The Nature of Idols: Analyzing Idol Otaku in the Media

The following editorial contains the thoughts and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the other Selective Hearing contributors, staff, or Selective Hearing’s partners and affiliates.


Recently, a website called Tongfu posted an article featuring an interview with a somewhat “popular” Japanese idol wota, and it’s become a source of discussion among many in the community, based on a number of people sharing it on social media and it already amassing around 50 comments within just one day; a fairly rare occurrence for anything besides politics or current news sites/blogs.

I started to comment on the article, but realized I have a lot to say in regards to this subject of idol otaku in the media, so it brings up a few other points that I’ve wanted to discuss for a while now. My issues lie in the way websites and publications of all kinds from all around the world treat the subject of idol otaku and why the media so frequently overlooks or ignores the problems that seem to be coming to the surface with the otaku community more frequently.

On to some of the issues.


Validation of questionable behavior:

This recent article features a rather lengthy interview with this “professional idol wota” who has devoted more than half of his life to following idols and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on meeting idols and going to idol events. This interview seems to have an agenda to validate and glorify this lifestyle of being controlled and manipulated by the idol business and using it as an escapist fantasy to avoid the responsibility of real life in our society by replacing it with superficial happiness.

The article also seems to put lots of focus on the fact that this person claims to be a lawyer in Japan, which has certainly excited lots of Western idol fans to use this interview as validation for themselves, as “proof” that you can still be a successful and “respected” member of society while also being an obsessed idol wota and wasting away all your free time consuming just about everything the idol industry can throw at you.

The comments quickly started with plenty of these fans reaching for validation and using this one exception to the norm of idol fans to say “Look! We’re not all creepy and maladjusted guys looking to carry out escapist fantasies!”

I’ve said in some of my previous writings regarding idol fandom or any hobbies or passions, that if you’re proud and not ashamed of your hobby and you truly think it’s a good thing, you shouldn’t need anyone who is more successful in reality or an exception to the norm to validate those things. Using a minority within a certain hobby to justify you doing the same thing is generally a sign of poor self-esteem and looking for validation from outside sources instead of within yourself with common sense and values.

As a fellow commenter on this article already pointed out before me, one rarity or exception to a norm is especially not a viable reason to validate your own behavior when even the interviewee himself admits that he’s very much an exception to the usual kind of people he sees and meets at idol events and in idol communities.

It’s concerning to me how much this article/author glorifies a terribly unhealthy lifestyle of running from reality and letting obsession or addiction control you, which is another thing I’ve expressed in a number of my previous writings, but it feels like it hit home again with more articles like this popping up in Western or English media in the last few years, singing the praises of the idol otaku lifestyle or buying into/perpetuating the marketing the idol industry spins.

Of course, I’ve been marginally involved in idol related things throughout my life, but I realized very early (in the early 2000s) that the emotional attachment and investment that some obsessed fans put into this obsession is so damaging to a person’s psyche and ability to function as a human being that it made me start to further distance myself from those who displayed and supported these lifestyles. And yes, this happens in just about any kind of obsession or fandom, and the main issue is that so many people lack self-control or self-awareness to keep these obsessions in check and at a healthy level, and how aggressive the idol industry’s marketing is at encouraging this kind of unhealthy behavior.


Avoiding reality and responsibility to society:

I still enjoy a lot of the music that comes out of the Japanese music industry (often sung by idols, incidentally) but the marketing and ideals behind the idol industry drove me away many years ago and made me start to critically and logically investigate the business and coercion behind the “figures on the stage,” as the “lawyer otaku” so graciously describes them. Along with anime and a number of other common otaku entertainment hobbies, I think these obsessions and lack of self-control are diminishing the functionality of Japan’s society as a whole, with increasingly more people turning to fantasy, delusion, and superficial happiness to replace the reality of life, understanding and interpersonal relationships.

With growing awareness and fear of the future of Japan as the population ages and dies off, leaving less people in the workforce, the suicide rates being some of the highest in the world, and the birth rate drastically dropping (largely because of people like otaku choosing fantasy over real relationships or people having to meet overbearing demands in their job,) it seems to be getting increasingly important to discuss and question these behaviors and mental health as a whole in Japan on a more relevant level.

Talking about these things lightly and forgivingly, as the author does in this article, is part of the problem, especially in Japanese media, and it’s now becoming more frequent in Western or English media as well. It’s a tradition of Japanese culture to go far out of the way to avoid confrontation or proper criticism of things in general, even things like otaku culture, which are as questionable and corrupt as any religion or government in the world when it comes to manipulation, subversive mental control, labor exploitation, and just plain bad business.

I always see the same sad and cyclical responses to deflect questions that even slightly criticize idol otaku behavior, and I’ve just seen them all recited again in this article as well. Most people (often “journalists”) asking the questions stop asking after the first deflection, and we end up with fluff like this article when there are plenty further moral and ethical questions that need to be asked regarding this behavior and mentality, and how they are affecting modern society.


Sexual objectification and interpersonal relationships:

The article later touches on some very questionable and often shockingly narrow-minded or shallow ideals when the author starts to question the romantic or more personal life of the otaku, and his answers are pretty disturbing, even though the author doesn’t bat an eye at them or confront them much at all in the article, despite including a few comments of alarm.

On the subject of relationships, the otaku says he doesn’t partake in relationships with real women (claiming that many women have approached him romantically in the past) saying that he’s only interested in “relationships” with idols. The author even took a very good step in the right direction and questioned if the otaku would date a girl who used to be an idol but quit and is now just a normal girl, to which he simply answered that he would not. His reasoning was given in a roundabout way, but he essentially said that he and most other idol fans are only in love with the image the girls are portraying, not the real girl themselves, so he says he can “only love an idol” and not a real girl.

This is a commonly given answer to these types of questions, with many otaku claiming that having relationships with anime characters or idols is much easier than dealing with the reality of a relationship with a real person, so you don’t have to deal with the harsh emotions and the self-control or self-reflection required to have a healthy relationship with another real person. Even beyond this, he clearly states that he prefers to buy useless idol memorabilia instead of using his money and time going to gatherings or meetings with non-otaku friends or real girls.

As a further show of the warped and conflicting ideas and statements he presents, he mentions one point when a former AKB girl released a JAV porn video, and one of the current members he likes said that people should buy this DVD on a radio show appearance, so he went and bought the video, even though he claims he never watched it and the thought of an idol doing something “dirty” like that disgusted him. This shows that a person is so controlled by the marketing messages these idols send out that it causes them to buy into or do things that they’ve previously told themselves they would never take part in or have personal values against.

As if the statements so far weren’t bad enough even at face value, here, they also crossed a line into being very sexist and objectifying towards women, stating that women are only “worthy” when they are (or give the illusion of being) sexually “pure” and innocent. This way of thinking attempts to dictate what a woman can or can’t do with her own body and her own life, claiming that she’s not worthy of respect or attention if she doesn’t follow the chastity rules that idol fans are so attached to.

This also further demonstrates just how fake or superficial and objectifying the “support” most male otaku give to idols during their time as an entertainer is, since this means if the girl does anything that doesn’t meet their desires for “purity” and subservience, they can so quickly just cut off the support, merely because a girl is making her own decisions about herself. This perpetuates the mindset that women are just play-things that can be discarded whenever the man doesn’t like her anymore or she did something he doesn’t like.


Parallels with idols to sexism, misogyny, and violence:

Most people who have looked much into the state of Japanese society and culture already know that sexism and misogyny are two of the most prevalent social problems facing the country today (they’re at the bottom end of the world ranking for gender equality,) but I find it troubling just how much idol culture itself consistently manifests and displays these same kinds of ideas and how many similarities idol culture has to other, more violent or malevolent misogynist cultures from around the world. I had already explored some similar themes in my previous piece on the nature of idols, so this will further some of those ideas.

When you take a deeper and more critical look at what the idol industry really is, it seems sexism is one of the ultimate driving forces behind all of it, including male idols as well. Idol marketing and characters for both genders tend to play up the “ideal” qualities that most fans of the opposite sex find appealing on the surface, with female idols always playing up the aspects of purity, chastity, childlike innocence, and willingness to please or be subservient with no personal motives or independence. Male idols tend to portray a cute and playful little/big brother image or that of a perfectly handsome husband/boyfriend material, usually with a touch of that similar “innocence” that female idols rely on so heavily, with slight variance depending on the age of the performers.


The marketing for idols that’s most frequently used in the last number of years since the big idol boom of the 2010s hit and was frequently mentioned in the article are ones where fans buy tons of CDs so they can go to an event that usually just involves a handshake with an idol for a few seconds. If you stop to think about it for a moment, it’s presented in a deceptive way, by making fans who want to have a reward go through multiple hoops to get into these events, and cleverly, in the same process, making the group look more successful and important to the mainstream media by saying they have lots of “music” sales, when the fans are actually buying their chance to attend or entrance tickets to these events instead of buying the CDs for enjoyment of the music.

It seems a bit striking that fans will go so far out of their way and pay so much money just to be able to touch an idol, since, for many people with childish views on sex or physical contact with others may relate the touching of an idol to having their own pseudo-sexual experience with that idol at the price of buying dozens of CDs, which gives a creepy backdrop to what goes on in this industry and causes many to accuse the industry as being a sort of “soft prostitution” business.

These events are not the only kind of creepy and sexist innuendo that’s involved here, as even more overt kinds of sexual innuendo and pandering is involved with a large amount of the activities that modern idols take part in, whether it’s the lyrics to their songs, the sexual images in their music videos or DVDs, the scripting they have for video or radio appearances, or a host of other very obvious examples you can find by taking in a general amount of content from them. The sexual connotations underneath the surface are enough to make most people cringe, yet otaku celebrate these actions and elements, and it helps to further the fantasy they’re turning to idols to fulfill.


There’s also a much darker side to the association of sexism and misogyny that has come up throughout history, and more recently with a few events relating these factors to idol otaku more specifically. In May of 2014, a young American man from California went on a killing spree of eight women, claiming he was taking revenge on the women who had rejected him romantically or sexually, after making many statements and videos online publicly announcing his motivations, all being horribly sexist and derogatory towards women. He took part in online communities who felt they were entitled to have sex with any woman they desired and had the right to “punish” any woman who wasn’t attracted to them.


Very sadly, just three days after the massacre by this man in the US, the infamous AKB48 fan attack happened that sent shock waves all through Japan and especially the idol community. A fan of AKB48 went to one of their famous handshake events armed with a saw and attacked and harmed a few of the members of the group before security could detain him. The Japanese media rushed to deny that the attacker was even a fan of AKB48, and the attacker’s family even made statements on TV denying that he was even an idol otaku, but anyone who understands how these events work would know that this was very falsified.

Since you have to buy many CDs to get into these events (and the man rode a bike for many miles to get there) we can easily deduce that this media blackout was likely just the work of AKB’s management paying off the family and/or media agencies to keep any accusations, criticism, or blame away from their company and the way they handled their events or the behaviors their activities encourage to fans.

The quickness with which the Japanese media tried to shift any blame or responsibility away from the real causes of the attacker’s mental illness were staggering and very suspicious to me. Japan shies away from confronting or admitting they have problems quicker than a flash of lightning instead of accepting there is a problem and trying to address it, it’s usually swept under the rug to be ignored. The mental health issues that I believe these kinds of otaku activities are encouraging or breeding are a much bigger issue than the Japanese government or society will probably ever admit to or address.

It’s not terribly likely that the two attacks are directly related, but the ideas that seem to have driven both of these acts are frighteningly alike. With the constant sexist attitudes perpetuated and promoted by the idol industry, does it seem unlikely that the attacker of AKB members may have thought he was entitled to interact with the idols in the ways that he wanted to, and when his conflicting ideas clashed in his head, he decided to attack them when he felt he couldn’t have them in the way he wanted, just in the same way the American killed the women who he couldn’t have in the way he wanted them?

Other mass murderers or attackers in Japan over the last number of years often used similar excuses when asked about the motivations for their attacks, including the horrible Akihabara massacre in 2008, claiming that no one in society accepted them, women didn’t like them, so they just wanted to attack everyone and die. These recent attacks with similar motivations have even started a new classification for deaths and attacks in Japan, called “hikkikomori suicide” named after the behaviors exhibited by the criminals who lead shut-in and often otaku lifestyles.

The AKB attack seemed to be very much in line with other attacks of this type, so I can’t help but feel the motivations are probably similar, despite how much the media didn’t talk much about the AKB attacker’s motivations, and on top of the attacker lying about the motivations three different times, giving a different reason each time, none of which seemed to really match up with the facts. The American news site VICE’s spinoff site, Noisey, also wrote an article just after the AKB incident where they spoke with a well-informed Japanese writer/blogger about his theories of what may have been the real motivations behind the attack, which seemed to match up very closely with my own, so I know I’m not alone in thinking this far into the subject.

There have also been quite a few other unsettling or disturbing incidents at these kinds of fan meeting events that have been reported by attendees in the past, as well as a number of publicized death or attack threats against certain idols or idol groups, so something tells me there’s a strong undercurrent of mental illness or instability running throughout the undercurrent of the idol otaku community. The popular 2ch internet forums devoted to idols and plenty of other evidence in the media also provide plenty of insight into the unhealthiness and delusion surrounding this community, yet these media outlets usually never question these things to a serious extent. As unfortunate as it sounds, I fear it’s just a matter of time until we see another of these kinds of attacks related to otaku and/or idols, as long as these things continue to go unaddressed and hidden by the media.


I hope some of the ideas presented here will help more people to think critically about what’s really going on behind the happy-go-lucky appearance of the idol business and the otaku culture associated with it. Thinking critically about any kind of hobby or interest you have should always be in mind, to control your own actions and not become unhealthily manipulated by those things yourself.

Anyone has the freedom to pursue the hobbies and interests they want and take part in activities they find enjoyable, but there should also be rational thought behind these freedoms to consider whether it meets some of the basic criteria for leading a healthy and responsible life, in regards to mental health, interpersonal relationships, physical health, or financial well-being. All I’m urging is to be responsible with your interests and don’t let thoughtless addiction or obsession drive you into ruining your life or the lives of others.

I also hope the media from around the world starts thinking more responsibly about how it deals with criticism of these kinds of issues that are bringing up valid social problems instead of just shrugging them off, treating them as novelty, or glorifying them.

If you have anything further to comment or any ideas to discuss, please reply in the comments and as always, thanks for reading.

About Steve 88 Articles
Steve is a contributor and resident music nerd for Selective Hearing, specializing in Japanese idol industry commentary and coverage. A lifetime musician, film lover, journalist, video game fanatic, philosophy enthusiast, and idol aficionado. A dweller of the idol scene since the late 1990s, he loves to discuss industry trends and ideas, past or present.