Arama They Didn't

1:30 pm - 01/22/2013

AKB48: Unionize and take back your lost love lives


They started performing on stages in Tokyo's Akihabara electronics district, and today their ubiquity is unrivaled. The current flavors of the month pepper the TV schedules and covers of weekly magazines all year round. In Tokyo, you can't swing a carrot without hitting a giant poster of one or a bunch of the all-grinning, all-dancing "Vegetable Sisters." AKB48 are, hands down, the busiest and most successful girl group in Japan.

Their management prohibits the girls from having romantic relationships, with a contract clause stating that "Unrequited love is permissible, but you cannot return the affection." Several members have been pushed to resign or "graduate" after photos leaked out revealing the girl was dating.

Quite recently, the much-loved Yuka Masuda announced her sudden resignation from the group after stepping over the no-love-life line. Photos splashed all over a weekly magazine suggested she had spent the night at a male celebrity's home. Though not officially "dismissed," it is clear that decisions in her personal life cost her her job.

Although not all scholars agree, I believe even celebrities such as AKB48 members are protected by labor standards law. This month I'd like to examine two questions: 1) Does the law permit chastity clauses? and 2) Can an employer fire someone for violating such a rule?

Labor contracts, like all contracts, are predicated on the assumption of agreement between two parties. But that does not mean that anything goes when it comes to their provisions. Four conditions must all be met to legitimize each and every term of a contract: kakuteisei (determinacy), jitsugen kanōsei (achievability), tekihōsei (legality) and shakaiteki datōsei (social justification).

It is the fourth, shakaiteki datōsei , that concerns us in the AKB48 case. This concept entails general ideals of morality and justice, specifically kōjo ryōzoku (public order and morality), a crucial and broadly ranging legal principle enshrined in Article 90 of the Civil Code.

Contract terms that violate kōjo ryōzoku are invalid. Textbook examples include: paying for a crime; terms that violate fundamental human rights, such as gender bias; terms that restrict individual freedom; and those that violate social morals such as human trafficking, prostitution or geisha provisions. While traditional geisha exist within the scope of the law, asking an employee to "entertain" a client does not.

Most would consider it an unjustifiable invasion of privacy if an ordinary company prohibited their employees from taking a lover. Apologists for the AKB48 chastity clause argue that a girl's value as an idol is compromised if it becomes known she has a boyfriend because her job is to "sell fantasies" to male fans. In fact, quite a few fans have commented on chat sites that they felt "betrayed" and "lied to" by AKB members who began dating.

I have a different view. Teenage girls and women in their 20s are at an age when their love life is the most exciting — a time that's arguably the best chance to experience the ups and downs of the adventures of love and life. Their managers and producers surely don't have the right to deprive them of that opportunity.

Some might say that if the girls want love, they shouldn't join the group in the first place. This argument could be and is used by the worst corporate exploiters to justify just about any illegal contract provision.

So can you be fired for violating such a provision, for a reason grounded in your private life? Dismissals must have "objective and rational grounds" (Labor Contract Law, Article 16).

Asahikawa District Court on Dec. 27, 1989, ruled against a company (Hankiko Setsubi) that fired a female employee but not a male one after discovering the two were committing adultery.

Management reasoned that even if it does not interfere with work, "adultery adversely affects the company's moral order, hurts coworkers' motivation, and makes the president lose face." While acknowledging that the woman's actions were illegal and immoral, the court said that only specific damage to the running of the company constitutes hurting the workers' moral order or motivation, a condition not met in this case.

Thus judicial precedent prohibits disciplinary action for problematic personal behavior that has no connection with work duties. Meanwhile, only if such personal actions severely damage a company's overall reputation can they be considered to have seriously damaged the company's moral order.

It is clear that the AKB48 chastity clause fails to meet the court's criteria for legitimate grounds for dismissal.

To members of AKB48: If you want to fight for your right to live and love freely, you'll need solidarity with your fellow band members, so why not establish a union? The "Vegetable Sisters" should be sisters in deed as well as name — not rivals.


misty__eyed 22nd-Jan-2013 09:54 pm (UTC)
lol Japantimes.

That being said....

You can argue that the rule is in place for some of the wota who see them as girlfriends. You can argue that the rule is there because it helps them focus on their job. Either way it's there and has been for a very long time not just with AKB but other idols as well (with exceptions).

Yuka isn't a great example. She could have stayed but she didn't. She hadn't gone with AKB to Tokyo Dome and chose to work on The Wiz instead and had been in the back for quite some time. That was a easy quick way to leave and she took it.

