AKB48 fan arrested for taking their business model to its logical conclusion

Today we have news of a fan of girl pop group AKB48 who just had to keep the fantasy going, no matter the cost:

Police on Friday re-arrested an overzealous fan of idol group AKB48, adding to previous charges of theft for which he is already on trial. Masayuki Fujioka, 35, is suspected of committing 151 robberies in four prefectures. He was quoted by police as saying, “I needed money for train fare and concerts so I could chase AKB48.”

According to police, Fujioka illegally trespassed in a construction site in Tochigi City on the night of Oct 6, breaking into a vending machine and stealing 4,700 yen. Authorities say that, since around December 2002, Fujioka committed 151 robberies in Tochigi, Saitama, Ibaraki and Gunma prefectures, stealing a total of 4.1 million yen.

While we have no way of knowing whether this guy really was spending it all on AKB48, it certainly rings true. AKB48 has been a phenomenal success story in what is otherwise a shrinking and lackluster music scene in Japan. The concept is “idols you can actually meet.” While the music and dancing are nothing special, they are very able at appealing to an audience of young “otaku” men. In 2009, AKB48 became more popular than ever, moving from the “fringe” status as an otaku group to more mainstream exposure on TV and magazines.

The group consists of 3 “teams” of around 16 members each (age range: 16-24) who perform semi-independently. With so many to choose from, in addition to dozens of “trainees” aged 15-20, the fans tend to choose one favorite and follow her closely.

The producer, Yasushi Akimoto, exercises total control over the process and has been called a genius for his business model. It combines the J-pop practice of building a long-term, loyal fan base (many old bands long past their prime can still crank out hit singles and fill arenas for this reason), the penchant for fawning over young, innocent girls in the otaku subculture, and the revenue maximization strategy of a hostess bar.

It’s that last part that has led to some illegality and controversy. Here’s a list of some of the group’s money-making practices, some of which I cribbed from a lengthy piece in the Sankei Shimbun:

  • Perhaps the group’s biggest source of revenue is “handshaking events” where fans who bought a limited edition single on the official website receive a ticket that lets them meet and greet a member of their choice. The rarity of these tickets makes them popular items on Yahoo Auctions, Japan’s answer to eBay. The biggest fans find a girl they like and try to attend as many of the events as possible. Of course, the group also releases CDs and holds concert tours just like any other band, though they operate their own proprietary ticketing system.
  • One CD came with a “ballot” that the buyer could use to vote for who will sing on the next AKB48 single. Some of the more avid fans bought hundreds of CDs to vote for their favorites. A journalist in the Sankei explains this is very similar to when a customer at a hostess bar will buy drink after drink for his favorite to help her succeed.
  • Another CD release came with a poster of a random member included. Fans started trading on online auctions to try and collect them all.
  • The group’s home turf is the 8th floor of the Don Quijote discount shop in Akihabara. Members perform just about every day (having a giant roster of 100 members and sub-members helps keep this going).
  • Members also regularly appear in weekly magazine photo spreads in what is very close to softcore porn, not something an earlier, similar group Morning Musume would have done.
  • On their website, there is a link to an address where you are invited to send “fan letters and gifts.”
  • Akimoto is trying to franchise the “48” idea to other countries, envisioning a Paris 48 or Jakarta 48. There was a documentary a couple months ago about his trip to a marketing convention to try and sell the idea, but so far I have not heard whether he succeeded or not.

In addition to the thief mentioned earlier, other criminals have sold counterfeit event tickets, and one fan started stealing a member’s mail. Clearly some kind of fan worship goes on with any popular group, but AKB48 has clearly done a better job than most of exploiting the relationship between performer and fan.

Via CNNgo and Japan Today

56 thoughts on “AKB48 fan arrested for taking their business model to its logical conclusion”

  1. I read the Japanese story when it broke earlier in the weekend. That story quoted Fujioka as being a former Morning Musume fan. I wonder where the next step in the progression of exploitative girl groups will take him…

  2. Morning Musume members have done and are still doing various risqué bahingsuuit photobooks and digital photobooks and even Idol DVD’s where they hop around the beach half naked.

    This is not something only AKB48 does.

  3. I feel like there is a difference between those photobooks and panty shots in Shukanshi, but maybe I am drawing too fine a distinction. Also it seems the more suggestive stuff came after the group broke up or the member left

  4. I guess Johnny’s Junior would be the male version of AKB48, I guess. But I don’t know where to put Exile.

    Aceface will certainly know better about Exile….

