The Rule Against Love – Part 2: Saving Face & Keeping Secrets
The “love prohibition” or “love ban”, in Japanese “ren’ai kinshi” (恋愛禁止), is an unwritten rule in the world of Japanese entertainment, most often referring to the world of idols and the expectation that they are not to be publicly involved in romantic relationships. It has often been a point of controversy, especially by outsiders looking in whenever a scandal becomes known but why does it continue to remain in effect? The short answer is that in Japan, keeping up appearances are extremely important, especially if you are famous. If that’s enough for you, or if you already made up your mind to disagree then, you can stop reading here. However, the factors involved are not always so simple and black and white.
As mentioned in Part 1, idols are expected to be friendly and nonthreatening yet appear available; they sell fantasies and dreams to their fans. Even though they may not be as perfectly proportioned physically as supermodels, as interesting as a talk show host, or as dramatic as an actor, idols reach people with their ability to be relatively normal girls. This is one of the reasons that they are often chosen to represent products in advertising campaigns. Celebrities are chosen as “image characters” to represent products or companies in Japan so maintaining a good public image is important. Part of that public image is maintaining the contradictory image of being pure yet potentially available.
It’s easy to oversimplify the issue and to overlook the factors motivating the implementation of such a rule sometimes. Even as Japanese pop culture has become more popular overseas, the fact remains that the bulk of sales come from within the country so, making sure they keep their thousands (millions?) of domestic fans placated will always come first. In order to get a wide range of opinions on this issue, we sent out surveys to several of our contributors and media partners and we got back 20 sets of answers. Due to the mildly overwhelming response, it was decided that one article was not enough to cover everything we wanted to. Additionally, some of the answers given by the over 70 idols who appeared on the New Year’s Day broadcast of the TV show Idol Summit 2016 will be included. In this final installment, we look at the reasons why the rule exists and what might happen if it were lifted.
Here are the participants for our survey.
Academics researching Japanese pop culture: “Dr. Bishojo”, Dr. Jayson M. Chun
Many idols are restricted in their relationships with the opposite sex. In some instances, this is called the “love ban” (ren’ai kinshi). Why do you think that this arrangement exists?
This has to be one of, if not the most discussed issue in regards to Japanese idols. Idol fans no doubt hate to hear about it but, seeing AKB48 member Minami Minegishi on YouTube with her hair cut off after it was reported by the tabloid Shukan Bunshun that she spent the night at the home of EXILE subgroup GENERATIONS member Alan Shirahama, is an image that went around the world. Claims of inhumane treatment by management, rampant sexism in Japanese society, and human rights violations ran wild as the story gained traction, damaging an increasingly insular market in a globalizing world. Since that famous image was shown in the previous article, we will refrain from showing it again.
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