Japan's Idol Culture - Fame and riches?

Idol, does this sound familiar, this word is used so often that it might as well have lost its true meaning or maybe has created a new meaning for itself. Japan is known for many different things and idol culture is one which plays a major role in the Kawaii culture. Let’s go back in time and see how this word got its meaning and what it really is.

An idol, are considered as (アイドル, aidoru), though not same as the english meaning are primarily singers, often manufactured by entertainment agencies and marketed based on physical appearance, talent and controlled behaviors. The main difference between a Celebrity and an Idol is their age and that idols are commercialized through merchandise and endorsements

The best example one could give is AKB48,an idol group named after the Akihabara (Akiba for short) area in Tokyo, where the group's theater is located. They became such a huge sensation that they expanded and have sister groups in China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, and Vietnam.

But AKB48 weren’t the first girl group. The idol craze has existed in japan from the 1960s,but it was only in the 1980s that it took off big time Onyanko club aka Kitty club  a large all Japanese girl group consisting of 52 members is considered as the beginning roots of idol groups.

From beginning to debut

Idol culture portrays this message of following your dreams and giving hope to the young fanbase. The glitz and glamour, all the sparkly lights and hundreds or if not millions of dedicated fans. Although idol industry portrays this image the reality is far from the truth.

1. The majority of Entertainment agencies recruit young teenagers with aspiring dreams of becoming a hit success, they start at the young age of 12 or 13 sometimes even younger. Once the teenagers has passed the first step of getting recruited they then have to undergo strenuous and rigorous training form dancing, singing, acting and modeling. And there is no guarantee that you will be debuted in a group. The training may last up to 1 year or even 10 years.

2. The group once formed is strictly monitored by their producers or managers. The way they speak the things they eat everything is eyed on 24/7. The idols also have to follow the basic rules that are quite common, no smoking or drinking, no form of romantic relationship is allowed and some don’t even have access to their phones.

3. There is one thing that japan is obsessed with, the concept of school girls. Every j-pop girl group is often marketed with the theme of an innocent, naïve, gullible, school girl. 

In this current time there are more than 10,000 idol groups big to small and a thousand more young teens aspiring to reach fame. Even though idols undergo training for their skills they are often not recognized as professionals. The idol business is so fast paced that only a handful of groups make it big and stay relevant for a longer period of time. As most idols are marketed on their looks as their selling point they don’t last long and at the age of 30 or less have to retire from the business no matter how famous they were. Most members either go into acting modeling or solo singing carriers and the rest have no choice but to drop out.

The groups have a graduation ceremony for the members who have to now exit the idol scene and the public or thee fan base of these groups generally tend to support the ones who have had a graduation ceremony than those who resigned or ended their contract.


Money matters in the idol industry is often kept out from the public eye. There is tremendous amount of discrimination and injustice when it comes to the payment for the idols work. Most idols are worked like slaves but don’t receive even the minimum wage or sometimes the idols might be in debt to the agency for training them or the amount spent on marketing them. The idols have to work under the agency until their contract expires and with former idols and ex trainees coming out and sharing their experiences from abuse to being overworked and under paid things might be getting a little better. But nothing is guaranteed.

Fan base

One of the key points as to why idols have such a dedicated fan base revolves around the theme of innocence and the agencies portraying the idols as “being available”. They feed this idea into the fan base which gets them revenue by making them spend on idol merchandises, concerts and handshake events (where the fans get to meet their and shake the hands of their stars for a brief amount of time) while also giving the lewd fantasy to the fans that they are pure and available. This small spark for imagination has created an everlasting and strong fan bases in the idol industry.

So with this it’s clear that the idol industry is more flawed than it seems from the agency to the fans. But even though people know about this why do young teens still dream about being the next big hit? Well that is something to think about.