Management has been lax on such things lately. She could have easily denied it because there was no proof. She said the things were partially true. She could have stayed but had no activities for a while.

The rule will stay in place for a long time but with how AKB has been towards it lately I can see it possibly changing and other groups following suit. ETA: That being said as a female I'm pretty neutral on the rule. It's there. I know other fans who don't mind it as well. Besides everyone should know it's really you can date, just don't get caught lol.

Edited at 2013-01-22 09:59 pm (UTC)
myharu 22nd-Jan-2013 10:36 pm (UTC)
I agree, I'm pretty neutral on the rule too because they're not force to join and they are aware of the rule before they sign the contract.

And if Yuko hasn't proved it already, dating is fine as long as you don't get "caught" and if you do hopefully you're popular and just get demoted(Sayaka) or shipped to a sister group (Sasshi). I think Yuka could have stayed if she wanted, but I think that she was taking this as an opportunity to move on (especially since she also withdrew from DiVA)
nalty7 22nd-Jan-2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
Interesting read!
I hope things will change for every female idol.
okadarei 22nd-Jan-2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
well, the rule doesn't strictly applies to AKB... it's been a golden rule for idols ever since idols were born in Japan, and there are more agencies that practice this rule than agencies that don't. Even those who doesn't admit it openly, do have the rule. It's for girls and it's for boys... just look at how hard is for Johnny's to say openly they're in a relationship. So yeah, I am of the opinion that if you want to have a certain normal life (because becoming an entertainer will never allow you so), then don't become an idol. You can become an artist, a singer, a performer, but don't become an idol. Because 'idol' is a status in Japan and it comes with a price.
kawaii_neko23 23rd-Jan-2013 01:43 am (UTC)
I don't really think you can compare Johnny's though, because basically once a Johnny is in their 20's they can and do date without much repercussions. AKB CAN'T Date period! Sure the popular ones can do it very discreetly, but let a pic of one of them kissing someone get out and their graduating. There is a VERY big double standard between female idols and male ones.
okadarei 23rd-Jan-2013 10:48 am (UTC)
believe me, for Johnny's ain't that easy either. They can date as long anyone else knows, and most of the times, the boys have been pressured to break their relationships, as well as there's an order to get married, and Jin last year just messed it all up.

For female idols the thing is they don't extend their idol-ship way beyond their early 20's, even if they continue being an entertainer, they usually graduate from the groups or the agencies where they are pursuing their idol careers.

Edited at 2013-01-23 10:50 am (UTC)
icecoveredheart 22nd-Jan-2013 10:47 pm (UTC)
Though I think it's quite ridiculous idea to ban relationships for idols of either gender; however, if I were to be the devil's advocate for a moment here: there are fans (fanatic is a more appropriate word imo) who feel "betrayed" and hence the "idol company" would lose "customers" and the revenue they get from them. To change this rule, the society's view of idols and the teenage mentality produced by it has to change so as not to end up with another Kimura Takuya marriage induced suicide cases or the such. It's really the media's role (and the idols' via that media) to change this way of thinking in order to allow for the rule to subside peacefully
maquitasan 22nd-Jan-2013 10:56 pm (UTC)
when you decide and when you sign to become an idol, you are accepting that you will not have relationships anymore, no scandls or bad behaviour. if you don't want to accomplish or if you think it is bad, there are other options to be in the entertainment world.
you are the only one who is taking the decesion to leave your love life or not
mikarocker 22nd-Jan-2013 11:07 pm (UTC)
While I know that this is somewhat of a definite rule among all idols, not just AKB, it was really interesting to read about it from a legal standpoint~
mighty_orange 22nd-Jan-2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
Whatever, I'm not even going to get into discussion about the stupid rule, it always ends the same. I find solace in the fact that it's mostly a sham and whoever wants to, gets to date just fine as long as they're discreet cause the true quintessential idol rule is 'hide your shit well'.

Edited at 2013-01-22 11:39 pm (UTC)
taylorniw 23rd-Jan-2013 01:57 am (UTC)
Even without that clause, if something came up, they'd just find another reason to fire them and it's unlikely any of the girls would fight it.
memorian 23rd-Jan-2013 03:17 am (UTC)
i hate this "rule" I wish more idols would stand up for the rights and what they think is wrong and protest, sure you can fire one person but you can't fire hundreds of people. I don't want to say "well if they wanted to date and find love then why sign up in the first place".....why can't they just have both?