  5. Come on, what exactly in the AKB48 business model has “fans become criminals to pay for all this” as its logical conclusion? Nothing you quote from the Sankei Shimbun even hints at illegality, or indeed anything other than variations on “extract maximum wealth from customers,” which is what basically every company tries to do in a capitalist system. The AKB48 approach to wealth-extraction is certainly a lot more responsible than the one taken by companies who market unnecessary and even harmful things to kids in order to get money from their parents.

    Also, there is a key difference between buying a hostess drinks and buying CDs to vote anonymously: No human connection. Why is buying extra CDs any more sinister or “hostessy” than sending multiple texts to vote on American Idol? The creepy part about the hostess system there isn’t the flow of money alone, it’s the buying of power (in the form of felt interpersonal obligation) over women.

    Now, AKB48 members feeling (or being) unsafe because of fans who believe in a human connection that doesn’t exist, and were encouraged in this belief by management practices like those the Sankei outlines: THAT is a logical conclusion of selling people like meat, and it concerns me a lot more than the occasional crazy who steals to feed his habit.

  6. For that to be the logical conclusion you have to believe AKB48 is basically similar to a hostess con-game, which I do. Do women tragically get hurt/stalked/generally exploited in a situation like that? Yes. Do their owners make money from their marks, sometimes pushing them into scary amounts of debt or other forms of desperation in the process? Also yes. In AKB’s case, it’s not illegal, just devilishly clever. With the central focus on fan meet and greets AKB crosses an emotional line for many of the fans, and that’s the con aspect of it. It’s certainly not what every company on the planet does (though there ARE many similar idol units roaming the streets of Akihabara).

    Sure, voting for your favorite idol to sing in a single is a lot like American Idol, except for one crucial detail – each AKB CD costs about 10x what it would to text your vote in AI. These fans have an emotional motivation to spend.

    Is this approach more responsible than marketing sugary cereals to kids? I don’t think we need to choose here. They are both unethical in their own special way.

  7. I still think the hostess comparison isn’t really helpful. My point is that for AKB48, there is a low danger of catastrophe (fan goes crazy, kidnaps AKB48 member he thinks is his girlfriend), but her everyday life does not involve weird power plays with customers trying to figure out how to use their influence on her income as sexual leverage over her. Even at a handshake event, there’s a bright line, 99% of fans know not to go over it, there’s no culture of meeting fans outside the event for dinner beforehand, etc.

    Basically, I agree with you that it is an exploitative system (pace the usual counterarguments about women using their sexuality to get paid etc.), but I think that the comparison to the hostess industry is sensationalistic. It leaves you with nowhere to go when you run into situations where artist management companies actually pimp their talent out as real live hostesses. Or even just regular old maid cafes — the pressure there has to be a lot more hostess-like, and stories of stalkers and so on are very common. And I would be very surprised if celebrities with management investing heavily in them were not better protected from stalkers than non-famous women doing a part-time job in funny clothes.

    Sure, voting for your favorite idol to sing in a single is a lot like American Idol, except for one crucial detail – each AKB CD costs about 10x what it would to text your vote in AI. These fans have an emotional motivation to spend.

    So, you have to be 10x more devoted per unit purchase. I don’t see the big difference. Plus, there were surely American Idol fans emotionally invested enough to spend the same amount of money texting hundreds of times.

  8. You’re absolutely right that there are very important differences. But what I am talking about how AKB48 has used some hostess club-like techniques to more effectively build emotional attachments with nerds, all the better to get more money out of them. I don’t think the members necessarily live like hostesses or anything like that.

    Hrm, maybe I should compare them to the Konkatsu Killer…

  9. “Hrm, maybe I should compare them to the Konkatsu Killer…”

    Maybe…. My understanding of the hostess clubs (which I 100% admit comes from books) is that they operate around a fine balance of accessibility and exclusivity. You have to establish a “presence” before you can become a 指名客 of one of the more popular girls (ie. you or I just couldn’t go in off the street to one of the more popular clubs on a busy night and demand time with the #1 girl just because we can afford the donperi). AKB48 seems a lot more open. As soon as start setting radically different prices for the girls based on popularity or have special events just for “repeat offenders”, then we have a hostess model.

    “There was a documentary a couple months ago about his trip to a marketing convention to try and sell the idea, but so far I have not heard whether he succeeded or not.”

