A 17-year-old former member of a Japanese girl band, or “idol group” as they are called in the country, was found to be in breach of a no-dating clause in her contract and ordered to pay $5,400 (?650,000) by the Tokyo District Court.
“The clause prohibiting dating was necessary to get the support of male fans,” said Judge Akitomo Kojima in his ruling, adding: “The revelation of an idol’s relationship damages their image.”
Contracts forbidding romantic engagements are standard for members of Japan’s idol groups, but this is understood to be the first time a management company has successfully sued for damages.
The six-member group signed its contract in March 2013 and debuted in July of that year. After reports surfaced that the one member, who would have been 15 at the time, went to a hotel with two male fans, the group was disbanded in October 2013.
The management company claimed damages of $42,375 (?5.1 million) from the girl and her parents to compensate for the money it had spent on the group. Her parents would have had to sign the contract because she is a minor. But the fact that a minor went to a hotel with two men doesn’t appear to have been a cause of concern for the management or the presiding judge.
Neither the group nor the management company was named in the court report, but online sleuths have deduced from the timeline that it was almost certainly an outfit called DokiDoki (a Japanese onomatopoeic term for a heart beating fast with excitement) that was managed by Spiral Music.
The extremely lucrative “idol” business in Japan relies heavily on the fantasy of the availability of girl-next-door-type members of groups, many of whom are minors. Despite being marketed as sex symbols, often dressed provocatively, sometimes in school-uniform-like outfits, the girls are expected to maintain an aura of innocence and purity.
Last year, two members of girl band Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School were sued for dating fans and expelled from the group. Along with naming members and their parents/guardians, management company Moving Factory also named in the suit the two men who had relations with the young women.
“They have betrayed the members of the group and all their fans. We cannot forgive this,” said the company in its statement on the lawsuit, which has yet to be settled.
In previous cases, mostly involving female starlets, the offending members have been forced to leave the group or publicly apologize. In one incident, Minami Minegishi, of idol supergroup AKB48, shaved her head (a traditional act of contrition in Japan) after it was revealed she had spent the night with a boy-band member.
Japanese male idol groups, or boy bands, haven’t been immune from the controlling tendencies of their management companies either. Jin Akanishi was temporarily blackballed by his all-powerful agency Johnny & Associates for marrying fellow singer and actress Meisa Kuroki in 2012 before reporting it to the company. Akanishi, former vocalist with boy band Kat-Tun, has since been rehabilitated and appeared alongside Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin the following year.