Japanese Idol Culture

Commuting to and from the Sydney CBD for work I have quite a bit of time to kill on the train, so I figured why not focus my digital artifact on something that is accessible from my phone. When considering the culture I wanted to immerse myself into, I decided to reflect on significant times in my life in which I was drawn back to my fangirl days. My One Direction fan girl days to be specific (don’t deny the fact that you had one too). As a manufactured band, they stole the hearts of teens worldwide. So I was curious about manufactured bands from non-English speaking countries. And that’s when I thought, why not look at Japanese idol groups since they seem so unique. To read my experience with Japanese idol culture, click here to view my digital artifact.

So how did I reach the conclusion on deciding what topic to look at for my digital artifact and through what approach? This comes down to personal subjectivity, which Ratner (2012) states guides topic choices, methodologies selected and how one interprets data. Initially my key motives for looking into this topic were based on:

  • Being a cultural outsider, I was curious about Japanese culture;
  • Being involved in fan culture when I was younger, I was interested to see how it is represented and how fans engage with it in different countries;
  • To understand what idol culture actually is.

The above diagram represents my methodological framework in conducting my autoethnography, as outlined by Ellis et al. (2011). My starting point to immerse myself into Japanese idol culture was through watching YouTube videos, in which my only prior knowledge was that they were incredibly popular in Japanese pop culture and music. YouTube acted as my base field site as I became a participant observer. Branching into other platforms to enhance my experience, I stumbled across and app called Cheerz. The app allows budding idols to post photos, usually a selfie, where fans can support their favourite up-and-coming artists through cheer endorsements. It is based upon fan interaction which increases artists opportunities for visibility and success.

Moving onto my epiphanies. Epiphanies occur to an individual depending on what stands out to them based on their own cultural background and understanding. Explored through my digital artifact were epiphanies of fetishising and commodifying of women’s bodies in Japanese idol culture, especially young girls, along with understanding the cultural elements that effect the portrayal of women in media outlets. Ellis et al. (2011) suggest that understanding why one experiences epiphanies requires “comparing and contrasting personal experience against existing research”. The notion of positioning is important here, which is “how researchers view themselves in relation to the research and the data; their understanding of self in the creation of knowledge”(Pitard 2017). This sense of positioning is developed through philosophical beliefs and assumptions that are accrued through an individual’s life and frame their cultural understanding through ontology, which is the world and what we know about it shaped by lived experiences and perceptions, and epistemology, which is the nature of knowing and how one comes to know (Pitard 2017; Higgs & Threaded 2009; Hofer 2004). In order to understand why I had these epiphanies, I conducted research into Japanese idol culture, with my values, experiences and assumptions guiding my research through personal reflexivity (Pitard 2017). Why such elements became a focus topic and served as my epiphanies were strongly based upon the media I have surrounded myself with. My relationship with female artists and their music videos in particular has been shaped by liberation as opposed to objectification. It is one where myself and other women have the choice and freedom to express ourselves the way we willingly choose to do so without feeling pressured by a wider society to present ourselves as hypersexualised, unrealistic, cartoonish and as objects which ultimately reduce female sexuality down to a prize that can be won by men. For example, Little Mix who through all elements of artistry presents a feminist voice fuelling empowerment, independence and strength, and more specifically Lilly Allen’s 2013 song ‘Hard Out Here’ which confronts the issue of the media socialising women into thinking that their value lies in their appearance.

I must acknowledge epistemological reflexivity within my research, being a consideration of how research design may have limited or influenced my research and how I may have done it differently (Pitard 2017). Limitations did exist in using only two platforms, being YouTube and Cheerz, and if I were to complete a more comprehensive study platforms including Twitter and Tumblr could have been utilised. As I was looking predominately at portrayal based upon visuals however, YouTube and Cheerz allowed me to gather sufficient information. My research was also influenced from a personal point of view and a cultural upbringing in the way’s females are portrayed within the media and the idea that we must appeal to men in order to have worth, therefore focusing on this element of idol culture as opposed to the many other, positive elements that it entails.

