Rino Sashihara was voted the most popular member of all-girl singing group AKB48 in the 5th annual popularity contest before 70,000 fans at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Saturday.
Sashihara, 20, received 150,570 votes, beating last year's winner Yuko Oshima who garnered 136,503 votes. Sashihara already has two singles to her name and last summer, she was transferred to HKT48, AKB48's sister group based in Fukuoka Prefecture.
Pictures of a teary-eyed Sashihara dominated the sports newspapers on Sunday. She will now stand center stage and take a lead role in the wildly-popular group's future musical offerings and performances.
Much of the group's appeal lies in their being idols you can touch, with frequent opportunities for fans to meet them, chat with them or befriend them on social networking sites.
This strategy, combined with the baring of much flesh, has given them a huge following among Japan's often geeky salarymen.
The group's popularity is staggering, as is the merchandising industry it supports. They are also advertising gold and have been involved in promotions for products as diverse as sweets and government bonds, while fronting a campaign aimed at reducing teenage suicide.
The general election for AKB48 is the largest annual event in Japanese music and entertainment.© Japan Today/AFP