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


  1. Nice article! Even though I'm not a fan, I do not believe it is okay to be looked down upon for being in a relationship. I know that idol fans would be in rage because they would feel betrayed.

  2. Yes!
    I'm glad that I'm not the only one who thinks this "violation of human rights" is trash.
    Minegishi is free to have a boyfriend. She is not free to have a boyfriend AND be an idol.

  3. Good comment!
    especially westerners, they always use their cultural standards to judge other cultures. short-sighted group.