What can be Read from Tama Himeno’s “Incognito”: Understanding People in the “Underground Idol” World

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What can be Read from Tama Himeno’s “Incognito”: Understanding People in the “Underground Idol” World

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For our readers abroad reading this article, you may have heard what is known as an “Underground Idol” before, but I think many of you have not actually seen one in person. This is the same apart from the idol culture, and applies to most Japanese people as well. What is an “Underground Idol”? Until now, you had to go to the scene itself to find out. .

However, there is now a book that honestly talks about the reality of “underground idols”, and it’s becoming a hot topic both within and outside of Japan’s subculture world. The book is by Tama Himeno, and is called “Senkou Chika Aidoru no Hito ni Ienai Seikatsu”, (or Incognito: The Lifestyle You Can’t Talk About to Underground Idols) [Saizo Magazine]. In the book, the author, who, since debuting as an “underground idol” at the age of 16, cleverly writes about her sharp investigations regarding the lifestyles she has seen and heard other “underground idols” live, as well as the subculture around it.

Tama Himeno’s reason for debuting is rather trivial. She was invited into the “underground idol” world when, as a first year in high school, she went to an event out of curiosity, and became close with an older “underground girl”. For a while after that, her life became a repetition of performing live performances at small venues, whenever school was over. Tama Himeno says that, in this way, it is almost like an after-school club, in that it is extremely easy to end up starting the life of an “underground idol”.

However, even if the entrance is there and open for anybody, it does not mean the path is a smooth one. Inside her book, Tama Himeno writes again and again about her own hardships she experienced as an “underground idol” as she moved up. Although she may have begun her debut nonchalantly, before she was aware of it, she found herself in a “deep ocean” surrounded by darkness, where she had to swim around all by herself.

The “deep ocean” of “underground idols” is eternally deep. Among the girls in the darkness, there are some that have become so lost, they can’t get themselves out. In her book, Tama Himeno writes, without covering up any of the facts, about the truth she heard herself from the “underground idols”, with each and every one of their experiences a story of how deep the “underground idol” culture is. Even so, in the midst of this darkness, if these “underground idols” can stand on the stage and be showered in the spotlight, they find themselves, at once, beginning to shine. For these girls, this is the only place where they “belong”.

What fixates these girls on the way of life that is an “underground idol”? At the same time, what causes the wild enthusiasm among their fans? Tama Himeno, with her first-class observing eye, sees it as both the underground idols’ “desire for acknowledgement” and “the fans’ desire for recognition” working together, creating a situation like mirrors facing each other, creating a loop.

“Underground idols” have the desire to be “seen, cheered on, and acknowledged”. On the other hand, fans also have the desire to be remembered and acknowledged by the idols themselves. Idols resu, or respond, to this desire in the form of communication; either by focusing on one particular fan during a performance and pointing or winking at them, replying to them on Twitter, or taking polaroid photos with them after the performance is over. In return, the satisfied fan will support that idol more and more, and recognize their worth. This cycle gradually accelerates, and continues semi-permanently. This is, according to Tama Himeno’s analysis, the framework that supports this generation’s “underground idol” culture.

This is a clever analysis from Tama Himeno. As she clearly points out, our generation is one that, from the very beginning, feels uneasy about recognition. Especially now, many young people are going around, conflicted, thinking about how they can be acknowledged. Under the chain of communication on SNS, sure enough people’s concern, regarding whether they are being acknowledged or not, is growing. “Underground idols” were born and raised in this generation of uncertainty around recognition.

Just as the sociologist Shinji Miyadai says, people in large communities who do not find their worth recognized, will find another world that affirms their self-worth, as a replacement. In the SNS world, there is the “love” and “like” buttons to serve this very purpose: to allow these people to gain acknowledgment.

Let’s return to the topic of “Underground Idols”. The “underground idols” who live in this world of uncertain recognition have their self-worth reaffirmed when people continue to support them (and of course always follow them back on SNS). At the same time, the fans can continue to guarantee the existence of the place where they belong by being acknowledged. These relationships feed each other, creating an endless loop. In this way, the phenomenon known as “underground idols” continues to expand within itself.

Even so, why is this book about “underground idols” considered “literary”? No reader will find themselves bored, as the author reflects about “underground idols” and objectively grasps the social phenomenon, to the very end.

Tama Himeno says the idol boom will not end as long as people have uneasiness in their hearts. The “underground idol” culture is deeply rooted in the spirits of Japanese people today, and is both “endless and unusual”.

Related link
Tama Himeno Official site :

Buy Item

Senko Chika Idol No Hito Ni Ienai Seikatsu / Himeno Tama / Cho

Translated by Tanoshii Emily

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Writer, Book Reviewer. Having the degree of MA. (Japanese Literature) I love Japanese Girl's Popular Music, such as YUKI, Chara, Makoto Kawamoto, and Seiko Oomori.

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