Faux Pas or Lack of Judgment? AKB48 Member Embroiled in Controversy

Editor’s Note: This article contains images that may be considered NSFW. Please exercise caution.

Several of the young women of AKB48

Several of the young women of AKB48

So it’s been over a week now, but this is still something that fans of the J-Pop band AKB48 are still talking about. I wanted to just chalk it up to them trying to do something cute but accidentally crossed the line, but after what I read about the incident today, I think it is more like arrogance (if not ignorance) that led them to this point. And actually, it isn’t even all of AKB48 who is involved with this, just one member – Tomomi Sakai. Because of her actions a spotlight has been placed on the group, and not the kind of spotlight they are accustomed to. This time, the group find themselves on the wrong side of the argument with things only getting worse and worse.

I know a lot of you here don’t particularly follow news straight out of Japan, nor that relating to AKB48, so let me get you caught up on the story that broke on January 18. AKB48 Team A member Tomomi Sakai posed for a photo set that was released in Young Magazine. Okay, nothing out of the ordinary there, Idols (heavily promoted celebrities) often appear in such publications to further promote groups, concerts or other projects associated with the Idol being featured. However, this particular photo set brought on an onslaught of negative press that the publisher eventually pulled all remaining issues of the publication from store shelves. So what was so offensive about the pictures in the magazine that got it removed as such? Well, look at the following picture and see for yourself.

What do you think about this picture of Tomomi Kasai and the young boy?

What do you think about this picture of Tomomi Kasai and the young boy?

That is 21-year old Tomomi Kasai being photographed with a young child’s hands acting like a sort of “hand bra” covering the Idol’s breast. The young child, who appears to be no more than 12, being used to cup Ms. Tomomi Kasai’s breasts has led to huge public outcry in Japan and has even had calls for the editors of the magazine, Tomomi Sakai and the group AKB48 to be charged with either Child Pornography or Child Abuse charges – at the very least being charged with Violation of Public Decency laws. Now, while I may not go so far as to call for anyone to be brought up on charges because of the photo, I do question the logic of anyone involved with the shoot that they thought this would be an acceptable type of photo shoot. I mean, where do they get off thinking that having a young child essentially grope the breast of a grown woman might not offend some people?

Tomomi Kasai in a more innocent photo shoot.

Tomomi Kasai in a more innocent photo shoot.

While I do think the picture and set up is innocent enough, it does cross a line of standards that separates the actions of adults and children. It’s the same reason why parents won’t let their children into their rooms when they are nude or dressing. It’s the same reason you tell your child to alert you when someone touches them or vice versa. There is something beyond innocent here that crosses the line into the bizarre and creepy.

I know AKB48 plays to a younger crowd; I know that their audience is comprised of young music fans (and the occasional creepy older male fan) – but this was the wrong way to try and send any kind of message or whatever it is they picture set was trying to do. Maybe, and I do mean maybe with a huge stretch, if the child was hers, it could be explained as nurturing and art, but Tomomi Kasai is not related to the child in the slightest. The picture is just plain wrong and someone in the editorial or approval process should have seen that way before these pictures were published. I just don’t see how they could come to the conclusion that this would be acceptable to publish in a nationally distributed magazine.

That being said, when the pictures first surfaced, I just figured it was some innocent faux pas that somehow jumped over their usual standards. I was willing to give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt. After all, most Americans were willing to forgive Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus when she posed topless (but didn’t show any nudity) for Vanity Fair a few years back when she was only 15. But most people took it to heart that her father was there and no nudity was shown. Creepy as it was, people got over it. I thought the same thing with Tomomi Kasai’s picture set as well. It was an innocent lapse in judgment and that was it.

AKB48's Yuko Oshima , Haruna Kojima and Tomomi Kasai in a more playful ad.

AKB48’s Yuko Oshima , Haruna Kojima and Tomomi Kasai in a more playful ad.

Well, apparently that is not it. While an official Tokyo Police investigation has been started to investigate if any real wrong-doing took place during the photo shoot, the group AKB48, or at least the people in charge of the group, have begun threatening to sue any media outlet who states that the photo shoot is “child porn.”

