In her recent Radio program, Koike Minami from Keyakizaka46 mentioned a paper adressed to all members, officially banning any relationship during their idol activity. It is also known as the Renai Kinshi Jourei, the love ban rule. To allow or forbid this rule have teared apart the fandom for many years, and the ambiguous stand of Akimoto Yasushi (stating there wasn’t such thing as love ban rule) doesn’t help to clear things up. But the issue regarding this rule goes beyond it’s own existence. This is an eternal debate between those who argue we can’t own idols as they are humans with feelings, against those who think it is necessary to preserve their image. To sum things up, what we debate for is our conception of an idol. Through this write up, i will attempt to list all legit arguments from both side so you can make your own opinion on that matter.
“Sasshi scandal was the most talked topic at the time, even more than Acchan graduation”
First, a little bit of history. The love ban rule is much more older than AKB itself. In 1997, Nakazawa Yuko, leader of Morning musume at the time, stated that in their contract, they were forbid to have boyfriend or marry. Ten years later, Kashiwagi Yuki expressed the same statement, that they had to sign a paper in which they pledge to not be in a relationship. What is the purpose of the love ban rule? Simply speaking, it helps the idea of an idol “pure and innocent”, completely devoted to the fans. Management is afraid that the fan significantly decrease his dedication to buy goods and ticket to see his favourite member if she’s in a relationship.
But Let’s take an example of other pop culture. Justin Bieber is a singer, with 99.9% of female fanbase. He works a lot on his image, yet he dated many other celebrities like Selena Gomez. He’s directly concerned with appearance, but his staff allow him to date. In the super strict Kpop industry, even though entertainment companies are very discrete about it, they often acknowledge a relationship when they are revealed, and not opposing them (Exo Kai and F(x) Crystal for example). The question is, why is it allowed in Occidental and Oriental countries like USA and Korea and not in japan? Especially the case of idols.
1st hypothesis, It’s about culture. USA have build their civilization on freedom, and it’s quite hard to “forbid” someone to love, especially someone as popular as Justin bieber. Management strategy to keep hardcore fans would backfire at them, being blamed for pressuring the artist. In Kpop It might depend of the age and experience of the artist. When management knows the artist fanbase is mature enough to accept, they lift the ban. But if the trainee has just debuted with the group, it’s better to not create unnecessary waves that would be an hindrance to the group promotion. Japan has a huge history of hierarchy between genre, family often assimilated with a father who work, and a mother who stay at home to raise the children. Sexism is still rooted in society as it is largely accepted to have gravure photoshoot of idols (often very young), but also promote the girls as cute and innocent. Unconsciously, Japan paradoxal society still allow to reduce a woman basic right in order to preserve a certain idea of what an idol should be.
2st hypothesis, we can say it’s the fan fault for being unrealistic about the concept of an idol. Before being an idol, she is an human being. You can’t mix up reasoning with feelings, as one is led by the brain, the other by the heart. Also, if the idol you support is being happy with someone else, shouldn’t you be happy for her own happiness? It’s not like you’re being her fan in order to date her in the future. You can also be a fan of someone without being physically attracted to her. Like many hardcore metal teenagers adoring metallica. A fan’s love, is different. Something more personal, but loving someone as a 17 years is different from loving at 26, and 40, etc. A teenager should live to the fullest.
“Minegishi scandal blow out to international proportion, wrongly the symbol of Japanese excess”
Not long ago, a company sued a girl for “breach of contract” blaming her for her idol group failure in the market, because she was dating one of her fans. The young girl retorted that i was never mentioned she couldn’t date anyone, even though it was “professionaly” obvious to avoid this situation. The result of the court was that indeed the girl was wrong for not taking into account that it would hurt the group image, but since she dated her boyfriend without the intent to harm the company, she was exempt to pay fee for the prejudice caused.
There’s a big difference between european and asian culture. The first is a lot about freedom (artist love life is his privacy) but asian point of view is about responsability. Japanese are often serious in their work (sometimes they die from it). Even though you have the freedom to come with T-shirt and jeans, you have the responsability to look decent for an interview, which means wearing a suit. Otherwise we don’t take you seriously. In entertainment, you shouldn’t behave in a way that would be a threat to your company or group image. But this rule can’t be applied to everyone because each person has a different situation.
