Japanese idol

Japanese idol

In Japanese culture nihongo|idol|アイドル|aidoru refers to mostly female media personalities in their teens and early twenties who are considered particularly cute and pretty and who will, for a period ranging from several months to a few years, regularly appear in the mass media, e.g. as singers for J-pop groups, bit-part actors, TV personalities ("tarento"), models in photo spreads published in magazines, advertisements, etc.


The idol phenomenon began during the early seventies, reflecting a boom in Japan for the musician Sylvie Vartan in the French film "Cherchez l'idole" in 1963. The term came to be applied to any cute female actress or singer. Teenage girls, mostly between 14 and 16, began rising to stardom. One in particular, Momoe Yamaguchi, was a huge star until her marriage and retirement in 1980. Idols dominated the pop music scene in the 80s; and this period is known as the "Golden Age of Idols in Japan". In a single year, as many as 40 or 50 new idols could appear, only to disappear from the public spotlight shortly afterwards. A few idols from that era, such as Seiko Matsuda, are still popular. In the 90s, the power of Japanese idols began to wane, as the music industry shifted towards rock musicians and singers for whom music was a more important sales point than looks or wholesomeness, as well as towards genres such as rap that were harder to square with conventional prettiness. The Japanese idol phenomenon has had a large impact on popular culture in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

It is commonly said female Japanese idols represent the perfect female form in Japanese society. They are symbols of female sexuality and are often dressed erotically. For this reason they are often idolized by both males and females. Male audiences' infatuations with an idol's good looks are fed with detailed information about the idol's measurements, favorite colors, food, hobbies, blood type, etc. Female audiences are interested in imitating their style, hair color, fashion, etc. Good examples of fashion-leader idols are Ayumi Hamasaki, hitomi, Ryoko Hirosue and Namie Amuro. However, in what to most Europeans would seem to be a contradictory stance this interest in the detail is accompanied by a simultaneous apparent disinterest in the truth of this detail as it is presented. This is most starkly shown in terms of age. For example, it is widely ackowledged that many idols are older than the u19 or u15 category that they are placed within. There is also an accompanying playfulness with age that one might not ordinarily associate with the stereotypical rigidity of Japanese culture. The popular idol magazine 'Beppin' for example is happy to associate a widely different age to the same model on consecutive pages of the same edition. This seems not to bother Japanese fans who understand that the model's details are a role. It can also be associated with ideas that lie deeper within Japanese culture: Firstly, the idealisation of youth which is reflected in such things as 'cutesie' adult fashions and the portrayal by women of themselves (in terms of dress and manner) as younger than they are. Secondly, it can be seen as part of a Japanese tradition of developing roles within roles, this can be seen in the behaviour of the masked Geisha and in Kabuki theatre. For a fuller understanding of both role play and the idealisation of youth in Japanese media and culture it is worth reading articles by Dr Sharon Kinsella, referenced below.

Namie Amuro was the most popular idol in the late 1990s, although marketed as sexier and more mature than other idols. She began her career in 1992 as a vocalist for the pop group Super Monkeys, but the group flopped very quickly. Producers liked Amuro, and in 1995, she went solo, enjoying massive success. This status has since been eclipsed by Ayumi Hamasaki, who is known as one of Japan's current divas.

A diversification occurred in the 1990s and instead of few idols vying for popularity, a number of idols with specific characteristics divided the market. In the mid-1990s, idols became much younger than before, and groups of idols like Speed and Morning Musume became prominent. A new genre of idols called "Net Idols" became known in the late 1990s, only appearing on websites. In 1997, there appeared Kyoko Date, the first "cyber idol" or "virtual idol". Kyoko Date has a fabricated history and statistics and her own songs. Meanwhile, "gurabia aidoru" (グラビアアイドル, i.e. " [photo] gravure idols") such as Yoko Matsugane, Rio Natsume and Eiko Koike have largely appeared skimpily clad in "cheesecake" photographs.

Whereas in previous years an idol kept up her idol image until she chose to retire or was simply too old to continue being a credible idol, in recent years several ex-idols have successfully matured from being an idol to becoming full-fledged actresses, singers or musicians who are respected for their craft instead of (or in addition to) being admired for their looks and image. A good example of an ex-idol who is now a respected singer, songwriter and musician is Hitomi, who is known for writing her own lyrics, being heavily involved in the composition and production of her own music, and playing her own guitar, though she does from time to time tease her fans by modeling sexy outfits ordinarily worn by younger women. In addition, Hitomi is well-known for maintaining a successful pop career after marriage and motherhood.


The culture of Japanese idols has changed over the years and it is questionable whether past idols would have the same amount of success if given the same opportunity today. Most of those called idols have sung songs that would fit J-Pop and they are generally pretty, cute, or fresh-faced, if not beautiful. However, there are exceptions to the norm.

In the 1970s, idols had an aura of mystique that left much of their lifestyles secret. Their public and "private" lives were carefully orchestrated—they always appeared perfect in all situations and seemed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle that most Japanese could only dream about. In reality, however, they were placed under continuous surveillance by their promoters and were unable to enjoy the private lives invented for them. Their pay was surprisingly low. They were often overworked and even if their songs sold well most of the money went to the musicians and writers. Fans had few opportunities to see them beyond a few minutes on TV or radio and it was difficult to share their interests. Magazines were the best source for information and many idols had an official fan club that periodically mailed what little information could be released.

In the 1980s, idols became much closer to average Japanese people; this is likely because the average lifestyle of the Japanese improved. While still tightly controlled, idols were allowed to show more of their actual personalities and were permitted to let out some carefully scripted outbursts. The media often fabricated "competitions" between two or more idols, based on things like the number of records sold, the number of fans in the official fan club, etc. In the late 1980s, instead of relying on magazines and TV, some started experimenting with new media and technologies like video games, with mixed results. The working conditions of idols improved and even those with limited success could live modestly and more of the money made was paid to idols themselves, though they still only received a small portion.

In the 1990s, instead of being marketed as people who lived better and were better than average, idols became people who just happened to have a little something to become popular. Where the tastes of past idols had to be saccharine, it was now acceptable for an idol to simply love eating "ramen" or to display something other than a smile, to lament having got a little out of shape or to admit to shopping around for lower prices. Idols also became a fixture in countless "anime" by singing opening or ending songs that have little relevance to the anime itself. Some experimented with being "seiyu", and "seiyu" themselves became somewhat like idols, becoming increasingly popular. Even today, some are still involved with the video game industry, though they are not always entirely successful.

ee also

*AV idol—Japanese idols that work in adult videos.
*List of Japanese celebrities
*List of Japanese idols



Kinsella, S. (2007) What's behind the fetishism of schoolgirls uniforms in Japan in "fashion theory," UK

Kinsella, S. (2000)' 'Adult Manga: Culture and power in contemporary Japanese society." Curzon, UK

Kinsella, S. (1999) pop-culture and the balance of power in Japan in "Media, culture and society," vol.21 p.567-572

Kinsella, S. (1995) Cuties in Japan in "women media and consumption in Japan" (eds) Brian Moeran and Lise Scov, Curzon and Hawaii University Press

External links

* [http://www.japanesegravureidol.net www.JapaneseGravureIdol.net] -A blog dedicated to japanese gravure idols where you can download lots of free media
* [http://www.j-idols.org J-idols.org] —A blog/gallery featuring thousands of images of Japanese idols.
* [http://candyscan.net/ CandyScan.net] —Japanese idols photobook scan collections.


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