Remember when original AKB48 member Minami Minegishi shaved her head to apologize after being photographed spending a night at her boyfriend’s house? She had broken a common rule in the idol industry purported to maintain stars’ appeal among fans — no dating.
The YouTube video in which she tearfully expresses her regret and begs to be allowed to stay in the group made headlines across the world, revealing the often tyrannical practices of the idol industry in Japan. Though she was initially demoted, Minegishi has since been reinstated as a full member — and remains single.
But it isn’t just hugely popular groups like AKB48 making the news due to forbidden love. No matter how famous or successful an idol group may be, protecting the fantasies of fans takes precedence over members’ right to normalcy, as Kazuma Muroi from Amatou Danshi, a boy band with just over 4,000 followers on Twitter, recently experienced for himself.
One of the stipulations in Muroi’s contract was that he cannot date, much less marry, while being a member of the group. So when Muroi’s management discovered that he had gotten married in secret, they decided to leave it up to the group’s fans whether or not to fire him. How did they do this? In a Twitter poll, of all things.
According to a SoraNews24 article posted on Dec. 15, Amatou Danshi’s management posted in a now deleted tweet in response to the news of Muroi’s marriage:
“[…] It has been revealed that Kazuma Muroi has gotten married. Since Amatou Danshi is here because of you, we’d like to hold a vote concerning this issue. We know it’s a hard decision, but please lend us your support. There are two selections concerning Muroi’s status in the group: “Continue” and “Withdraw.”
When the article was written, the votes were 46% for “Continue” and 54% for “Withdraw” out of a total of over 138,000 votes.
Out of the votes for “Withdrawal,” most Twitter users did not state reasons of feeling betrayed as fans for their choice, but rather that Muroi should adhere to the stipulations of his agreement with the company.
“If it really is a contract violation, than voiding the contract is a no-brainer. If it were any other company, that person’s contract would be voided and they’d be fired or otherwise penalized,” said one user quoted in the article.
Others were shocked that this was even a poll on Twitter, with one person saying:
“If it’s a case of considering the right or wrong of Muroi’s decision to hide his marriage, I don’t think this should be done via a Twitter poll. If it’s a matter of a contract violation, it should be resolved only among management and those involved.”
Muroi later posted a handwritten note on his Instagram asking for his fans’ support.
Muroi’s management has since issued a statement on their website to apologize for the controversy around the poll and to reinstate Muroi as an Amatou Danshi member as of Dec. 18, saying that they reached the decision internally among the band members and management.
While this story has a happy ending, it raises questions about idol contracts and the power balance they create, as well as how a Twitter poll could be considered a legitimate way to determine whether an idol keeps his job or gets fired.
“Chika” — or “underground” — idols typically enter into contracts as sole proprietors, thus leaving them with no protection under labor standards laws. In discussing the abuse of these smaller idols in a Kyodo news article, lawyer Tsuyoshi Fukai who specializes in idol contracts said, “The contract conditions are favorable for these companies. Idols are prohibited from talking about their activities.”
According to Fukai, it is up to the government to lay down the law to protect idols. The ongoing debate around chika and other small idol groups should hopefully encourage the Ministry of Labor to step in and create much needed protections in the industry.
What do you think about idols not being able to date? Should Muroi have been fired from the group in the end? Let us know in the comments!