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Slasher attacks AKB48 Japan pop group cancels events

TOKYO, May 26, (Agencies): Two teenage members of Japanese girl group AKB48 were in hospital Monday after being attacked by a man wielding a saw at one of the band’s regular meet-the-fans events, managers said. Rina Kawaei, 19, and Anna Iriyama, 18, both suffered broken bones in their right hands and received cuts on their arms and heads from the 50-centimetre (20-inch) saw at the event in Iwate in northern Japan. Reports said the attack came after a mini-concert early Sunday afternoon as fans were lining up to shake hands with performers inside booths. Kawaei and Iriyama were in the same booth when a man in the queue suddenly produced a saw, the Yomiuri daily said.

Fans told Japanese media they heard a shriek, apparently from one of the young women, saying “Stop it!”
Some of the 100 or so staff and security guards pounced on the attacker and held him until police arrived, reports said. A member of staff was also hurt in the melee. One fan described how Kawaei was covered in blood when she was taken away by medics to a waiting ambulance. Both girls were expected to be discharged from hospital on Tuesday, the band’s management said. Organisers said scheduled events in Tokyo and central Japan were being postponed. A 24-year-old man, identified as unemployed Satoru Umeta, has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, police said. The suspect told police “I attempted to kill people” and “I didn’t care whom”, Jiji Press reported, citing unnamed police sources.


AKB48 is part talent show, part pop act — a venture in which a pool of more than 100 girls and young women compete for a spot in the limelight with each new catchy but formulaic hit. The group — one of the most successful acts of all time in monetary terms — is built on their accessibility to their legions of fans. They appear at regular events all over the country to shake hands and pose for pictures, as well as on social networking sites. Fans are given around seven seconds to pose with their idols, the Yomiuri reported Monday, before they are moved along. Members must strive constantly for popularity if they wish to retain their spot, and girls who contravene strict rules — such as having boyfriends — are punished by being dropped back into the general talent pool.

Death-knell
Line-up changes often sound the death-knell for musical acts. But the frequent rotation of AKB’s members is key to keeping them at the top of their game in Japan’s fickle pop scene. Fans are currently voting for the girl they want to lead the collective for the next year, using ballot slips only available with the purchase of their newest single. The results will be announced in a nationally televised extravaganza on June 7.

There was a mixture of anger and anguish among fans after the attack, with some questioning why their idols were not better protected. “What were the organisers doing?” demanded a 21-year-old student. “I pray that the three people will be in good health again soon... and the two group members will show us soon they are in good shape,” wrote another fan on an Internet forum, who said his name was “Yamasan”. “I also hope for a strengthening of security checks such as by introducing a metal detector,” he said. A 17-year-old who visited the group’s theatre in Tokyo’s busy Akihabara district — from which are derived the letters AKB — told the Yomiuri: “I’m very worried about my favourite member who was hurt.”

“I don’t understand why anyone would do such a thing,” he said. Violent crime is rare in Japan. Carrying a blade without reason — even a pair of scissors, a box-cutter or a survival knife — is banned, while possession of guns is strictly limited to licensed hunters. Police arrested a 24-year-old high school dropout for attempted murder after the event, in the northeastern city of Takizawa, was interrupted by screams of “Stop!” and “No!” There were no bag checks, and fans have said most of the group’s events have only cursory checks at best, prompting newspapers to call for tighter security. The incident featured on several newspaper front pages and television shows.

Security checks tend to be light in Japan, which has stiff gun control laws, and violent crime involving weapons is rare. AKB48, founded in 2005, is known for its high “kawaii,” or cuteness, quotient, and all its members are in their teens or early 20s. Fans vote each year to determine 64 of the most popular girls from a 237-member pool, who then rotate in and out of four main troupes and several affiliated groups, based on their popularity. The “AKB” in the group’s name is a reference to Akihabara, Tokyo’s high-tech hub, where it has a theatre. They are also popular overseas, with a sister group based in Jakarta. Every year fans elect the most popular members of the group, obtaining a ballot by buying the group’s latest CD. Some hard-core fans buy hundreds to give their favourite a boost.
 

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