What’s Behind the Word “Graduation”? The Difference between “Graduation” and “Withdrawal” in Japanese Idol Culture

「卒業」という言葉が隠蔽するもの 〜「卒業」と「脱退」が混在する日本のアイドルカルチャー〜
| Idol | Posted
What’s Behind the Word “Graduation”?  The Difference between “Graduation” and “Withdrawal” in Japanese Idol Culture

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In Japan, where it is said that “spring is the season of new beginnings and farewells”, idol “graduations (sotsugyou)” and “withdrawal (dattai)” aren’t only things that happen at the end of the school year like school graduation ceremonies. Now it has become something that happens all year round.

Japanese idol otaku are sensitive when the words “important announcement” (taisetsu na oshirase) appear on their Twitter timeline. It’s fine if it’s a good announcement but, announcements of “graduation” and “withdrawal” are usually among the words that follow.


Idoling!!! announced that all the members are going to “graduate” from the group this October.


Minami Takahashi will graduate at AKB48’s 10th anniversary concert on December 8th


Rina Kawaei will graduate from AKB48 (The date unannounced yet). It seems that the shock of being attacked at a handshake event left lingering psychological effects.

But why do so many idols express a simple “departure” from the group as a “graduation”? Is there actually a difference between a “graduation” and a “withdrawal”?
しかし、なぜアイドルは単なるグループからの「脱退」を「卒業」と表現することが多いのだろうか? そもそも「卒業」と「脱退」は何が違うのだろうか?

The root concept of the Japanese “graduation ceremony” was born after the Edo Shogunate fell and the Meiji government enforced a “school system” in 1872. Having been isolated for over 200 years under the Edo Shogunate, a school system somewhat resembling the modern school system was introduced to Japan. How the modern notion of a “graduation” suddenly came to be used in the idol business is of great interest.

One important point is that, to Japanese, the word “graduation”(sotsugyou) carries a far off, softer image than the word “withdrawal”(dattai). Although the two words mean the same thing, the impression they leave is very different.

When “withdrawal” is used, it brings to mind thoughts of something like trouble within the group. However, by replacing it with “graduation”, it strangely gives the impression that the graduating member still maintains a good relationship with management and the remaining members.

In Japan, when you use the word “graduation”, there’s an image of having learned something like in school, and then spreading your wings towards the future. There are actually idols that have done this. Many idols that belong to a large agency have a path of activity carved out for them after their “graduation”. However, it’s hard to say that all “graduations” follow this happy pattern.

For example, on Rhymeberry’s official site on February 26, 2015, there was an announcement displayed about the sudden “graduation from Rhymeberry” by two members, and if anyone thought, “Oh, how great!” they should probably get their head examined. The following day on February 27, 2015, an official statement was made nonetheless, but contained no details or date and time for the joint graduation of the members and producer, nor for the new line-up.


MC HIME (left), DJ HIKARU (center) left the group. Only MC MIRI (right) remains.


The announcement on the official site

I wonder what kind of “graduation” is announced by grown ups, while unbeknownst to the actual members. Is it some sort of challenge to the modern system of “graduation”?

On April 28, 2015, the announcement that three members from Dorothy Little Happy would “graduate” was met with astonishment. It will be a “graduation” of three out of five members. Regarding their “graduation” at Nakano Sun Plaza on July 12, 2015, any offhand statements regarding its current progress were avoided, and in addition to the abruptness of the announcement, comments from the “graduating” and remaining members on their official site contained differences in tone, and were received with complicated impressions.
2015年4月28日に、Dorothy Little Happyから3人のメンバーが「卒業」することが発表されたときも驚愕した。メンバー5人中3人もの「卒業」である。2015年7月12日の中野サンプラザで「卒業」することになっており、現在進行中の事態なのでうかつな発言は避けるが、発表の唐突さに加えて、残留するメンバーと「卒業」するメンバーの公式サイトでのコメントには温度差もあり、複雑な印象を抱いた。


Current members

3 left and 2 remains

Akimoto, Tominaga, Hayasaka leave and only Shirato and Takahashi remain

In addition to “graduation” and “withdrawal”, there’s also the pattern of “dismissal” but, this is usually reserved for instances insisted upon by the agency when terms of agreement were not kept. Setting aside the management ability of the agency in situations like these, the circumstances are easier to understand than a vague “graduation”. To summarize, the agency has expelled the member from the group for some reason or another.

But with “graduation” or “withdrawal”, the big opportunity either presents to the idol business is the same. Many people rush to a graduation or departure performance. Lots of people, for example, will rush to a milestone concert, even if they are not especially fond of the group or the “graduating” or “withdrawal” member(s). The graduation performance is like a “graduation ceremony” open to strangers, so to speak.

The same thing happens with the disbandment concert of an idol group. We seek out the kind of spectacle where idols severely shake up our emotions. This is why the word “emoi” (meaning “emotional”), in regards to the Japanese idol scene, acts like a drug.

The difference between “graduation” and “withdrawal” is something calculated by grown ups, but the attitude with which idol otaku receive “graduation” or “withdrawal” is the same. We seek out a spectacle that will intensely rock our emotions. This isn’t something particularly humbling. Somehow we feel more concerned in cases where graduation or departure performances have not been arranged.

In other words, there’s a part of “graduation” and “withdrawal” that shows the dark side of the idol business. No matter if “graduation” or “withdrawal” is used, depending on whether a graduation or departure performance is properly held, you can see the management’s stance. You could probably say the most delicate part of the idol business, is handling “graduations” and “departures”.

Related links
Dorothy Little Happy Official Site :
Rhymeberry Official Site :

Translated by Jamie Koide

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Related Artists : Dorothy Little Happy

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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