    Word is (through the anime press) that groups in about 7 countries have bought the rights to the idea (songs and costumes being developed in Japan).

  10. “You have to establish a “presence” before you can become a 指名客 of one of the more popular girls”

    Not really. A 指名客 is a customer who designates you as a hostess, not your choice of customer. If the club lets someone in, they can designate who they want. The no.1 hostess expects to be designated a lot, so spends her time plate-spinning to ensure that she keeps everyone on the hook. She’ll get a cut of whatever a customer spends whether she spends 5 minutes at their table or the whole night. If a customer has no “presence”, she won’t spend much time with them. The customer is faced with hoping to make an impression, changing girls or changing clubs. Or doing something different with his life.

    By and large, though, it does come down to money because the owners want the hostesses to look after big spenders. If you are laying out enough dough without being disagreeable then they’ll make an effort to keep you as a customer by steering her towards you or steering you towards someone else if they are worried you might give up.

  11. Thanks to Peter’s Google Reader list, I found this blog “The Last Psychiatrist” – here is a post about rage that I think is hugely relevant to this and many discussions on MFT:

    “When you find yourself hating someone (who did not directly hurt you) with blinding rage, know for certain that it is not the person you hate at all, but rather something about them that threatens your identity. Find that thing. This single piece of advice can turn your life around, I guarantee it. ”

    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/01/im_building_a_rape_tunnel.html

  12. Your article sure tells the truth of what is happening with young ladies here in Tokyo and probaly other cities in Japan, I grew up in Yokosuka and in Sasebo and being a American kid in Japan I went everywhere, and that is getting to know what goes on behind all the cute and proper places in Japan, lets say in the ginza, AKB48 has some of the cutest girls on television and in books, and on DVD’s, and doing gruave the spelling, semi-nude mag’s and DVD’s…of very yound girls…in Japan they don’t care, they all have there fan clubs in there theatre, and its a racket when your in there, its almost hilarous when your in there, its almost like at a baseball game here in Japan when fans start to yell for there favorites, but its all the time sometime, pretty anoying to, I saw the girls perform when I was fourteen, I’m 18 now, and I’m obessed with buying all there DVD’s and CD’s and YES I have my favorite girl, I can’t help it, I even tryed to stop one time, I said I got to get away from this these girls there are gonna kill me…..it lasted one month, now I’m listening to Morning Masume, Cute, Perfume, Berryz, and I can’t live without my AKB48…I’m crazy..

  13. a teen age boy absorbed by teenage idols ,there is nothing wrong, I think. 35 year old man doing robbery for chasing teen age idols, this is wrong.

    Although I don’t know how much you can blame AKB48 for it.

  14. “here is a post about rage that I think is hugely relevant to this and many discussions on MFT”

    So is the outrage at the robber, AKB48, their handlers or what?

    Mulboyne – thanks for the head’s up. I guess that turning down a shimei is just a cheesy manga thing.

  15. “a big part of this blog!”

    Ha. I’m not sure if “rage” is the right word, though. At least in my case, I sometimes end up calmly thinking “I’m going to take on outraged tone with this comment.”

    Have to admit that I did feel some real rage about that rape tunnel, however. I also disagree with the author – maybe we have a moral responsibility to take things like that personally if when we find ourselves thinking “what will the rape victims living in the same society as I feel when they read about that?” Then I want to beat the dude with an 8 ball in a sock.

  16. Quote by- tomojiro Says:
    February 3rd, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    a teen age boy absorbed by teenage idols ,there is nothing wrong, I think. 35 year old man doing robbery for chasing teen age idols, this is wrong.

    Although I don’t know how much you can blame AKB48 for it.
    Arigato tomojiro…..tomodachi….

    I will never blame the cutest girls in the world, and I hope this never ends, the Japanese do things there way and other countries do things there way to, I would never want to change the beauty that this country has and it starts with its people.

  17. Carl, I realize you’re just 18, but maybe it’s time to readjust your priorities. Coming on the comments section and baring your soul like that sounds like a cry for help, so I’ll give you some advice as someone who was once a dewey-eyed 18 year old obsessed with Japan and all its “beauty”.

    Let me reiterate my point from the original post – AKB48 is a con, a sham. It’s marketing wrapped in a pretty package to separate you from your money. Lady Gaga in plaid skirts. It’s fine to be a fan, but to obsess like that just isn’t healthy. If you let it take over your life, everything else will just pass you by and you’ll end up like the comic shop guy on the Simspons. Worse, it could hurt your school work and affect your future.

