They have been called something more than a group: a social phenomenon. And I will probably agree since even casual visitors of Tokyo can hardly miss them; it can be on the cover of a magazine, on a poster, on some of the dozens of giant screens that drape the skyscrapers of the city, on some advertisement, on the MP3 player of some teenager, on a TV show, on the back cover of a manga comic, on the flyers for their shows, on stickers on cell-phones, in newspapers or in the conversations of schoolgirls. They are everywhere; to the point that some people not very well acquainted with Japan think that the schoolgirl outfits have been influenced by them and not, as is the case, the other way around.
They are the AKB 48, the world’s largest pop group; it consists of 64 girls of ages from fourteen to twenty-something that periodically change so the group can keep the sense of freshness that its creator, Akimoto Yasushi had in mind when he started it. And they are so popular that the tickets for the theater where they perform daily in Tokyo’s Akihabara, the Geek Capital, are distributed by lottery and that the “elections” for their new members are among the top news stories, even for the public television station. They are the pop idols who you can see from up close and who, if you get actively involved in their fan activities, can meet personally and even participate in their albums.
Some people believe that the AKB 48 are nothing but a flesh market in disguise: 64 cute girls in schoolgirl miniskirts triggering the suppressed desire of the Japanese for underage girls. But such a suppressed desire doesn’t really exist since the sight of schoolgirls is so common that no one really notices. Personally, I believe that if the AKB 48 try to trigger something, this is a real fixation of the Japanese, the one about freshness and with everything new and young and vibrant: watching one of the shows of the group, feels like flying with Peter Pan into Never-Never land. The AKB 48 are the living proof that the fantasy of eternal puberty might not be a dream after all.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.