TOKYO (AFP) ― The election debate that raged across Japan for weeks has been settled, campaigners are packing up their things and TV pundits are moving on to different topics ― all-girl group AKB48 has a new president.
Pictures of teary-eyed 23-year-old Yuko Oshima dominated Thursday’s newspapers after her victory in a popular ballot for the top spot in one of the world’s highest grossing acts.
Anyone was allowed to vote in the election ― as long as they bought a copy of AKB48’s most recent single “Manatsu no Sounds Good!” (a mixture of Japanese and English that defies sensible translation, but has something to do with summer).
Japan’s all-girl pop idol group AKB48 member Yuko Oshima (front row center) flashes a victory sign, as she poses with other members after winning the annual AKB48 popularity poll in Tokyo Wednesday. (AP-Yonhap News)
Hundreds of hours of television coverage culminated in a live special with millions tuning in nationwide to see Oshima crowned.
“You, my dear fans, have given water and light,” a teary-eyed Oshima told fans, comparing herself with a flower bud.
“A flower will wither someday. Please be my sunshine forever.”
With a 90-strong pool of girls in their teens and early 20s who are rotated in and out of the public eye based on their popularity, AKB48 is part pop act, part talent show.
The single and accompanying ballot paper, which had a list price of 1,600 yen ($20), shifted a record-breaking 1.17 million units the day it went on sale, with some fans reportedly buying multiple copies to boost the chances of their favourite candidate.
Oshima will now stand centre 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 bearing of much flesh, has given them a huge following among Japan’s often geeky salarymen.
“I am really happy about the result,” said Makoto Yoshida, a 35-year-old fan.
“I don’t think anyone but Yuko Oshima can lead AKB48. I love Yuko because she works hard and always does things to the best of her ability. That’s something I should learn from her.”