A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Akimoto Yasushi, the guy who founded the AKB48 jpop empire. Akimoto Yasushi – Good or Evil? I want to revisit that post now.
As I’ve become more familiar with Japanese culture, I’ve begun to see nuances that I didn’t before. Are my previous criticisms valid? Yes. He did create an empire that at least has the potential to exploit teenage girls and young women. And as a driver of culture, he bears responsibility for the effects that his songs have on the broader culture – Japanese and otherwise.
But the guy is a genius. I didn’t see that before. He is an incredible lyricist. I have mentioned previously that I think many J-pop songs have very deep lyrics, and those are usually written by Akimoto-san, along with Tsunku-san and Morning Musume. He says that he writes songs that he thinks speak to youth, and I don’t think he does. He writes songs that speak to the human condition, with an emphasis on youth. He writes about love, about loss, about graduation and moving into a new stage of life. He writes about fun, about beauty, about insecurity, about many different things, and attaches them to beautiful and sometimes haunting songs with catchy melodies that really speak to people.
Has he been a force for good? I don’t really know. I think it would be easy to go either way. But I do want to give credit where credit is due, and I kind of don’t feel like I did that before. He is an accomplished businessman, able to put his finger on the pulse of what people want to see in J-pop, and able to execute on that. But he has a heart too, and that shows in the songs he writes, and sometimes in the videos he makes. “Heavy Rotation” is exploitative and relies on raw sex to sell copies, but “negaigoto no mochigusare” (the waste of a wish) is oddly touching, and the video is almost a tearjerker. And “sakura no hanabiratachi” (the cherry blossom petals) is one of my favorite J-Pop pieces.
On balance, I have to say my opinion of him has changed a little over the intervening years from my last post. Yes, AKB48 can be exploitative. Yes, sometimes it uses sexualization of girls and young women to sell music. Yes, he is responsible for that. But credit where credit is due. He is an amazing businessman and lyricist. I think now that the world is generally better for his contributions to the J-pop culture.