When I decided upon Japanese idol culture for my Digital Artifact, I expected it to be a somewhat light hearted topic. Initially I started looking solely at the app Cheerz, wanting to see how fans interact with idols. But my autoethnographic experience lead me into a different direction, into the sexualisation and exploitation of women in media settings which often stem from underlying societal issues ingrained in culture. Although this representation may differ from country to country, it is essentially a product of all nations.

16Asia 2018, ‘All about idol insanity’, All About Asia, weblog post, 24 August, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://allabout-japan.com/en/article/7063/>.

AKB48 2020, 【ちょい見せ映像倉庫】2020年2月22日 2020 AKB48新ユニット!新体感ライブ祭り♪ 「IxR」@渋谷ストリーム’, online video, 16 July, AKB48, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQE5UFuny2I>.

AllTheFeels 2015, ‘Cheerz & DMM yell explained’, AllTheFeels, weblog post, 13 December, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://allthefeel.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/cheerz-dmm-yell-explained/>. 

Apuke, OB & Jigem, LG 2019, ‘Portrayal and objectification of women in music videos: a review of existing studies’, Journal of Communication and Media Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 160-174, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335097114_Portrayal_and_Objectification_of_Women_in_Music_Videos_A_Review_of_Existing_Studies>.  

Bay 2018, ‘Purity culture and idols – Bay Erickson’, Anime and Gender, weblog post, 11 February, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://epress.earlham.edu/animeandgender/2018/02/11/purity-culture-and-idols-bay-erickson/>. 

Chavez, A 2016, ‘Japan’s men and women must stand together against the scourge of sexism’, The Japan Times, 28 August, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/08/28/our-lives/japans-men-women-must-stand-together-scourge-sexism/#.Wav1CcgjE2w>.

Cheerz 2020, Cheerz, Cheerz, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://cheerz.cz/>.

Clare 2014, Autoethnography: revealing yourself from the inside and outside, Eastern Michigan University, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://people.emich.edu/cgallaghe1/Autoethnography_Instructions_2014.pdf>.

CY8ER 2020, Wikipedia, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CY8ER>.

Ellis, C, Adams, TE & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed 6 August 2020, <https://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.  

Friedlander, E 2015, ‘Grimes in reality’, Fader, 28 July, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://www.thefader.com/2015/07/28/grimes-cover-story-interview>. 

Japanese Idol 2020, Wikipedia, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_idol>.

Japanese pop idol group 1 2015, Japan Info, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://jpninfo.com/64030/japanese-pop-idol-group-1>.

Lily Allen 2013, Lilly Allen \ Hard Out Here (Official Video – Explicit Version), online video, 12 November, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0CazRHB0so&feature=emb_title&ab_channel=LilyAllen&gt;.

Maas, J 2015, Katy Perry admits she ‘over’sexualised’ herself in her career, Hollywood Life, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://hollywoodlife.com/2017/05/13/katy-perry-over-sexualized-herself-early-career-watch/>. 

Mori, J 2015, Cheerz: new app that lets you ‘cheers J-Pop idols aims for global expansion, The Bridge, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://thebridge.jp/en/2015/01/cheerz-tokyo-girls-update>. 

Pitard, J 2016, ‘Using vignettes within autoethnography to explore layers of cross-cultural awareness as a teacher’, Forum Qualitative Social Research, vol. 17, no. 1, viewed 10 October 2020, <https://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/2393/3922>.

Randy 2019, ‘The cultural significance of Japanese idols in modern Japan’, Medium, weblog post, 29 July, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://medium.com/@Amerinofu/the-cultural-significance-of-japanese-idols-in-modern-japan-65627e8e78c0>. 

Rita Ora 2018, Rita Ora Girls ft. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX (Official Music Video), online video, 6 June, Rita Ora, viewed 7 November 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExJmET8boVw&list=PLTeloKl0mX6iyK2o8GKLzy5YzGeCv-xRg&index=2&t=0s&ab_channel=RitaOra>. 

XDantheManX 2015, ‘The untold story of BPM15Q’s journey to Singapore’, XDantheManX, weblog post, 29 August, viewed 7 November 2020, <http://xdanthemanx.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-untold-story-of-bpm15q-journey-to-singapore.html>.

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