entertainment

Exploitation, overwork a scourge in seedy world of 'chika idols'

57 Comments
By Misa Ogawa, Mayuko Isobe and Misa Hirabayashi

The requested article has expired, and is no longer available. Any related articles, and user comments are shown below.

© KYODO

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

57 Comments
Login to comment

Well if you won’t protect your own then who will? Shameful that this is widespread and not slammed and shut down.

The bully culture here is ridiculous!

19 ( +20 / -1 )

Slave labor and slave masters preying upon the dreams of young women and girls! The culture of Japan allows this to keep going on, and mainstream media needs to focus on this dark side of the culture here to have any real chance of it getting any better!

Problem is that the public eats it up too, and conveniently overlooks the hardships these and other would be entertainers go through!

12 ( +14 / -2 )

If a contract does not include "consideration" for both parties then it is invalid. In layman's terms, if you sign a contract wherein you have to work your butt off but get nothing back, then you can tell your managers to stuff it without fear of legal reprisal. But, of course you can expect to be bullied.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Heard about it for years, big Yakuza "entertainment" companies control these girls and make big money from them. Government has their head in the sand and thinks this is normal.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

30,000 yen per month

Seems pretty commensurate with what these girls contribute to society ; )

Look, the whole entertainment industry in Japan is an exploitative, open, festering sore and needs to be thoroughly reformed, no doubt, but these girls should take some of the blame: do something else! There are plenty of jobs in Japan right now. These girls thought they would just slack off in high school (if they even graduated) and then make it big because they practiced their tired dance routines down at the station or at the park every night and had a semi cute face. Get a job down at the convenience store like all the non-self-delusional foreigners do in Tokyo.

-1 ( +11 / -12 )

Keep in mind that the market is oversaturated, and statistically their chances of "making it big" are very very low

5 ( +5 / -0 )

You expect to hear things like this from China or N Korea..

when my son was born there was a company looking for baby models. My wife sent in my son's picture and we got a lot of interest in him. the company tried really hard to get us to come to tokyo for an audition. I was like NO way Jose.

Best decision I ever made.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Aly

Probably was the best decision you’ve ever made.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Don't Minors need their parents or guardians to co-sign those gray contracts? I guess not... Because if they did, then their parents or guardians would say this says you have to work so much hours and your pay will be this much and from that pay, these are the deductions and your take home pay is zero plus you are paying for transportation costs. How are you going to pay for that? You want mama and papa to give you an allowance? Are you sure you're all right with that? Is fame worth being treated like a slave? No time to bathe?!? And, even after gritting your teeth and signing away three to seven years to fulfill your contract obligations, you can't freelance or sign up with another agency for a few years.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Get over it !!

It is the same with sumo. It is Japan it is part of the culture. These girls can sleep well knowing that they wont be beaten with beer bottles and stomped on. We occasionally read about members of karate and judo clubs being beaten to death when they want to quit. It is Japan. That's the way it is.

-13 ( +5 / -18 )

Seems pretty commensurate with what these girls contribute to society ; )

Look, the whole entertainment industry in Japan is an exploitative, open, festering sore and needs to be thoroughly reformed, no doubt, but these girls should take some of the blame: do something else! There are plenty of jobs in Japan right now. These girls thought they would just slack off in high school (if they even graduated) and then make it big because they practiced their tired dance routines down at the station or at the park every night and had a semi cute face. Get a job down at the convenience store like all the non-self-delusional foreigners do in Tokyo.

I'm surprised it took so long for a comment like this to appear. A 1/2 sentence acknowledging the wrongs of a powerful industry before a full paragraph ridiculing vulnerable young women. No doubt most of whom come from broken or disadvantaged families. The only difference between the girl studying at Kyoto University or an idol being exploited by disgusting men is how well off their family is. I can imagine blaming a girl's parents for letting such things happen, but odds are they're not in the picture or capable of doing any such thing. Young girls left to fend for themselves b/c of some myth, like only if they'd pulling themselves up by their own legwarmers is ridiculous.

