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AKB48 - The Japanese Idol Group from Akihabara

Updated on October 11, 2011

It is difficult to move about in Japan without hearing about AKB48, a female idol group based in Akihabara. Their presence becomes even more powerful when you arrive in the Tokyo neighborhood of Akihabara itself, as the plaza by the entrance is dominated by the official AKB48 cafe and gift shop, around which hoardes of expectant fans are constantly gathered.

What is AKB48? It is a group of 60 (for now) young female idols created by producer Yasushi Akimoto in 2005. Akimoto designed AKB48 as a group of "idols you can meet every day," and indeed, the rising stars are surprisingly accessible, performing almost daily at the Don Quijote theatre in Akihabara, Tokyo.

The "AKB" in AKB48 stands for Akihabara, a neighborhood of Tokyo famous for catering to otaku (anime, manga, and idol-enthusiast) culture. The success of this group has spurred the creation of similar accessible idol groups in Osaka (NMB48; "NMB" standing for the Namba neighborhood, and SKE48; "SKE" standing for the Sake neighborhood of Nagoya, and SDN48; "SDN" standing for Saturday Night).

AKB48, performing in Paris in 2009
AKB48, performing in Paris in 2009 | Source

The Idols

AKB48 is the world's largest pop group and consists of four rotating teams (Team A, Team K, Team B, and Team 4). The group also has several members-in-training, ready to fill any openings resulting from an existing performer's graduation.

The different teams perform separately, which is one of the aspects of this group that enables it to hold performances almost daily. Each single released by AKB48 is also recorded by only a handful of the group's singers, and recently, a voting system has been occasionally utilized to allow fans to choose which of the performers participates in the next recording. In other instances, the performers have competed for the opportunity in a massive rock-scissor-paper competition.

AKB48 Cafes and Shops

A successful idol franchise would be nothing without merchandise, and AKB48 is positively swimming in it! In even a very short visit to Japan, I saw three different AKB48 gift shops (two in Akihabara and one in Harakuju). I also noticed the AKB48 cafe next to the major gift shop in Akihabara, which is so popular that fans line up in droves just to get inside!

One of the most popular collector's items related to the group are photos of the performers. When I passed outside the Don Quijote Center in Akihabara where the group performs, I found a large group of fans outside holding large photo albums stuffed with images of their favorite performers- and AKB48 was not even performing that day!

AKB48 also occasionally endorses the odd brand, and thanks to their massive popularity and devoted following, the endorsement goes a long way. When AKB48 did a special campaign with Japanese lingerie shop Peach John, for example, male fans (hardly the shop's target demographic) flooded the shops to buy a sufficient amount of underwear to get a special edition poster. Impressive, no?

The Songs

AKB48 has produced quite a few high performing singles. Their songs are catchy, cheery, and full of energy, plus (and this much is a matter of course) filled with adorable outfits and dancing. Below is one of most popular ones. I'll be honest and say that it creeps me out just a bit, but then again, I'm not the target demographic!

Additional Fun Details

Though I'm not much one for female idols or pop groups, I am quite intrigued by Aimi Eguchi, a virtual AKB48 member that was introduced in a Glico commercial in early 2011.

Aimi Eguchi's features were taken piecemeal from the faces of six different AKB48 members. You can see which parts came from which girls in the video to the right, which is pretty neat!

I wonder if we'll be creating more virtual celebrities in the future. Perhaps Aimi Eguchi is the first of many!

Cast Your Vote!

Can idol groups make it outside Japan?

See results

What do you think?

AKB48 is an interesting phenomenon because of its size, popularity, format, and frequent performing schedule. Perhaps a group like this could only be wildly successful in a country like Japan, where hardcore otaku fans will show amazing levels of dedication to their idols.

Then again, with loads of loving fans following stars such as Justin Beiber in Canada and the United States, perhaps there is a market for frequently-performing, carefully pruned and managed idol groups.

Do you think that a sizable group of idols like AKB48 could be successful outside Japan? Weigh in in the comments, or cast your vote in the poll to the right!