  18. The psychiatrist defined rage over the Rape Tunnel as a safe type of anger at foes considered weak enough to take on. Can there be a better description of MFT (at least my posts)? Eikaiwa teachers, NYT magazine writers, Japanese politicians, whoever is responsible for cleaning up litter in Roppongi.

  19. I dare you to take on Hiroko Tabuchi, Adamu. She’ll rip you a new one, and then she’ll feed you pure pain through it. Chuck Norris doesn’t come to Japan because he knows she’s here.

    But seriously: We get angry at individuals who are just caught up in the circle of life. Lisa Katayama doesn’t write stupid articles because she’s stupid: she writes them because that’s what the media wants. It isn’t guys’ fault that they want to ogle AKB48 or hostesses or anatomically-correct dolls: postwar society simply deprived them of any better acceptable concepts of masculinity. And it isn’t women’s fault that they either get caught up in this nonsense, give up on mankind entirely, or study English and throw themselves at investment bankers in Roppongi — those are basically their only options in the Japanese meat market. The politicians are ineffectual because the bureaucrats run the show, and the bureaucrats run the show because nobody else does. It’s easier to be angry at the tangible cast of characters than to be angry at the ethereal social death spiral.

    When it comes down to it, the only viable solutions are Jesus, Buddha, MTV, substance abuse and/or insurrection.

  20. Carl – watch Evangelion ASAP.

    Adamu – you’ve also taken on rightwingers, China, Republicans, and Kofuku no Kagaku.

    To tell you the truth, I was thinking of writing an article about Kofuku no Kagaku but decided not to because my contact information is all online and you just never know.

    Anyway, you don’t hate the archetypal eikaiwa teacher, you just pity the fool.

  21. “It isn’t guys’ fault that they want to ogle AKB48 or hostesses or anatomically-correct dolls: postwar society simply deprived them of any better acceptable concepts of masculinity.”

    I smell a Rika Kayama book. In it, there would be a long chapter on whether or not it’s deprivation or just privation…

  22. Cyzo has a story on the recent arrest and quotes a veteran AKB otaku with some more details of what AKB48 fans are like. Basically there is an intense reaction to the “closeness” of the meet-and-greets and look like extreme cult members to this guy (another juicy comparison):

    「AKB48の魅力の一つが、ファンとメンバーとの圧倒的な”近さ”。シングルのリリースの度に大規模な握手会が行われ、メンバーに名前や顔を覚えてもらえるのはもちろん、互いの趣味の話で盛り上がったりもできます。それゆえにヲタの間では、メンバーから一番気入られているヲタである”TO(トップオタ)”になることにこだわり、密かに握手会のループ数や、2ショットポラの撮影回数、プレゼントの額を競っています。服をプレゼントするとその服を着て、ブログに写メを載せてくれるので、ほかのヲタから『あの日に■■(メンバー名)ちゃんが着ていた服は、●●(ヲタ)が送った』なんて話を聞くと、いてもたってもいられないほど嫉妬するヲタもいるようです。男の嫉妬はムゴいですからね。メンバーにとってのNo.1になるためには絶対的に金が必要で、ヲタたちは必死なんです。物理的にも、精神的にもメンバーとヲタが”近い”がゆえにヲタたちも周りが見えなくなっている。ここまでくると、もうファンじゃなくて狂信的な信者ですね」

    http://www.cyzo.com/2010/02/post_3791.html

  23. “In it, there would be a long chapter on whether or not it’s deprivation or just privation…”

    Good ref Peter. She should have quit with “Petite Nationalism”.

    In any case, I’m calling for a Chuck Norris and Mr. T Vs. Kofuku no Kagaku manga.

  24. will u stop comparing akb48 to a hostess or something…they are just famous that their fans coudnt control themselves and commit crimes….besides akb48 are not the only girl idol groups in japan that makes photobooks,hello project also produces that some kind of stuff…akb48 are just that talented that every fans gone crazy about them….like me!AKB48 RULZ!!!!