There are have nots and vulnerable young people living on the edge in any culture, but Japan is unique in how young women in particular are preyed upon by merciless industries, often, as Gogogo alludes, with deeply shady ties. Such contracts would not stand for a single day in the West. But I suppose we should respect our host nation, however venal some of its practices.

11 ( +15 / -4 )

Every once in awhile, some unknown girl idol group (not the same one every time) will give a performance in a park in Hachioji. It sickens me to watch (as I pass) not only the bad choreography and karaoke-grade singing, but also the otaku who pay to line up to get a picture, with and maybe a hug from them. When it's all said and done, the groups usually leave with a guy in a cheap suit who is likely the manager.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

These black entertainment companies are a disgrace and should be ashamed of themselves. But they won't be because they are soulless wolves.

I believe that the girls themselves bear some responsibility as well. They can't be so starry eyed and naive that they get tricked into such contracts.

The parents of these girls ought to advise and protect thier girls a lot more. Personally I wouldn't want my girls anywhere near these bloodsuckers.

I hope those who are trapped can break free.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

There are no benevolent agencies..... these girls are nothing more than "eye candy" to be sold to the highest bidder. Why have we not seen any real meaningful documentaries on Japanese TV about what it is really like for these girls? Because Japanese TV is controlled by those with vested interest in keeping it all hidden. Step out of line and you're banned for life. Just another facet of Japan's ugly underbelly. People.... if you've no clue of how ugly this business really is then you're not looking closely enough.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Every once in awhile, some unknown girl idol group (not the same one every time) will give a performance in a park in Hachioji. It sickens me to watch (as I pass) not only the bad choreography and karaoke-grade singing, but also the otaku who pay to line up to get a picture, with and maybe a hug from them. When it's all said and done, the groups usually leave with a guy in a cheap suit who is likely the manager.

My favorite are the festivals where the small kids are dancing to hip hop, which by itself is rather cute. But all their families looking on proudly while x-rated rap lyrics blare out always gives me pause.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

@ jcjapan - I once attended the sports festival of a junior high school. In one of the songs that they were blaring out, the chorus was "Let's go crazy crazy crazy till we see the sun. C'mon let's get some, and live while we're young." When I brought it up to one of the teachers he just waved me off and said "It's okay, they don't understand the words anyway."

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Heard about it for years, big Yakuza "entertainment" companies control these girls and make big money from them. Government has their head in the sand and thinks this is normal.

Thats because the government is in on it.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@jcapan

You make it sound as if these young women have been sold into prostitution by their parents and have absolutely no agency in their own futures. Are you saying that these women can't quit their 30,000/month idol job and go work for a nursing home? That they are consigned to "idoling" or nothing? They're too stupid to do anything else because of whatever unfortunate circumstance?

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

When the only set of skills you offer is looking pretty and dancing, a company can pretty much offer you whatever they want because they know you have no other choice. Call it exploitation, but at the end of the day it's smart business.

Just like English Teaching in Japan, being an 'idol' is an easily replaceable skillset. There will always be people eager to take your place.

You have distinguish yourself from the rest in order to command a larger salary.

No matter how pretty it is, would you ever pay more than 108 yen for a Daiso towel?

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

So.... it IS possible to sell yourself in japan!

...but don't break that almighty antitrust contract!

But because of the contracts, many believe they do not have the right to protection,"

In fact, isn't it obvious they don't have the right to protection? Yukue proved it in trying to fight for her daughter

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Look, the whole entertainment industry in Japan is an exploitative, open, festering sore and needs to be thoroughly reformed, no doubt, but these girls should take some of the blame: do something else! There are plenty of jobs in Japan right now. These girls thought they would just slack off in high school (if they even graduated) and then make it big because they practiced their tired dance routines down at the station or at the park every night and had a semi cute face. Get a job down at the convenience store like all the non-self-delusional foreigners do in Tokyo.

