Japanese pop star, Minami Minegishi, 20, of the group AKB48 made a dramatic public apology on YouTube Thursday. The video shows her with her head shaved to show contrition and making a tearful apology for having violated the group's strict no-dating rule.
The Daily Mail reports that Minegishi was caught spending the night at her 19-year-old boyfriend, band dancer Alan Shiraham's apartment on Thursday. The "sex scandal" was revealed by the Japanese tabloid Shukan Bunshun which claimed they had a passionate night together. Bunshun published photos of Minegishi sneaking out of her boyfriend's apartment in sunglasses and a mask covering her face.
The band AKB48 has a strict policy that prohibits members from having any romantic or sexual relations. After the revelation that she had violated the group's policy, she was demoted to "trainee level." According to the group's official blog, she was demoted for "causing a nuisance to the fans” with the demotion being effective from Friday, February 1.
In the four-minute confession, Minegishi begins with a deep bow that shows her shaved head. She then breaks down sobbing as she pleads to be allowed to stay in the band. She asks for forgiveness, saying: "I was supposed to set an example for younger members, but my actions were extremely careless and senseless. My mind has gone completely blank. I don’t know what I can do or what I should do, but I couldn't bear to do nothing."
She said that her action was "thoughtless and immature," and added: "I know this is being over‐optimistic, but I want to stay as Minegishi Minami of AKB48 if possible. It was all my fault about this. I am very sorry... As a senior member of the group, it is my responsibility to be a role model for younger members."
The Telegraph reports she also posted a statement on her Google+ page: "I want to apologize for making you worry this time around. I know that you have varied opinions about my decision to shave my hair, but this is what I decided to do to show you that I am really reflecting on my actions... I don’t think you will be able to forgive me by doing this, but I will do my best and start from the beginning to bring back everyone’s trust to me. Until the time that my hair grows back to how it was in the past, I will strive for me to be able to grow more and more."
Minegishi claimed she took the decision to shave her head alone, but many allege it was part of an orchestrated publicity stunt by the group's producer Yasushi Akimoto.
The video has received more than 5 million views.
The Daily Mail reports the group is made up of about 90 girls in their early teens and mid-twenties. It is one of the biggest musical acts in Japan selling millions of CDs and DVDs, and reportedly made an estimated £126 million in sales in 2011 alone.
The group has a cult following in Japan with its "bubblegum pop" music and a cultivated image of innocence. Oddly, however, their suggestive lyrics and outfits conflict with the notion of "innocence."
According ABC News, AKB48 caters primarily to a male fan base and the no-dating rule is designed to promote the idea of their "public availability" which is thought to be compromised by the member having a private relationship.
However, many Japanese fans have defended Minegishi on Twitter, saying that she has the right as an adult to have a relationship. According to The New York Daily News, a fan said: "What's the point of this public execution show? It's like something from the war or a totalitarian state." The Japanese cultural critic Hiroki Azuma also criticized the management's treatment of Minegishi as "disgusting."
This is not the first time the group has been involved in a public controversy. The Guardian reports that last March, a television commercial featured the girls in school uniforms passing candy from mouth to mouth seductively. The video drew public outrage with many saying it encouraged homosexuality. The Guardian also reports that last month, a member of the group appeared naked in a photograph in which a boy cups her breasts from behind. Allegations of child pornography that led to police investigation followed.