In the wake of the saw attack on two members of AKB48 and one man working with the venue, many readers of the news couldn’t help but think, “It was just a matter of time before something like this happened.”
Handshake and high-five events give fans and idols a daring level of closeness compared to pop stars in other countries. However, for years they have gone on relatively incident-free, which is surprising considering the thousands and thousands of people who participate around the country.
Despite the nagging feeling that something could go very wrong, these promotional events were hugely lucrative in an otherwise stale music industry. But now the company behind AKB48, as well as those handling other idol units who rely heavily on these events, have to find a way to ensure their stars’ safety without losing the sense of intimacy they’ve had with their fan-bases.
“The AKB handshake has become a hot topic, but here, look at the Hatsune Miku’s handshake event.”
— 柳葉魚ノ瀬@ｽﾊﾟｲﾀﾞｧｧﾒｴｪｪﾝ (@THShishamo) May 25, 2014
On 25 May, about 5,000 fans flocked to the Iwate Sangyo Bunka Center for an AKB48 handshake meeting. The idols who attended were divided into four separate tents, each with a separate line-up. Participants wait in line to get a few seconds to meet their idol of choice, shake hands, say something witty, and then be guided out the back.
To manage the crowd, 100 security guards were on hand. Inside each handshake tent, two to four guards were standing by to enforce time limits and watch for anything out of the ordinary. However, according to other participants, only palms were checked and bags were not inspected at all before entering the tent.
According to police, the alleged attacker Satoru Umeda had kept the folding saw he used to attack the girls inside his bag for roughly four hours and was never once checked. Since the incident, the AKB48 Theater has been closed until 31 May, and sister groups NMB48, SKE48, and HKT48 have only just begun to resume events.
“There was bloodshed at an AKB handshake event, but let’s look at Miyuki Torii’s handshake.”
— 胃下垂@福島PT (@CVUKey) May 25, 2014
During the hiatus the managing company behind AKB48, AKS has been mulling over possible ways to increase security yet still maintain the intimate meet-and-greets that have lifted them to the top tier of Japanese pop-culture.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police have advised that the AKB48 Theater install a metal detector, increase the number of guards, stop the high-fives between performers and the audience after shows, and leave the first row empty to prevent anyone from rushing the stage.
Security experts in the media have largely agreed that controlling a handshake event can be a nightmare on many levels. Of course there’s the mere arm’s length of distance between the young idol and hundreds of random strangers. Also, tickets are simply given out bundled in with CD singles which are sometimes binge-bought and thus distributed even more randomly at conventions or flea markets. This method makes finding the identity of a ticket holder virtually impossible.
With that avenue closed, the popular recommendations have been doing regular bag checks and full-body pat-downs of attendees. Many have also suggested putting an acrylic panel between the idol and guest much like at a gas station or liquor store.
“About the recent AKB handshake event incident, many in my timeline are asking if it’s safe any more. And so many are debating whether it should be done more strictly, but take a look at this handshake event, held with complete freedom.”
— ゆっころ (@attoyukko) May 26, 2014
The shape handshake events take from hereon in will largely depend on the fans. In the modern era of Japanese idols, fan-access has become a very valuable commodity. It’s quite possible that all of the idol agencies will agree that stricter safety measures are needed and start putting up plastic walls across the board.
As long as the fans aren’t turned off, the business will continue like in this way, but if the bottom line starts dropping too much we may start seeing the walls come back down. One the other hand, even if the idol corporations maintain rigorous security successfully there’s always a chance that a hungry up-and-coming unit will go back to the old style and the cycle will just continue again.
Source: Asahi Shimbun via Hachima Kikou (Japanese)
“From now, AKB48 handshake meetings will have to be like this.”
— 足なんとか (@AshijiruP) May 25, 2014