J-Pop stars aren't allowed to date—but why?
The 48-member Japanese girl-pop behemoth known as AKB48 will soon pass a big milestone in its already-huge career: performing three sold-out shows from Aug. 24 to Aug. 26 at the Tokyo Dome, the country's largest concert venue. But the coronation—further cementing the band's reputation as Japan's most successful pop export in Asia—also comes with a black eye.
Barring a reversal of fortune or clever marketing stunt, Rino Sashihara, a 19-year-old singer who's been involved with AKB48 since 2007, won't be part of the Tokyo Dome performance. Earlier this summer, a man claiming to be her ex-boyfriend approached popular Japanese tabloid newspaper Shukan Bunshun with half-naked photos of the pop star and lurid details of their supposed relationship. Sashihara, one of the group's most popular members, denied his allegations, but the damage had been done. She was removed from AKB48 and transferred to far-less-celebrated sister group HKT48 based on the other side of the country.
Sashihara alleged sin wasn't just posing scantily clad for a camera. She had violated a cardinal J-pop rule: no dating. No hint of dating. Whereas in America, fans and the media obsess over every detail of, say, teen-pop stars Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez's relationship, Japan's entertainment industry has a long history of pretending that its stars simply have no romantic interests—and punishing them when the illusion is broken. The policy is intended to preserve a performer's pureness, youth, and accessibility, and although it's seemingly old-fashioned, the ban likely won't be changing soon.