Japan, the Ambiguous, and Idol Suffering

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Japan, the Ambiguous, and Idol Suffering

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1. The seriousness and lightheartedness of “suffering” and “mental health”

If you were to go to an idol’s handshake event, and you saw a wrist-cutting scar on that idol’s wrist, what would you do? There’s only one answer. No matter how much surprise you may feel, it’s not an area of conversation you should ever approach. The longer you’re an idol otaku, the more likely you are to encounter a situation similar to this someday.

In Japan there’s a mental health term that idols and idol otaku are very familiar with. It’s called “being ill”, or yamu. Originally this word meant “getting sick”, but when younger Japanese use this term, often mean mental suffering and not physical illness. As a verb it’s “to suffer”/yamu and as a noun it’s “suffering”/yami. Both “suffering” and “darkness” are pronounced the same in Japanese as yami.

Idols suffer, like when few people who turn up to their concerts, handshake events, or polaroid events, or when they don’t receive heartfelt responses from idol otaku on Twitter. Idol otaku also suffer, like when they feel there is too much distance between them or their favorite idol doesn’t acknowledge them at concerts or respond to their tweets. Or additionally, it happens because idol work has a high level of exposure.

These are reasons why idols and idol otaku suffer on a daily basis. Twitter is a place full of those who are sick, where idols or idol fans tweet about their “suffering”. But no one can constantly be on it all day long.

However, those who usually use the word “suffering” do so lightheartedly. “Suffering” refers to something not as serious as “getting sick”, and only goes as far as “being worried”. Personally, I often feel these topics are just silly.

But there is another word used just as frequently as “suffer” or “suffering”, which is “mental health”, or menhera. This Japanese-English word is used to refer to people who are actually suffering. (Not mental health as a mental state, like its actual meaning in English) However currently there are instances where people mistakenly use this word to describe slight changes to their emotional state. If it were really an issue of mental health, like they would have sought out a psychologist or a mental health professional, but there are people who claim to be “mental health” or are called “mental health” even when it’s not that serious of an issue. In this instance where “mental health” doesn’t equal someone experiencing real mental suffering, this is one situation where “subculture” and “sabukaru” are not necessarily one in the same.

2. The image of “mental health”, which hasn’t changed in almost 20 years

…to continue reading

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Born in 1972, Akimasa Munekata is a music critic who has written for MUSIC MAGAZINE and Record Collectors for rock in Japan after HAPPY END, pop, the flow of western rock and pop after Beach Boys, world music, and folk music. Recently, he has hopped on the bandwagon and begun writing about idols as well.

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