After a member of the popular Japanese idol group NGT48 — an offshoot group of highly popular AKB48 — talked openly about her sexual assault, she was made to apologize by her management for "causing trouble". Now in a turn of events that might just restore our faith in the entertainment world and humanity, the management, AKS, has come under fire for attempting to silence 23-year-old Maho Yamaguchi.
It all began when Yamaguchi took to Twitter to detail an assault that happened last December. In a series of tweets that have now been deleted, Yamaguchi claimed that she was ambushed and forced to the ground by two men at the entrance of her house. The intruders were arrested by local police then released without charge.
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On Twitter and in a live stream that was abruptly cut short, Yamaguchi said that she reported the assault to her management, and agreed to remain mum on the matter while they handled it. After a month of inaction, it was clear that she had to take matters into her own hand. Alas, it backfired. During an NGT48 concert last week, Yamaguchi apologized to her fans for speaking up at all.
Lucky for her, her fans are pretty damn supportive. Enraged, they created a petition demanding the management to apologize to Yamaguchi, and NGT48's manager to resign over their poor handling of the situation. As of now, the petition has collected more than 25,000 signatures. In response, the group's male manager was replaced by a woman , and AKS released a statement: "Maho Yamaguchi took matters into her own hands and revealed what happened to her because of our poor response to her and fans… we would like to rebuild trust with the members by providing counseling, starting with Yamaguchi."
Yamaguchi's story ends with sort of a happy ending, but it also shows that not much has been hone to solve the deep-rooted problems within Asia’s multi-million dollar pop idol industry. In the age of #MeToo, we are seeing more and more women who are victims of sexual assault speaking up against the male-dominated K-Pop industry.
According to music critic Jeff Benjamin, in an interview with CBC News, those young women are racing against an inevitable "expiration date" in the ruthless entertainment industry of usually five to seven years. "Idols," a term that Japanese and Korean stars are generally referred to, are bound under the management’s strict contract to uphold the perfect image expected of them. For Yamaguchi and her NGT48 bandmates, it means preserving an innocent Japanese schoolgirl image. In this industry, performers (often women) find themselves in positions where they are vulnerable to exploitation.
In light of Yamaguchi's case, fans have taken to Twitter to voice out their concerns and demands for better working conditions of their idols. One fan referred to the time when an AKB48 member Minami Minegishi was made to apologize and shave her head in a video after she was caught spending a night with her boyfriend.
“The Japanese Idol Industry is something that has needed a massive overhaul,” one fan tweeted. “It was clear after that member of AKB48 was publicly shamed, shaved her head/apologized for having a boyfriend that the industry is very sexist and not willing to protect these girls."
The culture of forcing young women to uphold a flawless, innocent image at all costs in Japan's entertainment industry might not go away as fast as it should, but brave young women like Yamaguchi are paving a way to that future.