February 21, 2013

Why was Maeda Atsuko the Center?

The following exchange between Tahara and AkiP about Maeda Atsuko is an excerpt from their recent book about AKB48's business strategy.


- Auditions are for filtering out the "already made" girls

T: Here I want to hear about members.  About Maeda Atsuko, who was center and graduated.  Why was she center?  There were girls who sang and danced better, but why did you pick her?

A: Because I thought she was the least suitable for center.  Fans are looking for Cinderella stories, where an unfortunate, often bullied girl with only rags to wear turn into a princess.

We want fans to experience and see for themselves how a girl with absolutely nothing can become something because of their support.  This is why we can't start with beautiful girls or princesses.

It is quite unfortunate, but the type that I eliminate the most from auditions is the "already made" type.

T: Ah I see, so you drop those that are "already made".

A: It's not hard to imagine how girls with production experiences will turn out here.  Not just me, but even the fans would think that the girls are talented and can improve without their support.  For my production, I think it's boring and we don't need that in AKB48.

And then you have Maeda Atsuko, who screamed "No!" and cried when I told her that she will sing as the center of AKB48.  Everyone else wanted to be the center and perform solo songs.  If I produce those girls and let them be complacent at the center position, there would be no drama.  That's why we had to have Maeda Atsuko.

T: But the audience didn't know that she didn't want it and cried, right?

A: That's not true, fans always notice these minor nuances.  This is why we have stage performances every day at the theater.

Fans that come every day might notice something and think, "Seemed like Acchan was in a bad mood today.  That was kind of weird and maybe something happened."  They would blog about it and forums would be abuzz with discussions.  After a week, maybe someone would catch something about how she cried when we told her about being center and recording songs.  This would then spread and fuel more discussions.  Fans are somehow able to cross the line between the stage and the seats.  They are very sensitive to information that is not directly divulged on stage.

- Maeda Atsuko has an aura of genius

T: She was not a talker.  Not suitable for center, right?

A: She couldn't talk at all.  But we made her center anyway because we think she has an aura of genius.

T: What exactly is an aura?

A: Aura.  I don't think I can explain it very well.  Maybe it's like amino acids.  When you go have a bowl of ramen at a street stall or a cart, you think "Why is this ramen so good?"  But you don't feel that way when you go to a 5-star hotel and have the ramen that's on the menu there.  I don't know if it's amino acids or inosonic acid, but it sure has something special.

Maeda Atsuko has that "something special".  No one told her what to say, but she came up with "I only have one wish.  You may hate me, but please don't hate AKB".  She has that kind of stroke of genius.

T: "You may hate me", that was what she said when her antis started chanting her name during the announcement of second place.  She said that even though she was pretty much told that she should just be in second place.  It reminds me of Nagashima Shigeo when I said "Giants are Forever".  Did you teach her to say tha?

A: No way (laughs).  If I were to write a script, it wouldn't have been that realistic.  When members ask me what they should say, I usually just say, "Don't think too much and decide on one thing.  Thank the fans, or say you're not satisfied with your place, just say one thing that's on your mind.".  I never tell them "say exactly this."

And the members caught this, too.  Like Shinoda Mariko's "Younger members, please come at me."  Just wow, I mean, you can't make this stuff up, it's realistic and very interesting.  As for Maeda's aura, the "plus alpha" that only she has, it's not so different from what the celebrities say when they describe someone with an unique aura.

February 1, 2013

Cultural Competence

I don't know how many people actually read my blog, but if you happen to be one of them, please share / retweet this.

I heard about all these posts on tumblr, through my twitter timeline, and the "extended discussions" these posts have generated.  These discussions apparently range from whether Minegishi's head was shaved by herself or by management, to feminist movements and gender equality in Japan.

One user in particular called for youtube users to report Minegishi's apology video as abusive and hopes youtube will take it down eventually.

I haven't read any of these posts myself - this is exactly the kind of inane discussion I avoid when it comes to this fandom (or any topic that requires in-depth knowledge across multiple disciplines, really).  But from my feeds, it feels like this is really getting out of hand, and the information that's being passed around is not entirely correct.