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    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 4 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Well described and interesting to read. You write as well travel a lot. Still I wonder why still not come to my land the Incredible India. Here you have plenty of opportunities to learn and write. Thank you for sharing some good knowledge on a wonderful land. Expect more of your write ups. God bless you.

    • profile image

      Andvareel 5 years ago

      My first thought is "Of course they post Heavy Rotation!" It's either that or one of their yearly summer bikini songs. Skimpy/suggestive is like 10-15% of their stuff, but that's what people post all over as example songs and make it sound like that's all they do- yes Heavy Rotation is an iconic song of theirs- they also perform it in their regular uniforms almost all of the time. Here's Sakura No Shiori- starts from 2 minutes in:

      Different feel don't you think?

      Here's a single that's literally a "Happy birthday" song.

      Anyway, most of the popular girls are 18-25 at this point. Target audience is 20-50 men, and 10-20 girls... But they're all over TV programs and do modelling and some are popular for their fashion, so different girls can get a lot of fans who may not be buying CDs.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Very interesting, mayuyusuki! Thanks for sharing. It'll be fun to see how their influence spreads!

    • profile image

      mayuyusuki 5 years ago

      Actually they already have large fanbase outside of Japan, Aki-p has created JKT48, AKB's sister group which is based in Jakarta, Indonesia. The group itself is very successful, where as they managed to stars in notable advertisement and performs in popular local music programs. Furthermore, Aki-p will continue the expansion of 48 franchise with the proposed Taipei48 (TPE48) and Shanghai48 (SNH48). So let us wait, in near future we can see this idol group dominates the world's music industiry

    • profile image

      mikichan 5 years ago


    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Most interesting, sukeraba! I had not heard of Onyanko Club before. Akimoto certainly knows what he's doing! And you KNOW it. Heck, nobody needs radioactive pollution!

    • profile image

      sukeraba 6 years ago

      This very talented producer Yaushi Akimoto once created much smaller idol group called "Onyanko Club" about 25 years ago. It was another phenomenon many loved (including me). Akimoto heavily focused on the Japanese hard-core-otak culture through the teen girl's mind that all lyrics are all created by Akimoto. And, now decades later, I am carried away by AKB48 = Akimoto's magic that combines all aspect; real-TV, standardizing idol figire while people are listening to the music performed by those cute girls whose age is from 16 to around 20 years old and who are growing up in the time of the critical moments of Japan after the huge earthquake and the human error caused nuke accident. Now, this phenomenon is making other idol group in Osaka, Nagoya, Kyushu area as well as Indonesia (it is interesting that all other Asian countries are really respecting for our country's pop culture).

      Now, I think Akimoto should make NY48 or LA48 or Vancouver48 or North Dakota48.

      One thing we all lean is that AKB48 does not need the radioactive pollution as well as all girls in the world! Princess hates NUKE, right?

    • profile image

      Covert Harris 6 years ago

      I am aware of centers of the brain, atavistic and otherwise, that are not in direct communication with our thinking and talking left brain cortex, and this is why it is hard to talk about this group. Somewhere in me this group profoundly resonates. I like the group very much. I am a 68-year-old man. I have asked friends to watch the videos and render opinions. To a man, and woman, they all think I am crazy and maybe even perverted. So, I guess American cerebral defenses are in place against the magnificence of this wonderful group.

    • LBeautystar profile image

      LBeautystar 6 years ago from Far Far Away

      My friend from Japan talks a lot about this group. Obviously, it's quite popular.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I had not heard of Morning Musume before, StellaSee, but the two groups do look quite similar- I mean, they both are idol groups after all! I think AKB48 may have been modeled after them a bit. What differentiates AKB48 is how they were designed to be even more accessible.

    • StellaSee profile image

      StellaSee 6 years ago from California

      I've heard of AKB48 but I never knew the details, thanks for writing this! I guess they're like a bigger version of Morning Musume? (do you know who I'm talking about? haha)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for reading, Robin! I'm pretty sure they're 18-25. I don't think I'd encourage my daughters to listen to them either, but I don't think they're the target demo, hahaa!

      Anime is totally great for adult audiences, for sure! And good point about it being goofy and perverted in a shy way, Erin Boggs1. That's a great way to put it. I love the nose bleed device.

