Japanese Entertainment: The Relationship Between Japanese Idols And Their Fans

While I was writing my thesis for my MBA today, which is on the topic of Johnny’s and Associates and the Japanese music industry, the topic of the relationship between a Japanese Idol and their fans popped into my head. Actually, it had been in my head for a while now ever since an article by the Yomiyuri Newspaper about Koyama Keiichiro, a member of my favorite Idol group NEWS,  was released about a week and a half ago. Koyama became a news caster for “News Every” in Spring of 2010 and this January he became a main caster for four out of five weekdays, when the program runs. This article was about the human connection and how through news casting he has been able to connect more with many people, and his fans, more than before. Though he says it’s rare for idol groups to have that deep of a connection, I still think this reflects the relationship between idol groups and their fans.

What exactly is the relationship between Japanese idols and their fans? You can describe it in different ways but I like to simply describe it as like one of a girlfriend and boyfriend, or best friends, but also like parent and child.

The appeal of the Japanese idol is simple, they aren’t perfect. These idols are produced by an management company that trains them from when they are kids to sing and dance and act and be an all around entertainer. From when they enter into the company they are put into the spotlight. They aren’t told or trained to be perfect though and in fact, they are put on variety shows and other television shows where they are made to do wacky things and their personality really shows through. Of course there are parts of this that are artificially produced and controlled, like not having a boyfriend or girlfriend (in public at least) and being clean cut and not having a bad-boy or bad-girl image, but for the most part they are the boy or girl next door. They seem like a normal person that just walked off the street, not a celebrity that is far from reach.

Another aspect of this is that the fans have a say in what the Idol does. Since the fans are spending money on entertainment, the idol and the management company must give them just that. So, the management company and the idols listens closely to the fans to see what they want, and they give it to them. They also sometimes put on events specifically where the fans get to decide themselves what they want, like choosing the set-list for a concert or in AKB48’s case, the fans can vote on who they want to be the “center”, the person who is the focus of the whole routine. This way, the fans feel like they had a hand in the idol growing and the fans grow a long with them, or see them grow up like a parent. I see a lot of mothers and their daughters go to concerts together and support the idol together; the daughter sees the idol as supporting them like a girlfriend would a boyfriend and the mother sees it as supporting the idol like they would their own child.  When idol fans grow up and have their own family and children, another younger idol group has debuted and then their daughter gets into them and the cycle continues.

I also think that Idols give fans a dream, something to shoot for. While the idols grow up and reach their goals, the fans are inspired by them trying so hard, so they work hard for their dream while supporting the idol too. I have met many people that say that being a fan of an idol group has changed their life and made them have a dream and find something that they love or helped them at a hard time in their life. It might be dramatic to say this, but I feel the same way as well. If I hadn’t found my love for Japanese Idols, I wouldn’t have realized my love for Japanese entertainment and I wouldn’t have wanted to move to Japan and live here. So in a way, they help create dreams and the Idols cheer us on as well.

So in a nutshell, this is the relationship. The Idol gives entertainment and gives the fans something to support, the appeal being that they aren’t perfect and they can support the idol growing up and the fans take pride in being apart of that. The Fans spend money on the idol and they get the feeling of satisfaction and pride at being apart of something. They each give and receive something and its unique and pure in a way. Sure there is business behind it and brilliant marketing, but this relationship is something unique to Japan I think.

What do you think about the relationship between Japanese idols and their fans? Have they inspired you in someway? Let me know what you think about this topic below! I think it would be an interesting discussion!

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4 thoughts on “Japanese Entertainment: The Relationship Between Japanese Idols And Their Fans

  1. Weesachan says:

    Although I agree with your analysis, there is also the negative side to fandom. Supporting Johnnys for over 20 years, I have see a change in the fans that support the younger groups. Of course times change, but I think that many of the younger generation get a little delusional with their support of their idols. I find it it upsetting that some do not follow the “rules” and sometimes may ruin the experience of being a fan for others.
    Coming from the US I think that it is sad that Japanese idols have to maintain their clean cut image. I think that many of the punishments are severe and unnecessary. This is probably more if a cultural thing that probably can’t be changed….
    Sorry for the rant!