  25. I see lots of good information here, some of it is a not so good also…Joe Jones Says:
    February 4th, 2010 at 10:32 am, Sir you are pretty much right on with what you have to say, But I just don’t indulge my self totaly in AKB48 and the I have been known to do other things also, I have been threatened by my parents on several occasions to stop with the late nite going’s out to there concerts and going to the theatre, and my obsession to constantly buy, DVD’s and CD’s and books and calenders, and almost everything that has no meaning….but I have to have it…all my friends have AKB stuff also, and who ever doesn’t have the latest of anything ain’t nothing….but thats only if its your idol, I hope I stop getting older, Japanese chicks are the sweetest, nicest, kindest, most trustworthy, and devoted and loving girls anywhere…..and Adamu if AKB is all a money making con game, then its the cutest one right now here in Japan….its where the money is, I dare you to go to one of there concerts and listen to them sing, not on a CD or DVD, actually enter there theatre and see them in person….you will see how remarkable they are, Oh this year they had the 60th annual music awards here in Japan and can you believe it they invited AKB48 and they were a dream….right now like Harada91 says AKB48 rulz, almost all the blogs of MM, Berryz, Perfume,Hello project are pissed at AKB48 for moving in and taking over, its the time now for AKB48, who knows in a couple of years when I’m old and bald and living in Roppongi in the gutter I’ll look back and think I did this all for AKB48……..I’m young and I’m enjoying life and I do believe in Jesus……Jones…have a nice day

  26. Adamu have you heard this song from AKB48 – Saigo no seifuku – try it, its just a simple song nothing wild or sensational if you know the language then this song hopefully will even touch your heart…it is so beautiful and pure …tomodachi..

  27. HI Benjamin, I have never heard of the Onyanko Club, I did however check them out online and found out that they are a little before my time, some of the names I am familiar with, and the groups who they went on to make successful. I’ll look into them some more and see if I can find there music to listen to. thanks…..

  28. Leave the left hard of the Bell Curve have their fun. Not like they’re getting anything else anyway

  29. I can’t tell you so much on this on the web.It’s company secret.
    But currently I’m talking with the management of SKE48……

  30. >Akimoto is married to a former member of Onyanko Club

    Which is sort of creepy considering Akimoto also created Onyanko Club. (I wasn’t sure if you knew this based on the comment.)

  31. The Onyanko sailor fuku song touched my heart when it was playing on the machine “Pretty Band” when I won 60,000 at pachinko that one time.

  32. Created may be over-stating it a little, but as a writer Akimoto was certainly an important figure in the creation of Onyanko Club.

  33. M-Bone,

    For the exact same reason, I am very fond of “Matsuken Samba 2.” I even bought the DVD with some of my winnings.

  34. I know I’m late here but I just stumbeled on this. As for the comment about AKB48 and Johnny’s Juniors – I would say it applies to all of Johnny’s…. even many other groups in Japan.

    Many groups have fanclub only concerts. Johnny’s concerts/events tend to be fanclub only (it is only rarely and in limited quanitities that they are open to the public). Scalper tickets for these events can go for over 100000-yen (and when original tickets are 6000-yen that is a huge jump). Then there is the tendency of some companys to release multiple editions of singles/CDs/DVDs, each with their own benefits.

    A lot of these groups also have unofficial, and official shops that sell pictures of them, photobooks, calendars. The unofficial shops can be freaky as they have pictures of them in their off time, sometimes with the kids in their uniforms in front of their school gates.

    And now there is that new group that has foreigners signed in Japan. Like Beckii Cruel or whatever she is going by.

  35. i love akb and all their song is good but not all just like romance irane and i don’t want collect all their stuff since i don’t have much money and one member of exile is fans of akb

  36. Hello Yagami, I feel like you do I have spent probaly to much money on just the music CD’s and DVD’s and I have bougt one PB of my favorite girl, to keep buying more and more stuff I’d go broke quick. I wish now I had never heard of AKB48 even though they are almost everywhere now and are fast becoming a national icon, they are the most popular group now in Japan as you can see them everywhere on, T.V., bill boards, magazines, in movies, on akbingo t.v. and they have concert advertisements everywhere they go and thousands of people are now showing up. I heard they are headed to the states in July of this year thats there second time now in the states, also I have heard that there fan base in the states is rapidly rising. I have tryed a couple times now to stop listening and checking on the progress of AKB but I’m addicted, if I could stop my countless hours of just going online and looking everywhere for foolish girl gaga I would, I warn anyone don’t listen to AKB48, don’t watch there there DVD’s or you will be addicted to them and you will, you will go CRAZY.

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