Last week, Japanese singer Minami Minegishi shaved her head after a tabloid photographed her leaving a boy band member's house. In the strict world of Japanese idols, dating boys is a no-no. Cover-ups, however, are totally fine.
After Minegishi's group AKB48 uploaded her shaved head video apology on its official YouTube channel, the clip soon went viral. It even became international news, with people around the world wondering what the hell was going on with this young woman, her group, and its rules.
Cynics said the whole thing was a publicity stunt. Whatever it was, the incident blew up in the group's face. Apparently feeling the blowback, the YouTube apology was changed to private. It didn't matter if the video had already clocked six million views. The cover-up, it seems, was beginning.
Aside from the self-inflicted shaving and the humiliating apology, part of Minegishi's punishment was a demotion. In the wake of the scandal, she was moved to the lowest rank of the group and became a "trainee."
Yesterday, Minegishi appeared on stage as a trainee. She once again apologized for the trouble she caused and said she would try her best in her new role as a trainee. In the concert venue, there was, according to reports, "warm applause". Online, there wasn't.
People quickly noted that Minegishi, who had just shaved her head last week, now had a full head of shoulder-length hair. Minegishi, you see, wore a wig. "What, is this a joke?" wrote one commenter. "She's not sorry at all for what happened," wrote another, while yet another commenter noted, "Guess shaving her head was meaningless, lulz."
Cover-ups like this might seem innocuous, but this is largely how the Japanese entertainment industry works. So, for example, a celebrity is disgraced with a drug or a sex scandal, and said celebrity will, depending on how connected they are, will usually vanish from the entertainment world. That individual becomes taboo in the mainstream press, while the tabloids will continue to mine for lurid stories.
That means that the old clips of the disgraced celebrity will not be shown on television. If that disgraced celebrity does appear in old clips that need to be shown on TV for one reason or another, the former big shot will either be edited or blurred out.
Occasionally, old clips like these will be shown on TV, complete with mosaics, and it's an odd feeling to see faded stars shoveled over with digital dirt or buried completely. As if they never existed.
And it's not only disgraced celebs that get elbowed out. People who leave the entertainment industry and re-enter the real world are also often cut out from old clips and photos, too—often are their own request.
As alarming as this can seem (and, yes, it does seem somewhat alarming), this attitude does transcend the Japanese entertainment industry and can be found throughout society. It's this attitude that raises the ire of Japan's neighbors in Asia, but also the attitude that enables much of the country to pick itself up after horrible events and push forward—refusing to dwell on the past or assign blame, but to move on. Just like this young singer is trying to do.
The internet, whether it's in Japan or elsewhere, never forgets.