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    • nihonchique says:

      Thanks for your comment! I appreciate you bringing a another piece of this topic to the table.

      I do have to agree that the fans of the younger groups or young fans don’t follow the rules like they used to. It can be frustrating that they take it too far. I think sometimes as older fans we have to to teach them the reasons behind the rules or they won’t understand why there are rules in the first place. The younger groups develop their own fan culture though… maybe sometimes we forget what it is like to be a young fan as well? I know I have changed a lot since I first entered the Johnny’s fandom at 18 and my relationship with them has changed as well.

      Also, in some ways I think its sad as well that they have to keep a clean cut image, but that is the allure of an idol for me and I agree it is a cultural thing in Japan. I know the reason I like Idols and not American celebrities is because they are clean cut (though I am American myself as well) and I know they won’t become crazy like some American celebrities. The punishments are too severe sometimes I totally agree with, especially the no dating AT ALL rule for female idols and for that reason female idols have it harder than male idols by a large margin.

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  2. Lena says:

    I know it has been years since you wrote this article but because I only now stumbled upon it and it’s really resonating with me, I can’t help replying. I hope you don’t mind.
    About twelve years ago I first learned about Johnny’s and their idol groups because of some of their dramas. I already loved the Japanese language so I got into it. For several months, maybe up to a year before I got distracted by other things. I didn’t delve far into it and at that point, I really didn’t have much understanding about the Japanese idol industry.
    I didn’t realize that I lost something during the last years. It was only this winter time that combined with other job-related and private issues I really realized that I didn’t want my life to go on like that. Somehow during the last years without realizing I lost my ability to dream, my passion to learn new things and especially my positive mindset.
    To make things short, I decided to change some things and I did and at the same time Johnny’s idols came back into my life^^ The timing really couldn’t have been better. I really felt, just listening to them, seeing their joy performing and the fun they had together, that I wanna be like that, too. I really started wanting to get back the parts of myself I lost. Right now they really help me to start my days happy and looking forward to what will come. Seeing them always trying to better themselves and to make their fans happy, I started to dream again. I found my passion again and rediscovered things I love to do. They actually motivate me not to give up without trying my best. Of course, it’s not only them but the other changes in my life as well. But still, Japanese idols really are different from American or German ones in my case. During only a few short weeks I delved so deep into it as never before. Before now I never realized that they were in so many different talk shows and even had their own ones^^
    Seeing them like that, it definitely makes a fan feel really close to them and at the same time I think, it also makes fans respect them more maybe. Even if younger fans a different now, in comparison to fans outside Japan, it’s probably still different. Getting to see that those idols are normal people, too, forges a whole new relationship. One I never felt with non-Japanese bands I like. I really like their clean-cut image as well or rather the knowledge that yes, they won’t get crazy like American celebrities. If you look at what they do in their shows….I don’t think they get the possibility to start feeling conceited much 🙂 And the way you described the relationship between the idol industry and its fans also prevents those idols from forgetting the importance of fans. I really hope they all keep the happy look in their eyes for a loooong long time. I’m really happy I found my way back to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nihonchique says:

      Thanks so much for your comment! Even though its been a long time since I wrote this post, I am glad that you were able to relate to this and I hope things are on the right track again for you! I still feel the same way about the relationship between the idol and the fans, but it has evolved into more of a “best friend” when it used to be more of “boyfriend”. I have grown up from being a 23 year old to a 28 year old in that time span, been in 2 relationships (still with the second), changed jobs 4 times and have learned a lot in these past 5 years, so my relationship has obviously changed. I have also become more picky with who I support because I am so busy and have a lot of “adulting” to do so to speak… but I still always come back to them because it brings be joy. Maybe someday I will move on, but for now they still help me in so many ways. How would you describe your relationship with them? I am curious!

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