Victim blaming at it's finest. How does blaming the victims when these "production companies" are there waiting to exploit them every chance they get? Especially the young and experienced. Even regular working jobs have many cases of exploiting their staff to work long hours with next to no overtime pay. Japan has a symptomatic problem regarding it's workforce., the idol business just goes one step further.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I am not arguing that the "production companies" don't share the major portion of the blame--it goes without saying. What I'm saying is that these young women are not blameless either. If this is "victim blaming," so be it. But they can quit.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Exploitation of labor in Japan is deeply rooted in the peculiar structure of human relationships that have endured over centuries. It is difficult to imagine a rebellion of the Japanese against social injustices like the gilets jaunes in France, but unless the Japanese people change their consciousness concerning their individual rights and think politically in terms of solidarity with others, they will continue to be victimized by unscrupulous, power-hungry exploiters. A good start would be a revitalization of the labor unions armed with real teeth to bite into the shameless greed of the tin-pot capitalists and their craven enablers from the executive political class who are the scourge of Japan's present social fabric.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Did they really read their contract too or signed under hope of success and excitement?

A work contract must be read carefully

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

The bully culture here is ridiculous!

This is not just a Japan thing because you read it here. I just read an article about the plight of NBA dancers that parallels this story to the T.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

more human rights violations in Japan

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The Japanese geinoukai entertainment industry is ugly ugly ugly, even on TV it's not all hidden: the talents go on and on about their young days and how poor and desperate they were, subsisting on one candy bar per week until sempai had pity on them and bought them a teishoku dinner once boo hoo I'll never forget the taste of that tonkatsu that saved my life sniff sniff blub blub--like it's normal and a matter of course-- you're not allowed to arrive without going through all that. Young people are fed this narrative when they have the audacity to complain I imagine.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Using a naive young girls dreams and aspirations to steal, use and abuse. Lovely little business this one. Run by some proper scumbags. Doesn’t get lower than that. Where the parents at though?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

My wife too tried to get our kids into modeling in Japan and my impression is that they'll sign you up, but only if you pay a signup fee and then pay for weekly lessons. There are other agencies who have no fees, but they pay very little when a job comes. None pay travel money, so you'll probably end up with next to nothing.

Regarding adults, there are plenty of stories like this in the music industry. The girl group TLC had a million seller and Grammy, but said they would have made more money that year waitressing. Steve Albini wrote a famous online article with numbers about how rock bands can be exploited. The band gets a big-sounding advance, but are on the hook for all of the expenses, and this leaves them with nothing.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

supply and demand.  so many of these adolescent "groups" ans it being seen as a desirable "job" mean that they can ruthlessly exploited.  shameful.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Good on them for speaking up.

The entertainment business in Japan is rotten, but idols have it especially bad.

I'll remind everyone of this 16 years old idol that killed herself because she went through the same harassment. This is not laughing matter, or "it's just the way it is", or "this is how it's done in Japan". This is a health, life and death kind of issue.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Exploitation, overwork a scourge in seedy world of 'chika idols'

Wow! What a revelation, NOT!

The producers of these bands are only no better than those creeps who run those seedy hostess bars. They exploit these young girls to make gazilions of yen and don't give a fat rat's about the girls because there are tens of thousand of girls lining up to get their 15 minutes of fame/exploitation.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

When the only set of skills you offer is looking pretty and dancing, a company can pretty much offer you whatever they want because they know you have no other choice.

Right, so that makes abuse of workers ok then?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

It's even more preposterous to me that the government does nothing to protect these vulnerable young girls. This is the type of thing you would expect to see in 3rd-world countries. Japan is just not ready, or worthy, to be part of the civilized world.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

these girls should take some of the blame: do something else!

That is the whole point of their argument: they want to do something else but the production companies won't let them. They are suckered as teenagers into signing long term contracts with heavy penalties for getting out of them that effectively keep them trapped in them until the production companies decide they are no longer useful. The term "slave" is not wholly inaccurate to the conditions these contracts keep them in.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Something fishy.

Whenever this type of news come out, most people will blame the companies, then whole lot of Japan culture. If you have been living in Japan and you think like this plus share anyone, it becomes even worse, and makes Japan more hateful to the other world.