Here are the facts that have been clarified either by management or by Minegishi herself:
- she shaved her own head (calmly, as Togasaki mentioned in a supplementary post on AKB's official blog)
- her punishment for being involved with Shirahama is demotion
- she admitted to wrongdoing ("this was all my fault")

Please see my twitter translations of the Togasaki post from this afternoon for more information.

edit - here is the English version, from Togasaki's English g+ page

Anything else is speculation.  Calling this a "sex scandal" is not quite correct because no one knows the extent of her "wrongdoing" and I don't think we'll ever find out.  If legit Japanese news sources aren't calling this a sex scandal, why are Western tumblr users exaggerating?

As for head-shaving, feminist movement and gender equality - this might be hard to believe, but in Japanese culture, head-shaving is one way for a person to show regret and take responsibility for having done something wrong, or failing to keep a promise.  One may think of head-shaving as a modern version of the archaic practice of ritual suicide.

In recent Japanese history, people have shaved their own heads for much lesser reasons:
- in 1982 and 1999, two newscasters shaved their heads because the baseball team one of them supported did not win (1982); the other shaved his head in 1999 because the team he hated won (the team is Yomiuri Giants in both cases)
- Dervish Yu, a Japanese pitcher who now plays for Texas Rangers, shaved his head in 2008 because the Japanese National Baseball Team lost to Cuba
- Nagashima Shigeo, a hall-of-famer in Japanese Baseball, once shaved his head to apologize for behaving poorly to an umpire

It is relatively rare for women to shave their heads, but this does not mean they don't.

Westerners who are not familiar with this part of the Japanese culture will certainly see Minegishi's shaved head as something else, and that's understandable.  But I do wish the most outspoken tumblr users would do a bit of research before condemning a whole organization with insufficient knowledge.

As for the no-dating clause - I really dislike getting into this topic with non-fans, because this is a touchy / hairy subject even with existing fans.  In fact members don't even like to discuss it other than repeating the rule.  The bottom line is that they all joined AKB knowing that they could get in trouble for dating, and they willingly stayed in the group.

It is one thing to feel sorry for Minegishi, but quite another to call for boycotts or advocate gender equality in Japan when one doesn't know better.  Values that one grew up with aren't necessary the same for everyone, and what one sees on a regular basis in his/her home country is not always the norm in other countries.  If we can all take a little time to understand one another before being so judgmental, the world would be a much better place.

Here is a good place to start reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_competence

Hirata Rina's G+ Post

Hirata Rina wrote a long post after learning Minegishi Minami's demotion.  It was a very mature, sensible take on the situation and fans have applauded her for it.  I would like more people to see it so I translated it on twitter.  But there is only so much you can do with 140 characters, even with multiple tweets, so here is the unabridged version...

This is Hilary.
I was eating with Yukarun and Miyupon when I found out about what happened to Minegishi-san through Togasaki-san's blog.
We haven't heard anything so we were confused, we were not sure if posting on g+ was a good idea, but now I will write down what's on my mind.
I have always admired Minegishi-san.
At this point, KKS are not featured in performances of regular teams, so I have only been able to talk to her during concert rehearsals.  
But every time I see her, she is always very nice, and gives her everything during performances and MCs.
I have always wanted to be like her, someone who is able to do just about everything.
So I was very shocked to find out about this and really had no idea what to do.
To be honest I still have no idea what will happen.
But I do know that even if she broke the rules, her hard work up to this point has taught us many things.  And her strength has been part of AKB's support for the past 7 years.
I respect her as a person.
For someone so close to the goal, it must be difficult and takes a lot of courage to start again from beginning.  
So when she becomes a KKS, I will greet her with smile and respect.
What happened this time has made people angry, sad and hurt, but I would like to gather up all the negative feelings and share it with everyone - that way we can go through this together and share the happiness that comes after.
I still cannot believe she is going to be a KKS, but if it is true, we will do our best to learn everything we can from her and become better at what we do, no matter how little the growth may be.
We would also be very delighted if Minegishi-san is able to discover new things when she is with us.
We will do our best to make sure everyone enjoys AKB - we want you to think that your days are enjoyable because of us.
This is how we want to move forward.
I want to make everyone happy - this sentiment has not changed since I joined AKB.
I am going to work harder than ever, please look forward to it!