On Jan. 7, J-pop star Yamaguchi Maho, who goes by Mahohon, publicly addressed her assault on Twitter after she missed a fan meet-and-greet with her Niigata, Japan-based band NGT48. She hoped her statement would help others who have been assaulted. However, the reaction to her experience and pressure from the band’s management company later led her to apologize for speaking out.
Yamaguchi had been assaulted by two male fans who were waiting outside when she arrived home. The men had been given information about her schedule by another NGT48 band member. The fans tried to grab Yamaguchi’s face and were arrested by police but later released without charges because they told police they were only trying to talk to Yamaguchi. NGT48’s website confirmed the assault.
While the incident happened on Dec. 8, 2018, Yamaguchi said she stayed silent for a month because she didn’t want to upset anyone. She also thought NGT48’s management would handle the situation appropriately. However, it didn’t quite happen that way. Yamaguchi hoped by going public, she could support others who have had similar experiences. She wrote on Twitter:
I am sorry to shock you guys. Some might get scared to hear what happened to me. I am really sorry. I wanted to help those who were going through the same experience. I didn’t do anything for a month because I didn’t want to impose on everyone that supports me. I don’t want you to dislike NGT (the pop band) … That’s because I believed they’d sort all this out.
— 山口真帆 (@maho_yamaguchi) January 8, 2019
Yamaguchi indicated her band’s management company didn’t understand what she and other women went through. The managers are all men, she said, and therefore don’t understand the fear women face in public (and private) spaces. “Walking outside somewhere by myself is frightening,” she said in a now-deleted tweet.
However, during an event to celebrate NGT48’s three-year anniversary a few days later, Yamaguchi apologized for speaking out, saying she was sorry for “causing trouble.” Fans were outraged because they felt NGT48’s management failed to protect its band members and most of all, Yamaguchi should not have to apologize for her own assault.
Fans started the hashtag #JusticeForMahohon on Twitter to voice their support for the J-pop singer:
Kitahara Rie, a former member of NGT, posted a statement on Twitter indicating she believed that Yamaguchi should not have to apologize for speaking out, calling the situation “absolutely wrong.” #山口真帆https://t.co/JJCq7t7mty
— Kat Bee (@katbeee) January 11, 2019
I applaud her for speaking up when she’s being targeted by her company and members. This is NOT an easy thing to do and I hope she is safe and gets justice!!! In an industry like this she is a HERO for speaking up…sorry to the women who get treated like this #JusticeForMahohon https://t.co/stpZ4s1m5j
— (@yoooolmao_) January 9, 2019
I am so shocked that her own member(s) were behind this and her company keeps silencing her. How fucked up can you be to silence someone who was assaulted and could have died. Something like this can cause horrible trauma I’m so upset and angry #JusticeForMahohon
— shaki see shaki do (@chuuiscold) January 9, 2019
The girl was assaulted by 2 men when she returned home. She reported to the police.the men were arrested and released. She reported to management but nothing was done. She told the world yesterday and made to apologise today. #NGT48 #justiceformaho #JusticeForMahohon #山口真帆 pic.twitter.com/HNLltCWMFx
— lorl (@lorl22111181) January 10, 2019
Assault and sexual harassment are rampant in the music industry — look no further than when Lady Gaga revealed she was raped by a music producer or Taylor Swift’s recent assault case against a radio DJ who groped her.
This is especially true in Japan, which ranks 110 out 149 on the World Economic Forum‘s determination of worldwide gender equality. According to Japan’s Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office’s 2016 Violence Against Women report, 88.8 percent of reported stalker victims are women while 84 percent of the perpetrators are men.
Idols, including K-pop and J-pop band members, face additional vulnerabilities. According to the annual Global Music Report, Japan’s music industry is the second largest in the world, behind the United States. J-pop band members are key to this lucrative industry and its management companies who usually oversee several groups. AKS also covers popular sister NGT48 groups HKT48 and AKB48.
It’s not surprising then that, like many other women, Yamaguchi would feel compelled to apologize for speaking out about her assault. Former AKB48 and current HGT48 member Sashihara Rina shared her own experience with aggressive fans, saying “I didn’t do anything at the time, but I was scared.”
Former AKB48 and current HGT48 member Sashihara Rina (@345__chan) criticized NGT48 management’s response to the situation, and shared her own experienced with deranged fans and stalkers, saying “I didn’t do anything at the time, but I was scared.” https://t.co/XFnZD98MDA
— Kat Bee (@katbeee) January 17, 2019
In response to Yamaguchi’s assault and apology, Niigata Prefecture governor Hanazumi Hideyo expressed his wish to “return to a normal state.” He also said he “[hopes] the scandal doesn’t impact the public perception of [Niigata].” Tokyo-based journalist Kat Bee reported on Twitter that Yamaguchi and assault against idols became a punchline for Japanese comedians and variety shows.
To rein in management criticism, AKS managing director Matsumura Takumi replaced NGT48’s manager, Imamura Etsuro, with female manager Hayakawa Maiko, who he said will be a good fit because she has “an understanding of women’s points of view.” Imamura was moved to a different part of the company, though initial reports implied he had resigned.
Management is also reportedly looking into a new apartment complex for NGT48’s members because fans have started renting units in their current complex. At least three upcoming NGT48 shows have been canceled.
As Japan wrestles with its response, Kukhee Choo, a cultural studies expert at Sophia University in Tokyo, told CNN that Yamaguchi’s apology likely smoothed over her appearance with the Japanese public who want their idols to be like their “daughter or next-door neighbor.” However, for other women struggling, Bee likened this to Japan’s #MeToo moment, and Choo seems to agree.
“If someone powerful has a hard time coming out, the average women in Japan thinks, what chance do I have? But idols are very relatable,” Choo told CNN. “This incident could help other young women to think, if she came out, then I can come out too.”