Debt is a major problem facing people of all ages today. Many young graduates head out into the world already handicapped by a shrinking job market and crippling student loans while their parents have to deal with drying pensions and stagnant real-estate market. It’s a heavy burden that requires a combination of luck and hard work to pull oneself out of, but with some sensible fiscal planning it is possible.

Or, you could do what the nine young women in The Margarines did and pursue a career in the pop idol industry. Their mission is to sing and dance their way out of a combined 127.7M yen (US$1.17M) of debt in an already heavily over-saturated entertainment industry. How could it possibly fail?

Dance your debt away

Like other idol groups, the members of The Margarines were selected via audition from a field of around 500 candidates. The main qualification of joining the group was to owe money and be between 18 and 35 years of age, but musical ability was probably considered an attractive quality too.

The lion’s share of the debt belongs to member Mami Nishida whose family is saddled with 100M yen ($915,000) in arrears after their factory went belly-up. The others have typical expenses such as student loans and expenses from moving to Tokyo ranging from 500,000 to 7,000,000 yen ($4,600 t0 $64,000) to push the group that little bit further into the red.

Big Debt = Big Dreams

The theory behind the creation of The Margarines is “people with big debt have big dreams.” So the producers of the group comedian Kayoko Okubo and director Makkoisaito feel that women with nothing to lose and a shot at redemption will work harder than any other idol out there. Although there’s a certain charm to that concept, it also feels as if the organizers are preying on people’s sympathies by trotting out insolvent idols for public consumption.

▼ Kayoko Okubo and Makkoisaito announce auditions for the “in debt idol group” last summer

There’s just one rule…

The producers of The Margarines have also stated that they want to create a “new idol” group to stand out from the rest. Aside from the debt angle, a unique aspect of these idols is that they are bound by only one rule: move 10,000 units. Beyond that it’s Thunderdome, baby.

Unlike other idol groups who are bound by strict no-dating clauses in their contracts or some that are allowed to date and marry but only in a reality TV setting, The Margarines are allowed to do whatever they want in order to meet their first sales target.

“Pillow Business”

It’s a risky move to break from the tried and true formula of the idol industry and give complete freedom to The Margarines. Obviously from a human rights standpoint it’s great, but idol otaku can be fickle folk and those restrictions were put in place for a reason.

During a press conference where the group was joined by Okubo and Makkoisaito, remarks were made about them becoming adult video stars. Although jokes about sleeping their way to the top – or “pillow business” as it’s called in Japanese – were thrown about, those tactics probably wouldn’t work out for the group in the end with their target audience. That being said, they’ll have to do something big with their freedom to win over fans.

Good Bye Debt Heaven

Oh, I almost forgot. In addition to all this, The Margarines are expected to make music too. Their first single “Gubai Shakkin Tengoku” (Good Bye Debt Heaven) will be released on 17 December. They will also make their first live appearance on 23 December at the Yakult Hall in Tokyo, presumably in honor of The Emperor’s Birthday.

Will The Margarines usher in a new era of self-governing idols, simply fade away, or lower the bar of idoldom so much that we’ll need to bend over to get a beer from the fridge? This and other questions like “Why the hell are they called The Margarines?” remain to be seen.

Source: Shakkin Idol (The Margarine’s Official Site),, My Navi News, Naver Matome (Japanese)
Video: YouTube – TOKYO MX, ウォークウェブ
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▼ Some of the intense interviewing process

The Margarine’s roster

Akino Fujiwara (aka Group Leader)
Debt: 7,000,000 yen ($64,000)
Reason: Student Loans

Ran Takahashi (aka Kabosu)
Debt: 500,000 yen ($4,500)
Reason: Owes mother for supporting her move to Tokyo to pursue dream of being an actor

Miku Ono (aka Subu)
Debt: 4,000,000 yen ($37,000)
Reason: Student Loans

Mary Christine Krause (aka Gel-san)
Debt: 2,200,000 yen ($20,000)
Reason: Owes parents for tuition to study in Japan

Miu Mishihara (aka Miuuuu)
Debt: 3,000,000 yen ($27,000)
Reason: Debt to parents after changing high schools

Kanami Yoda (aka Kanami-chan)
Debt: 3,000,000 yen ($27,000)
Reason: Started a new business and failed

Natsumi Watanabe (aka Okka-san)
Debt: 5,000,000 yen ($45,000)
Reason: Was taken in by a scam

Yua Kinoshita (aka Mouse)
Debt: 3,000,000 yen ($27,000)
Reason: too many spas and amusement parks

Mami Nishida (aka Plant Manager)
Debt: 100,000,000 yen ($915,000)
Reason: parents went bankrupt