      But alas, Greensleeves Hubs! I think a decent number of them are younger than me!!! @_@

      Though a lot of them just *look* really young.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Don't worry Erin! I knew you were joking, but so was I, so don't worry at all. I have a self-deprecating sense of humour - I figure it's better to laugh at myself before someone else does.

      Anyway it's midnight where I am, so I'm going to bed now (to dream about Japanese girls maybe - albeit slightly older than the ones Robin believes might be in the video. I certainly hope the girls in the video are a bit older than that Simone?!?)

    • Erin Boggs1 profile image

      Erin Boggs1 6 years ago from Western Maryland

      Thanks Simone :) and Greensleeves I was just joking...I think if you were to set in a room with me while watching anime you'd call me the super dork, well that's because I am. Anime is witting and entertaining animation directed towards an adult audience, a lot of it is goofy and perverted but in that shy way. The men get nose bleeds when they talk to a pretty girl and if a girl sees a guy looking at or acting funny around a girl the characters call that male a pervert in jest. Saying a "targeted audience" as a joke in anime fan fashion. And I could nor would ever think you are a loser. I really didn't mean any harm by it, I am sorry.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Very interesting, Simone. I have never heard of these groups. How old are most of the girls; I assume early teens? The video is quite disturbing. I would not let my daughters watch or listen to the music based on that video. Who is there target demographic?

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Word, ezhang.

      You're right, FloraBreenRobison! Idols have always been around... though these are particularly interesting within the contemporary context.

      Well said, leroy64! And they cater to a mostly male audience, I think. Though tons of folks like them. And metal bands in Japan are actually a lot of fun!

      Couldn't have said it better myself, davenmidtown.

      You have excellent taste, Erin Boggs1. What more can I say!!

      Hehee, it's a fun video, Greensleeves Hubs! What's not to like? There are donuts and fluffy things! You might like anime. It's just... generally awesome. Sigh.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Erin, maybe I won't watch it again - I don't want a reputation! I can't say I know anything much at all about Anime, but of course losers like me may have more chance with an animated celebrity than a real one !!

    • Erin Boggs1 profile image

      Erin Boggs1 6 years ago from Western Maryland

      Haha and now we meet the targeted audience, Just joking Greensleeves Hub. Are you a fan of Anime too?

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Interesting stuff Simone, and as I find the far eastern look VERY attractive, I have to say I quite liked that video! (Shame about the music, but you can't have everything). I guess this concept is taking the girl band/boy band pop idol culture to the extreme, and I'm not sure I really like the idea of celebrity taking over from real talent - especially if one of the celebrities - Aimi Eguchi - isn't even a real person. Very peculiar! But still, a nice interesting page about a new phenomenon.

      Now maybe I'll just watch that video one more time ...

    • Erin Boggs1 profile image

      Erin Boggs1 6 years ago from Western Maryland

      I have to say that I love Japanese Rock and Pop! it is always up beat...shamefully I have to explain to clients every time my phone rings that yes I have anime theme songs as my ringtones all of which are performed by Japanese "Idol" groups lol... I am a big fan of anime and manga. Another group that started in Japan and to make it across seas is Tokyo Hotel (Big Fan). Unfortunately, as you can tell they mostly target "perverts". (I love when female anime characters call the males perverts.) Also this lingerie scene is actually like the start of one of the animes I have here.

      Very exciting Hub!! I voted Awesome!!

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Chizz Major sampled!

    • leroy64 profile image

      Brian L. Powell 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff)

      You have to admire Japan. The country exists on a group of earthquake prone islands with little mineral resources; and, they keep pushing technology and culture to the limits, sometimes beyond. Okay I just watched the video, and uh.....just what age group are they marketing too? Wait, I get it, this is the PussyCat Dolls Japanese style. I wonder which group came first?

      That video was disturbing. I wonder what the metal bands are like in Japan?

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I cannot stand Beiber and I like to pretend that he is not from my country. There have always been idols. Some have real talent, others just look good and are famous for a handful of years. I've never heard of this group. But then I spend a lot of time listening to music from before I was born.

    • ezhang profile image

      Edward Zhang 6 years ago from Bay Area, CA

      Hawt! (=^x^=)