Look, these so called idols want to be successful popular idols by dancing/singing and mostly by being cheerful on stage. They choose easy way for their life and they think it's so much hard working when it's just moving your body according to music.

What is hard-working and successful?

You study well and have a good degree and get a job, then again find a more suitable better job and work all your life for yourself and for your family. Now this is hardworking and successful in very normal human way.

Now these idols, maybe they have family problems, financial problem or self problem (lazyness, arrogant by thinking who even works as a waitress, better to become idol by having fun dancing and stuff like this), it's simple thoughts for them, they choose to become idols. When unsuccessful, they blame the companies, not themselves.

Probably also due to jealousy over other friends being top idols, yet you're still an underground, and blaming and complaining whatever they can to win people's heart full of sympathy and support, and even some hidden cash through media or crazy loyal fans.

They already know about these things through friends, media, forums and all, and still choses to become idol over regular works such as waitress. So it's not just companies, it's these idols fault from beginning to end.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Dadude

I’m Japanese American, was born here, but thanks for the local rundown.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

When the only set of skills you offer is looking pretty and dancing, a company can pretty much offer you whatever they want because they know you have no other choice. Call it exploitation, but at the end of the day it's smart business.

Not merely defending cretins but full of admiration for them as well.

Just like English Teaching in Japan, being an 'idol' is an easily replaceable skillset. There will always be people eager to take your place.

Yes, exactly the same. White collar professionals with college degrees coming here by choice for a year or two, and free to leave anytime vs. young women, many of them minors, without a good education, prospects or advocates. You've struck upon the perfect analogy.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Pointing out that workers are exploited and forced to work overtime in Japan is like pointing out that we breathe air. And Japan won't change it's ways until we STOP breathing air... never.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The Labor Standards Inspection Office is also hesitant to provide guidelines with regard to the contracts of idols

That's because the labour standards inspection office is useless and refuses to make companies obey the law. It's also because most of these "talent agencies" are run by gangsters.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Look, these so called idols want to be successful popular idols by dancing/singing and mostly by being cheerful on stage. They choose easy way for their life and they think it's so much hard working when it's just moving your body according to music.

...Wow. Just wow. Like, how did you even reach that conclusion? Seriously, can you get back to me on this logic?

Choreography and singing isn't as easy as you make it sound. It takes work and practice, you know, like any other profession. We would all be big time artists if it was that simple, but it's not, seeing as everyone here isn't a big time artist.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

These girls thought they would just slack off in high school (if they even graduated) and then make it big because they practiced their tired dance routines down at the station or at the park every night and had a semi cute face.

So they deserve being treated badly and being exploited, then?

Loving the victim-blaming today.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

This kind of exploitation of young girls has been going on for decades (centuries) in Japan. Have a look on YouTube for Japanese girl band clips from the 70’s and you’ll see even younger girls being exploited and treated as sexual objects. Furthermore, let’s not forget that a large percentage of the fan base of these ‘idols’ are middle-aged men. Do you think they are fans because of the music? This is all just part of the unhealthy attraction to teenage girls in Japanese men.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Its is not just young girls..... try starting a band in Japan and then try to book clubs, it takes years of sucking up and working for less while the agencies make all the money. Every, and I mean EVERY angle you take is controlled by vested interests. It is only when you're actually talented and can rise above a certain level that you can know this. The "foreigners", that have made it..... they've all acquiesced to the powers that be. I'll give them credit though.... they were smart enough to play the game. But they never actually last.... Watch Japanese TV.... this "Geinojin" world. 125 Million people and it ain't growing.... all trying to protect their turf.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This article says more about business as usual in Japan Inc.

These 'gray contracts' are ubiquitous across industries here, and like neo-liberal capitalism in my former home of the U.S., state-capitalism in Japan depends on exploitation of both natural resources AND human resources.

I had to walk away from more than 10 years of academic tenure at a 120 year old 'college' (Jissen Women's College') because my lawyer said that educational institutes are in a 'gray zone' not subject to the more (cough, cough) stringent enforcement of law in the business sector.

