Three Things that Would Surprise You if You Were to Go Back in Time to the 80s and 90s – Idol Support, Merchandising, and SNS

Three Things that Would Surprise You if You Were to Go Back in Time to the 80s and 90s – Idol Support, Merchandising, and SNS

Photo by Mime Soga

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Last time I began by talking about “if idol fan during the 80s and 90s were to time travel to the present”, and once again, I’d like to talk about things that older idol fans would find surprising. Even in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine the current idol scene, and how much has changed.

To begin with, I bet other older fans would be surprised at the lack of people with cameras as idol events now. Back in the day, taking photographs was generally allowed, and many magazines would publish photos of the event taken by amateur photographers. Most these guys would be armed with a super telephoto lens like a bazooka, mounted to their single-reflex cameras. You would think these guys would be the ones sitting at the very back, but usually they took up the front rows. Some might argue that this would have been highly unnecessary, but back then that was considered normal.


During the 80s and 90s, there were magazines featuring a collection of idol photographs taken by amateur photographers, like Idol Toko Nama Shashin (Raw Idol Photo Submissions) from Sun Shuppan and “Toko Shashin” from Koyusha Shuppan. Because “no photography allowed” events and disputes over photo rights increased, these magazines disappeared by the end of the 90s. 80、90年代は、考友社出版の『投稿写真』やサン出版の『アイドル投稿生写真』など、素人が撮影したアイドルの写真を掲載した雑誌が数多くあった。撮影禁止のイベントが増えたり、権利の問題などもあったりで、90年代にはなくなってしまった

Now it’s common for big idol fans that shout, get the most excited, and are there at almost every event to stand at the front of the stage. However, during the 80s and 90s, it was normal for these big fans, or “groupies”, to show their support from the very back of the venue. People cheering from the back wasn’t just a thing at idol events, but at concerts, too, and so idol fans believed that shouting and showing your support from the area behind was normal.

Therefore, most of the venue make-up consisted of those with cameras at the front, major fans at the back, and regular fans sandwiched between the two. Things like mixes and lifts weren’t common knowledge at the time, so even when it comes to the way fans cheer on idol fans now, it would probably come as quite a shock to idol fans in the past. They would especially be a little envious of the glow sticks or light-up wands that fans use today.


At idol concerts now, glow sticks and wands are a must-have item. There are even ones now that change colors. It’s common to waver the color of your favorite member, but during special events like birthdays, the event space might be bathed in a single member’s color. Photo/Mime Soga 現在のアイドルライブでは欠かせないサイリウム。今は色を切り替えて楽しめるものが普及している。推しメンの担当カラーにして振るのが一般的だが、生誕祭など特別な場合は会場中が一色に染まることもある 写真/曽我美芽

The idea of using glow sticks originally comes from Hideki Saijo, after he asked his fans to shine flashlights during his concerts so that he could see them, and during the 80s and 90s, you could see some glow sticks or light-up wands at idol events. However, at the time, most idol groups didn’t have individual member colors, so white was the color primarily used. Or rather, groups like Candies did have member colors, but nobody had thought to represent them them like that yet. Either way, it wasn’t common to see a lot of wands waving in the audience back then. Major fan leaders would sometimes use large, red wands like the ones used by Japanese construction site workers to guide fans during shout outs, but alas this was also slightly different from how they’re used today.


Although groups like Candies had member colors, most major groups at the time didn’t. However, when idol group Melody debuted in 1993, they adopted member colors red, blue, and yellow, which they used for their costumes. キャンディーズにはあったメンバーカラーだが、90年代に台頭してきたグループアイドルでメンバカラーの概念はほとんどなかった。そんな中、’93年にデビューした『Melody』にはメンバーカラーが採用され、赤、青、黄色を衣装などにも取り入れていた

So when you look at footage from concerts in the past, you’ll notice how dark the venue looks. As a fan, these venues now look amazing thanks to glow sticks and light-up wands.

However, there’s one way of showing support that was common back then, but hasn’t endured- the use of streamers.

Of course, depending on the venue it was sometimes prohibited, it was normal to see streamers fill the air when fans were really getting into a show. In order to reach the stage from where they were sitting, fans would practice throwing streamers so that they created a beautiful arc. Since it would have been painful if one of them were to hit an idol, there was a rule that you had to remove the inside roll first. Now that I think about it, it was also common for people to throw streamers when ships would set sail, but you hardly see streamers around any more, so it would seem that the practice has all but disappeared.

But, even now, streamers are thrown during idol group Fudanjuku’s “Chenmen Paradise”.


