The Case of Yamaguchi Maho: a Tale of Saving Face and Women’s Rights

Latest update: January 11, 2019

It was hard to miss over the past couple of days, ever since NGT48 member Yamaguchi Maho dropped the bomb on social media on January 8th.

Trigger Warning: Assault
As Yamaguchi was live on her SHOWROOM channel, she mentioned her short social media hiatus from the past month, which led her to more confessions. She shed a tear stating that she was feeling scared for her fellow members who are working hard within NGT48. But as she was about to add more details on her feelings, her stream was cut short.
Yamaguchi took her Twitter account to explain the situation to her fans, opening a can of worms to what could possibly be one of the AKB48 Groups’ biggest scandals to date.

On December 8th, Yamaguchi Maho was attacked by two men from the inside of her apartment building. One of them grabbed her face, and as Yamaguchi tried to fight back, the other person came out of the apartment next to hers and tried to pin her down again, putting a hand on her mouth to prevent her from calling for help. Thankfully, the 23-years-old idol managed to escape as noise coming from the elevator distracted her attackers.
This is where the situation started to get even darker that it already was: in her (now deleted) tweets, Yamaguchi adds that the two men not only knew exactly where she lived and when she would come home from her performance at the NGT48 theater, but that they received this information from another one of her fellow group members.
Yamaguchi then took it to the police station to state what had happened, and revealing the name(s) of the idol(s) involved in her assault. Another trusted NGT48 member was present, as well as one or several staff members from the group’s management team. As reported by NHK, attackers were arrested, but were unfortunately released without charges after being heard by the police.

It only took a few hours for the media to take over her story, despite a handful only mentioning the possible involvement of another NGT48 member in the assault.

Fans in Japan and all over the world, whether fans of the AKB48 Groups or other idol acts, strongly reacted to these news, an astounding majority sharing the same opinion. Netizens sent out thousands of outraged tweets calling out NGT48’s management for such a scandalously unfair treatment to Yamaguchi, and for their lack of professionalism in this situation, failing to protect their idol and sweeping the issue under the rug. The community also showed heart-warming support to the 23-years-old idol, thanking her for finding the courage to speak up.

On January 10th, NGT48 held their 3rd anniversary special performance as initially planned. Fans were wondering what would happen in such circumstances. While many were positively surprised to see Yamaguchi singing and dancing on stage, this relief quickly turned sour as the idol started talking after performing. Fans were shocked to hear Yamaguchi apologizing for “making everyone worry” (see original video below) and see her bowing down to the audience. The performance ended with no appearance nor announcement from the management team, thus adding more salt to the wound.

This painful silence from NGT48 officials got netizens even angrier. “Why is she the one apologizing?”, “The adults who are responsible of the group should be the ones bowing their head down on stage”, “This cannot possibly be a satisfactory answer in any way”, and many more outraged messages could be read online.

Celebrities and former AKB48 Group members also started speaking up. Former NGT48 captain and AKB48 member Kitahara Rie shared a lengthy message on her Twitter account. “You did nothing wrong,” she wrote, in a paragraph obviously addressed to Yamaguchi, “You have nothing to apologize for and you being the one bowing down was a mistake.”
Her message was backed up by hundreds of fans sharing the same opinion and thanking her for expressing her anger on the matter.

AKS, the company managing NGT48, finally issued an official statement later in the evening.
They apologized for the trouble and for failing to keep Yamaguchi safe. They also admitted that there was indeed another NGT48 member involved in the incident, who presumably happened to have accidentally told the culprits when Yamaguchi would come home that night, but did not share her home address. The management team assured they have cooperated with the police as much as they could on the matter. The two attackers, as well as a third man involved in the incident, have all been banned from all AKB48 Group events.

One would think this would end here, but the mistake has already been made and there is no coming back from this for NGT48.

The vast majority of fans are less than happy with how NGT48 handled the situation, especially knowing the culprits are now roaming free despite being arrested and admitting their crime. Foreign fans have started a trend using the #JusticeForMahohon hashtag on Twitter, following the steps of the Western #MeToo movement, way too silent in Japan. Japanese fans have started spreading it as well, praising the foreign community for not letting it go and being very powerful when it comes to pointing out such social issues.

This obviously brings up many more issues that are bigger than Yamaguchi and NGT48.
It is about a company trying to silence a victim in order to save face and keep their image and reputation squeaky clean, even if it meant becoming an accomplice of the crime. We unfortunately probably will never know who exactly was truly involved in this incident. We can only deplore the lack of professionalism from NGT48’s management team, who obviously failed to protect their idol and employee, when everyone’s safety should be at the core of their basic duties and responsibilities.

It is also about the blatant internalized sexism women are facing everyday all around the world. This is about not only power, but also sexual harassment.
Yamaguchi spoke up about her assault several times. First to the police and her management, and now, one month later, on social media, pointing out that nobody, up until now, took her seriously. This brings out painful memories about the story of Tomita Mayu, indie idol who was stabbed by her stalker and spent weeks in a coma, despite reporting him to the police. By confessing, she put her entire career and personal safety at risk. The police and her own group management team failed to protect her in what was, and still is, an extremely serious and dangerous situation. As Yamaguchi herself stated on Twitter, “Because Imamura-san (note: NGT48’s manager) is a man, he does not understand what women have to live with everyday.” This is not only about Japanese idols, nor only about Japan’s conservative culture, preventing the #MeToo movement to take off in the country up until now. It could have and can still happen to anyone, anywhere.
Thanks to Yamaguchi’s courage and people’s great support to the young idol, many are hoping this can spark a fire in Japan and inspire more women to speak up and fight for their rights. We can only hope that her story will contribute to the safety of many idols, celebrities and women all over the world.

A petition has been launched by fans during the night between January 10 and 11th, asking for NGT48’s manager Imamura Etsuro to resign and the group’s management to issue a formal apology. At this date, over 30,000 people have now signed the petition, and the numbers are still rising.

Bonjour Idol expresses warm support to Yamaguchi Maho and hope she and her group members will feel safe again very soon.

Nikkan Sports, Daily Sports, NHK

Photo by Nathan Gey
Article and translation by Melody