Let’s take the example of Watanabe Mayu. She became very popular, very fast, in a young age. Not only we can assume she didn’t have a lot of free time, but having a relationship exposed would have create an uproar on tabloid. She was very serious about her image because she was aware an incident would break her momemtum. On the other hand, when you’re unknown, like a KKS, it hasn’t the same impact at all, and you have much more free time than a popular member. (and probably the reason why Sasshi’s scandal was exposed only when she became popular).
The problem with micchan scandal, is that not only she was a popular member, but also the captain of a team. What foreigners don’t know, is that in japanese culture, people often shave their head after admitting being in the wrong. Micchan obviously shaved her head on her own will. But foreign newspaper, with little care of details, implied it was a sanction done by management (the video was published on AKB official youtube channel after all). The malicious gossip spread and it was a huge blow to idol entertainment. It doesn’t matter what was the real reason, and the damage was done.
“Shunkan bunshun is often involved in many scandals related to idols”
In fact, it isn’t really about the fan behavior toward her idol that define the existence of the love ban rule. In the case of Kashiwagi Yuki scandal with NEWS’s Tegoshi, it was up to her fanbase to decide if they keep following her or not. In the case of Matsumura Sayuri scandal (above), it turned out more bitter because Nogizaka has a strong image of elegant, calm idols compared to the 48group. Image is not only related to fan, as big companies (a potential source of revenue for popular idol group), won’t choose girls who are involved in a negative image to endorse their products. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, it’s how those scandal divert from the expected result. Do you remember when Kouhaku utagassen chose HKT instead of Nogizaka in 2014? We will never know, but it’s possible that Nogi appearance was cancelled because of this negative coverage.
Why is management not willing to make a decision, always being ambiguous about it? Because both choice have a negative impact. If you make the love ban rule official, you are seen as a bad company who suppress a girl basic right, and if you officially allow the girls to date, there’s no turning back, and fan’s reaction is unsure. The best alternative is “not to get caught” or “adapt to the situation” rule. In Yukirin’s case, management decided to let it through, because she was too important to the group. Same with Sasshi. We can’t say the same for Murashige Anna, who got almost perma-ban from HKT senbatsu, or Owada Nana and Nishino Miki who soon graduated after being seen at 2AM in a game court with some ex Johnny’s (again).
The love ban rule can be seen as something not coming from fans to their idol, but a rule of self discipline (coming from within), like how you are committed to your work. When you date someone perfectly aware of a bad coverage, you’re taking a risk. This self discipline increase as you became popular. When someone try to get best of both worlds, it can be seen as recklessness toward your job. After all, Kikuchi Ayaka or Komori Mika graduated AKB to get married. When someone get outside of the idol field, fans are much more keen to be happy for their idol happiness. Because they are past their idol phase. Jurina once said “i will date after being an idol. But for the moment, i want to focus on my work”.
“Yukirin votes dropped up to 70 000 votes for the 8th Sousenkyo. Note that 7th Sousenkyo was her fanbase last push to put her 1th, with a 60k increase too ”
To the question if the love ban rule is something fair or unfair, it’s hard to decide because feelings are involved with it. I personally hadn’t my oshimen being involved in a scandal, so i don’t know how i would react. However, what i believe is, for japanese, that the renai kinshi jourei is a self inflicted rule. It just depends on how serious you are toward the job of idol. If you don’t accept to have your love life put on hold, just don’t be an idol. It’s even more true that an idol not only care for her image, but is also responsible for the group image. When people quote Sasshi’s case that scandal doesn’t influence the popularity of a member, keep in mind that it happened when she was a KKS, barely being an extra in Everyday Kachuusa MV. Taking such a risk to date someone when she’s 4th in sousenkyo, her answer would have been completely different.
My humble opinion : If my oshimen was caught in a scandal, i would probably be disappointed. Not because i thought of her as pure and innocent (let’s be real, women also have libido, and love is something wonderful), but because she’s taking a risk to damage her or the group reputation. She’s aware of the damage, and she took it anyway. To be responsible, is a form of respect.
In the future, we probably will see a change of mindset, with a more accepting industry toward idols. Because, there’s no proper definition of an idol.