As a low-profile, easily replaceable foreigner, I can look at my own situation from the outside, and even though I don't agree with morality of isolating and reducing individuals to disposable capital ... I can kind of understand the financial thinking behind many 'dark triad' personality types who are successful capitalists ... Ghosn and Trump being typical examples.

But when I think about these girls — exploited and marginalized Japanese youth — I REALLY worry about the new law which will import thousands of low skilled, disposable foreign labor over here, without first thinking of them as human beings with human needs.

What few people realize, is that the recent political theater of Far Right ideology in the U.S. is nothing compared to the Far Right economic dynamics of Japan Inc.

It will take time, but the chickens will come home to roost. What goes around, comes around.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

In reality, all these girls can offer are eye candy and a ridiculous work ethic, if they are unwilling there's likely plenty lining up to do so, as evidence with the endless parade of abc48 groups. And I think we're talking about the underground equivalent here.

With that said exploitation is exploitation and they should be able to fight or dispute it lawfully. Btw, where the hell are the parents to help their kids, as i doubt they are totally in the dark.

For those of you claiming they are taking the easy way out; you try signing up for slave labour, its hard work!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

it's basically sex trafficking without the the transportation.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

It should be pointed out that not all chika idol groups work like this. I know a few people in groups who perform 4-6 times a month max, have a ball doing it and have jobs outside of it. There is definitely a dark side to the industry, but it certainly isn't all-pervading - there are a ton of great groups doing fun stuff that can be watched guilt-free...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Eh, it's no better or worse than the high school dropout deciding he's going to be the next big rock star and assumes that one day he'll hit it big! If he does end up getting any kind of talent then the industry will tear him apart and throw him on the streets unless he is no longer needed or he becomes so popular that it's in the company's best interest to treat him well. Any girl that decides that they don't want to live a "normal life" and thinks they'll be the next big idol is no better. The contracts are absolutely disgusting and should be illegal, but if someone sees that their salary is not even minimum wage and contains a lot of fees, it's their own fault for signing up. Obviously the company will be pushing them saying that they'll surely make it big if they do it long enough, and the empty promises just remove all sorts of common or financial sense.

Also there are plenty of girls who are from normal and well-off families, I saw some program on TV about some girl from the sticks of Kyushu who wanted to be an idol and her parents were completely against it, so she just hopped on a bus to Tokyo on her own. Can't blame everything on upbringing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Has an independent TV program company thought of making a documentary on the subject? then it could get aired on NHK this would hight light the problem. this way girls, and parents could be exposed to the culture and then they could see that the pop culture is not a glamorous as its made out to be.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Has an independent TV program company thought of making a documentary on the subject? then it could get aired on NHK this would hight light the problem. this way girls, and parents could be exposed to the culture and then they could see that the pop culture is not a glamorous as its made out to be.

There's a doco that came out a year or two ago called 'Tokyo Idol' that follows a couple of groups/idols around. Totally worth a watch. It's on Netflix US if you're from there or have a VPN - might even be on the Japan one too. Not on OZ tho.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The civic conscience and political consciousness of most Japanese is shockingly and dangerously underdeveloped partly as a result of the tight control over what is broadcast on TV, so that investigative documentaries common in the UK and Europe exposing a country's social problems and issues like capital punishment, prison conditions, exploitation of labor, political corruption are extremely rare, so that "out of sight, out of mind" has been the firm, safety-first policy of the media corporations. On the other hand, the Japanese public is allowed occasional glimpses into the social problems of other countries as shown in foreign documentaries, courtesy of NHK, Japan's national "Nanny-Watchdog". It is evident that only generational change among those responsible in branches of the media can raise the low level of public debate and discourse that is hindering liberal, democratic thought among a Japanese public overdosed on "bread and circuses".

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Where is the good ole conservative stepping up to the plate and defending this "wonderful" exercise of the free market? Just asking!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan's "gray area" strikes again! It ain't just idol groups folks!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

They should form their own SAG-AFTRA

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In the first place, did they really read the work contract in details?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Japan/slave labour, say it aint so!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites