Media watch: Former idol candidates face the music

Akiko Ikuina

It’s common for show biz celebrities to run for public office in many countries, and in Japan they usually run under the ruling Liberal Democratic Party banner, for whatever reason. In this weekend’s Upper House race there are two candidates aiming for seats with the LDP who were idol singers in their youth—38-year-old Eriko Imai, who is set to retain her proportional seat and who used to belong to the female idol group Speed, and 54-year-old Akiko Ikuina, a first-timer gunning for a Tokyo constituency seat who long ago belonged to the first Japanese female idol collective Onyanko Club. 

On July 6, tabloid Nikkan Gendai reported that four music industry associations—the Japan Association of Music Enterprises, the Federation of Music Producers Japan,  the Japan Concert Promoters Association, and the Music Publishers Association of Japan—were throwing their combined weight behind the two candidates, pledging to “organize gatherings” to show their support. According to Gendai, representatives of the four groups visited LDP headquarters on June 30 to talk about their support. The chairman of JAME released a statement saying that Japan’s entertainment sector needs to gain more “political power,” and hopes that Imai and Ikuina can act as “conduits” between the music business and Nagatacho.

The news caused an immediate uproar among other music-related people in Japan, who said that the four associations do not represent their views. On July 2 the hashtag website #SaveOurSpace, which was originally organized to help concert halls and clubs survive during the COVID pandemic, released a letter of protest stating that “many kinds of people work in the music industry who hold differing viewpoints” and that these people are free to endorse whomever they wish. The fact that these four music industry associations, which are “very influential” in the music business, have banded together to publicly support two candidates without receiving consent from musicians and other music-related workers is “exceptional,” and they are demanding answers. As of July 4, more than 2,000 music-related people had affixed their names to the letter. Gendai noted that on July 2, even Keiichi Suzuki, the 70-year-old leader of the veteran group the Moonlighters tweeted that he in no way supported the four associations’ actions, adding that Suzuki had never talked about politics in the past. His tweet received 37,000 likes.

One music critic told Gendai that no one in the music business had any idea this was going to happen, and that the announcement caught everybody by surprise. It was beyond the pale that these associations didn’t survey members to find out what they thought of the endorsement. They just went ahead and made the decision on their own. Gendai sent an email to JAME asking for an explanation but had received no response by the time the article went to press. 

For what it’s worth Ikuina belongs to Ogi Productions while Imai is represented by Rising Productions, both heavyweight talent management production companies in JAME.

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