Streamers fly during the song “Chenmen Paradise” by Fudanjuku. At their solo concert held on Hibiya Yagai Ongakudo, members colors’ streamers flied into the stage. 風男塾の『チェンメン天国』という楽曲の途中では紙テープが舞う。日比谷野外音楽堂のワンマンライブでは、メンバーカラーの紙テープがステージに向かって投げ込まれた

When you look at it like this, even though we showed support for idols in the same way, the scenes at venues were completely different. Let’s look at another difference, which was merchandising。

As I mentioned before in my previous article, idol fans from the 80s and 90s would be taken aback by the closeness of idols now. There weren’t many opportunities to get your picture taken together with your favorite idol, shoulder to shoulder. Even though there were handshake events, they weren’t places for making chit chat. Additionally, cheki (Polaroids) were completely unheard of.

The original name of the instant cheki camera released in October of 1998 was Instax. Cheki was taken from the phrase “Check in!”, a popular slang word at the time, and oddly the group Checkikko formed during this same time.

I remember getting my hands on one of these cheki cameras as soon as they came out. I wasn’t especially a camera fan, but I wanted to experience being able to see my picture develop on the spot. They immediately sold out at electronic stores in Shinjuku and Akihabara, but I was finally able to find one at a store in Ikebukuro.


Cheki (polaroids) taken in 1998. Even after almost 20 years, there isn’t any discoloration. Although the design of the camera itself has changed over the years, the film is practically the same. ’98年当時にチェキで撮影した写真たち。20年近く経過しているが、退色などはまったく起こっていない。チェキ本体はデザインや機能が変わっているが、フィルム自体はほとんど変わっていないのがわかる

The cheki camera came out just around the time that idols were starting to fade in the media eye. Likewise these cameras became less popular, only to surge in popularity again with the second idol boom. Thanks to their invention, it’s now common to be able to take two-shot photos with idols, and is possibly the thing that idol fans from the 80s and 90s are the most envious of.

They’re not exactly the same as cheki, but at the time fans always carried photographs of their favorite idols, called “promides”. Marubell was a well-established promide shop, but for the most part they were raw photographs. These photographs were often included with the purchase of a CD.



Marubell, which still stands in Asakusa today. Most of what Marubell sold was raw photographs of idols, called “promides”. 現在でも浅草にある『マルベル堂』。マルベル堂から販売されているものを中心に、生写真を「プロマイド」と呼んでいた

Finally, the third thing surprising to idol fans if they time traveled to the present, is SNS. Or, it might be the smartphones that make SNS readily used. They’d probably wonder what people outside the venue were doing, staring down and looking at their phone screens. I don’t think they’d be able to imagine that you could get idol information so easily through SNS, especially Twitter.

We’ve talked about the advent of SNS in a number of past articles. First with the PHS (Personal Handy-phone System), it became common for people to be seen carrying a cellular phone around the year 1995. Naturally idol fans in the 80s and 90s didn’t have smartphones or the internet. Being able to get idol performance news and personal photos all from a device in the palm of your hand is no small miracle. If those older fans were here now, surely they would immediately want to get their hands on a smartphone and playing around on it.

The closest thing to getting a reply on Twitter back then would have been getting a reply to a fan letter. And, of course, since idols couldn’t communicate directly with fans, there were offices just for managing fan relations. For example at Hori Pro (Hori Productions), there was a space at the entrance where a notebook was placed. If you were to write a message to someone there in the notebook, some days later that person would write a reply back. Also, at Sun Music, if you were to visit their fan club, a staff member would tell you how an idol received a present you had left for them or give you extra freebies like posters. Naturally none of these things were posted as notices anywhere, but if the staff was kind enough to do something like this out of good will, it was something that made fans like me very happy back then.


Before, Sun Music was located at the Okido Building at the Yotsuya-yonchome intersection. Because it was the site of Yukiko Okada’s suicide on April 8, 1986, it’s an address that I haven’t been able to forget. 当時、サンミュージックは四谷四丁目交差点の大木戸ビルに入っていた。’86年4月8日の岡田有希子の自殺現場でもあり、今でも筆者にとっては忘れられない場所となっている

Many of the top idols from the 80s that shined at number one on music programs are now reaching their debut 30th anniversaries. It’s only natural that after so many months and years have passed, there are different fan systems and items, like for showing support, merchandising, and SNS.

However, I believe that if I were to travel back 30 years in the past, I would be able to cheer on my favorite idols in the way that was common back then. I can imagine it now, saying things like, “Oh, that girl looks just like Nori-P!” or “Those five remind me of CoCo!”

I think the atmosphere of cheering on your favorites, and the joy you get from it, is something that continues to remain unchanged with idols. Even if the environment around the idol industry continues to change, these basic roots will always remain, and I can’t help but think of how amazing that is.

※ Feature Song: Melody – “Unmei ‘95”
今回の1曲:『運命’95』 Melody

Read the author’s other articles “Idol cultures’ New and Old” series :

Translated by Jamie Koide

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Toshiro Arai

A producer of website "TOKYO IDOL NET", which "photography" and "idol" is its concept. He also writes for Tokyo Idol Project, and so on.

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