[Photo credit: Washington Post]
The girls of AKB48 arrived in Washington this week, a buoyant, giggling mass of knees, dimples, hair bows, teeth.
Do the girls of AKB48 own any pets? The American students were questioning the Japanese pop stars on the occasion of their first visit to the U.S. capital.
Aki Takajo owns two Chihuahuas, she informed the students through a translator, beaming with the sheer delight of it all.
Her two companions were elated by the news of these dogs; Sae Miyazawa began clapping her hands, and Rina Hirata — call her Hilary, she encouraged — revealed that she personally kept two snakes for pets.
Oh no! The second-graders of Strong John Thomson Elementary School protested.
Oh yes! Snakes, Hilary, 13, revealed, are very cute. She, like Takajo, 20, and Miyazawa, 21, wore a navy plaid blazer over the smallest schoolgirl skirt, followed by yards of gangly legs, then knee socks. A wee, jaunty top hat perched on her head.
AKB48 is an all female singing group. Sixteen of its members were in town for just 36 hours, a whirlwind cultural exchange to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Japanese gifting of the cherry blossom trees. They visited the school, accompanied by approximately 22 members of the Japanese press. They visited the residence of the Japanese ambassador, Ichiro Fujisaki, who speculated that “AKB” stood for Adorable, Kind and Beautiful. How he jokes, that ambassador. Everyone knows that the group name is a play on “Akihabara,” the Tokyo neighborhood in which the group holds nightly performances. On Tuesday, they were scheduled to perform two free concerts at the Lincoln Theatre.
How to explain AKB48. The group contains 57 members, making it the largest pop group in the world. They are split into four teams, which perform on revolving nights. When the girls get older, they “graduate” and are replaced with trainee AKB48s. The group’s past 11 singles have topped Japanese charts. They are huge. It is as if Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and the entire cast of “Twilight” were placed into a sauce pan and simmered on a low boil until nothing remained but the cloying, sticky essence of their fame, and if that fame was then poured into pleated tartan skirts and given pigtails.
Is AKB48’s target audience tweenage girls? Teenage girls? Teenage girls trapped in the bodies of middle-aged men? Middle-aged men who spend too much time looking at the bodies of teenage girls?
The group plays on all of this: The cutesy-sexy stereotype is not exactly subliminal. Anyone who thinks they are solely G-rated has not seen their Puccho candy commercial, in which the members of AKB48 pass each other taffy, lips to lips, no hands at all.
Back at Thomson Elementary, the students wanted to know: Who is your favorite cartoon character, Hilary?
She pointed to a picture of a Japanese manga character and nodded enthusiastically. “Because he’s blue and round and has a pocket that is a door, and you can open the door and go anywhere you want.” Hilary was born in Arizona, and so she said this in English. The other girls nodded approvingly.
After this cultural Q&A, the three girls sat with the students and helped them write messages of goodwill to residents of Japan on pink cutouts of cherry blossoms.
“Just draw anything?” Takajo, through her translator, asked the young girl who has pressed a crayon into her hand and asked for assistance. The girl nodded. Takajo took the crayon and carefully sketched a small figure. It was Hello Kitty.
Then the girls were whisked away, waving cheerfully. The approximately 22 members of the press also dispersed, catching taxis to the ambassador’s residence, where the girls were scheduled to give a press conference.
The girls arrived about 10 minutes late to the open, airy room decorated with pictures of the Japanese emperor and empress. These girls were new girls, three different members of AKB48. There were no top hats in this group, and one wore a beret. The skirts and blazers were identical, however, and the replacement girls appeared to be equally adorable, kind and beautiful.
A member of the media asked the new girls how they felt to be visiting Washington.
“We are looking forward to giving you our show,” one girl says. “We are so honored and pleased.”
And do they have any tourist plans?
“We wanted to see the beautiful cherry blossoms,” Minami Takahashi says through an interpreter, though she is not sure they will have time. “We appreciate the many famous things in Washington, D.C.”
The resulting applause seems the slightest bit outsized for the girls’ responses, but they were very personable, and it is possible that something was lost in translation.
Source and a slide show that is worth clicking through to.
WTF, WaPo. Could you have put less effort into this? The comments to the article are even worse. AKB48 are cuter than you. Get over it.