets for their once-per-year-event called So-senkyo- in which fans can buy singles to vote for their favorite girl for the next single (and yes this tactic contributed even billions to the industry this year, thank you Akimoto Yasushi-sensei!).
They also make money from merchandise. Anything you can think of, they can attach the picture of your favorite idol on, then yes, you are going to spend your money on that thing immediately.
Idols are expected to be at high-standards and cannot make mistakes. They have to build up their character of being naive, young, innocent and pure. Be involved in a love affair that gets busted, bump, and your career is gone. There are rumors of sexual harassments in the workplace as well, but no one has ever given a confirmation so these mouth-to-mouth stories still only spread through the fans.
Handshake events can be a good place for psychos. Not so long ago, two members and one staff from AKB48 was attacked by a crazy man, with a 50cm handsaw, during a handshake event. Since then the security system within the group was updated, but the scars left on the members’ bodies can still be seen, and one of them recently announced graduation from the group due to the traumatic experience.
Being an idol is fun, but it requires a lot of effort and luck as well. One can have so many jobs that they don’t have enough time to sleep, while one can have too much free time because no job was offered to them. One can leave the group and become an even bigger star, or one is fired because of personal affairs and turns into a nobody. Harsh, but it’s the reality.