According to Japanese media sources, the group made the following statement which warns media companies that “you may cover this incident, but not using the words ‘child pornography.’ Should you use these words, you will be subject to legal action.”

It has been speculated that the group, or rather its managers, have used strong arm legal tactics to squash media outlets from covering the group unfavorably, but this is just a step in the wrong direction if you ask me. Where I was once willing to excuse the group’s managers for an innocent lack of judgment, issuing a statement like this doesn’t look good. It makes the group look more like media bullies than a friendly musical group. Tomomi Kasai and the group may have been a bit ignorant in foreseeing the issues people have with the pictures, but this is pure arrogance on the part of the group’s managers for thinking this is something that they can just sweep aside with threats of lawsuits.

Tomomi Kasai in a revealing Idol photo shoot that wasn't controversial.

Tomomi Kasai in a revealing Idol photo shoot that wasn’t controversial.

While Tomomi Kasai did pose for this when her instincts should have told her not to, I honestly believe she really thought it was an innocent photo shoot, convinced by both the photographer and her managers. But with her and AKB48’s managers making threats like this, it seems that the overplayed their hand in thinking the shoot would be acceptable and are now just trying to make the story disappear. I am shocked that they thought something like this would go unnoticed and passed over, but given their current air of arrogance by stating that they will sue anyone who makes the remark that the set is child pornography, I think they believe that they should just be able to do this kind of thing again and again and not have it offend the sensibilities of others.

I know that the fans of AKB48 are split on the issue. Visiting the group’s many fan sites and boards shows as much. Many fans are supportive of the group while discussing their objections to the pictures. Other fans are in full support of the group and Tomomi Kasai and see nothing wrong with it. And there are also fans that are completely disappointed and offended at the publishing of the pictures as it diminished the innocence that AKB48 is usually playing at or selling to their fans. While other smaller scandals and controversies have surrounded the group before, this is a totally different kind of fight.

Personally, I think the whole issue needs to die already. But I do think that it would be in good faith if Tomomi Kasai, the group as a whole or the managers were to apologize for the picture set. Without having to admit guilt, and without having to embarrass anyone, an apology and a promise to better review future photo sets would go a long way in quelling the issue and gaining back some of the support the group had before the pictures were released. However, if the group’s management continues down the confrontational course it currently is employing I hope it doesn’t hurt the reputations of these young ladies any more than it already has in the eyes of some of their fans.

Now I ask you, our readers, what do you think? Is this an artistic picture or does it cross the line? Would you call it child porn or just a misguided attempt at nurturing art? What do you think should be the punishment, if any? I have given you my opinion, but I would really like to hear what you out there have to say about this.

Richard Cardenas

Created in a lab in Tijuana, Mexico, or cloned in a test tube in Torrance, CA, depending on which story you think is a better origin story, Richard is, if such a thing exist, a second generation nerd. The son of a man who loved sci-fi, comic books and horror, and a woman who loved making costumes, reading sci-fi novels and watching cartoons, Richard was exposed to all this and more since a very young age.

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1 Response

  1. Erinn_Velez says:

    It crosses the line. And the fact that Japan, which is typically a more open minded culture as far as what is sexually acceptable or normal than most societies, is outraged, says something. What is baffling me, is how so many people could have agreed to this? There likely would have been an artistic director,  the photographer, the managers for the group, the ‘models’ and all of the magazines editors and publishers. (And where were this child’s parents/legal guardians?) To have that many people exercise such poor judgement is a little shocking, I have to wonder if shocking isn’t exactly what they were going for? And it if it was, weren’t prepared for the backlash. The fact that they’re bullying the media now, isn’t doing them any favours. And if anything, is just going to continue to paint everyone involved in a more negative light. As a photographer and a mother, I am offended by anyone exploiting a child for any reason, and that is what it is. Exploitation. I’m not sure I’d go as far to say porn, but I would say it unquestionably WRONG. The photo itself, I don’t feel is even a good quality photo, which just adds to the sketchy nature or feel of the image. Especially when you contrast it against all the other images you shared in this article. I agree with you Ricky, they need to extend an apology to the public. I can’t believe they haven’t already. Apprently they’re PR department doesn’t have very good judgement either!

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