MY FAULT

A Japanese pop star was assaulted, then publicly apologized for “causing trouble” by speaking out

Idolized.
Idolized.
Image: NGT48/YouTube
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“I am sorry for causing trouble.”

That was the apology made by Maho Yamaguchi (link in Japanese), a 23-year-old member of Japanese girl group NGT48, at a concert yesterday (Jan. 10), just days after she came forward with details earlier this month about how two men assaulted her at the entrance to her home. The incident was corroborated (link in Japanese) by broadcaster NHK, which reported that in early December, two 25-year-old unemployed men grabbed Yamaguchi by her face at the entrance to her home in Niigata, and told her that they just wanted to talk to her. They were arrested and released without charge.

Yamaguchi herself discussed the incident in more detail on Twitter and in a livestream, although some of those tweets were later deleted. She said that she was forced to the ground by the two men and that the assault left her deeply traumatized. She also said that she believed someone in NGT48 was responsible for the assault by leaking her address to the attackers.

NGT48’s agency, AKS, also issued a statement yesterday saying that it would increase security measures for its members, and that it had barred three men from attending the group’s events.

The assault on Yamaguchi and her subsequent apology points to the deeply rooted problems in Japan’s cut-throat idol industry, where in pursuit of success, many young people (often women) find themselves in positions where they are financially, emotionally, or even sexually, exploited. Young female idols are sometimes almost seen as the property of their fans, and are even barred from having romantic relationships—when a member of NGT48’s sister group AKB48 said that she had fallen in love with a man and planned to get married in 2017, it drew angry comments from fans who said that they felt betrayed by the announcement, not least because they had poured a lot of money into supporting her. Another member of the group had to shave her head in apology in 2013 after she spent a night with her boyfriend.

AKB48, which was formed in 2005, is one of Japan’s most successful pop groups. The group has a rotating roster of some 90 women, and attracts many male fans who are willing to shell out (paywall) on everything from band memorabilia to “handshake events.” The group has spawned a number of local offshoots across Japan and overseas. NGT48 is the Niigata chapter of the group, a city on the west coast of Japan’s main island.

By going public with her ordeal and pointing her finger at members of the group, Yamaguchi seemingly shattered the fantasy that sustains the relationship between fans and their idols—one that discourages the women from expressing their true feelings and showing they’re regular people. Indeed, Yamaguchi also apologized (link in Japanese) for “insufficient correspondence” with her fans.

Yet many of Yamaguchi’s fans are defending their idol’s decision to go public with her assault, and said that she should not apologize for speaking up. A member of a related girl group, Fukuoka-based HKT48, expressed her support (link in Japanese) on Twitter for Yamaguchi, and questioned the response of the agency, AKS, for saying they would issue portable alarms for its members as a safety precaution as she would be “too scared to even take it out” if she were assaulted.

Rie Kitahara, a former NGT48 member, also told Yamaguchi that she did not want her to “apologize to a criminal” and said it was a “really sad” situation. Amid the controversy, NGT48 announced today (Jan. 11) that it would cancel (link in Japanese) three upcoming shows.