i find it wrong for fans to expect that there idols should stay single and not be able to date and fall in love...yet at the same time the fans have boyfriends/girlfriends of there own?.....No.
lilly0 23rd-Jan-2013 07:23 am (UTC)
To be honest, I can't stand this rule at all. Having an all-the-time-avaible virgin school-girl image to the fans, makes it look like a woman's sexuality is sick and disgusting. And that these girls should feel ashamed of it.
I can see some sense in this rule as long as the girls are underaged (or below 18 if you want so), but once they are old enough... why shouldn't they be allowed to date/go out?
It wouldn't hurt some fangirls/fanboys to get some realism. This situation is already rather bad for male idols, but for female idols it's much worse. (And I hate the argument that 'they know what they signed up for' No matter what they signed up for, it's wrong that it was on the contract in first place)(By the way, it seems like most of the fault lies not with the agencies, but us fans, who demand to dictate our favs love lives)

Edited at 2013-01-23 07:25 am (UTC)
umbrellaphone 23rd-Jan-2013 11:06 am (UTC)
The strict rule can't be helped because that pretty much defines what an idol is. Mind as well deal away with the industry if they lift the rule. After all, part of idols' job is answering those silly love questions. Married/dating life just wouldn't cut it since Japanese generally keeps details about love life private -especially for celebs.

Edited at 2013-01-23 11:07 am (UTC)
dramaticsurgeon 23rd-Jan-2013 12:48 pm (UTC)
A friend showed me a commercial fairly recently of AKB48, with their faces superimposed on the bodies of 6-7 year old girls.

What does that have to do with the no-dating rule? I think that commercial gives a pretty good indication of the image they're expected to project: young, naive/innocent, and forever untainted by the idea of realistic love. A kind of stunted sexuality that's never fully realized. The entire culture is focused on "cute", even when adult sex appeal is involved. That's the image these girls buy into when they join an idol agency; whether it's right or not, it just IS.

Is there a different expectation between female and male idol groups? Hell yes. There's a reason Japan ranked so poorly in the Gender Equality survey. While the girl idols are stuck in perpetual childhood, the guys have a more mature sex appeal as they grow into their 20s and 30s. The girls are expected to leave the idol group in their early to mid 20s. That alone adds pressure to maintain a pristine, untouched image throughout their idol career.

As far as male idols go, well, I get the impression things used to be a little more lax before the Kimutaku suicides. 4 deaths that were seemingly inspired by his marriage rattled the industry enough to tighten the reins, at least on the more popular groups. Again, right or wrong doesn't change the fact that exposed relationships usually end quickly. (Jin's marriage aside.)
monotuned 23rd-Jan-2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
Personally I thought the commercial was harmless, it's like apps where you can superimpose a person's face on something else. I wonder if I under-think or people overthink lol. Not denying that Japanese girl idols are more of the young/cute/ero-young-kawaii type of appeal though.
dramaticsurgeon 23rd-Jan-2013 07:40 pm (UTC)
It's always possible others are overthinking it. But even AKB's so-called scandalous CM where the members passed candy mouth-to-mouth (keeping in mind this is a country where even "indirect kissing" is a still a fairly big deal) seemed more under the guise of "Tee-hee, isn't this cute? We're doing things that might be viewed as sexual or intimate, but we're naive idols so it's really completely innocent!" It just seems, at least to me, the agency is selling the image of innocent young girls who are completely unaware of their own sexuality despite the fact some of their songs ooze with it. To maintain that image, they put the no-dating rule in place.

One day I'd love to see a study from a respectable university about the psychology of idol groups. Both from the fan's AND from the band member's perspective, and cover both girl and boy groups.
monotuned 23rd-Jan-2013 06:36 pm (UTC)
People tend to focus on the female or male idols (or AKB in this case), but in general Asian entertainment scene mainly does not encourage public dating if you're an object of many people's affections. Not just idols, actors are probably not encouraged to date too. Andy Lau was vague on his romance for god knows how long, Fukuyama Masaharu can't date openly. Takei Emi and Miura Haruma will never be announcing their relationships publicly in the near future (just a random example).

It's more of a mindset of the public, even if the management decides to be nice and allow you to date, what will they do if half of your fans lose interest. The no-dating rule is restrictive but makes sense business-wise, but ultimately it's the fans' mindset that can make things better.

Edited at 2013-01-23 06:37 pm (UTC)
captain_snen 23rd-Jan-2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
Hm, I dunno, as she said geisha fall within the law and they also aren't allowed to date, I wonder if one could argue that idols fall under those same provisions? Well, on top of that, getting rid of that clause legally and getting rid of it through unionization and negotiation are two different things anyway. Idols certainly do get screwed over by their management and should unionize for lots of reasons, but it seems unlikely for various "reasons."
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