Rumors cite possible overseas criticism as reason for new policy.

The common snarky comment about Japanese idol singers is that their musical talents aren’t nearly strong enough to justify their fanbases, but it is true that the most successful idols have a media presence that goes far beyond just singing and dancing. Variety show appearances, commercial endorsements, TV and movie acting gigs, and magazine photo shoots are all part of the cycle of idol fame and pop culture presence, as the longer they stay in the spotlight, the more likely they are to get other such offers, making the system at least in part self-perpetuating.

A quick and easy way to get eyeballs on idols is to do a gravure modeling session, with one or more of the group’s members dressed in bikinis and frolicking on the beach, and run the photos in one of Japan’s many manga anthologies or men’s interest magazines. But according to Japanese website Nikkan Cyzo, AKB48, Japan’s most successful and influential idol unit ever, is planning to phase out swimsuit gravure photos for its younger members.

According to one of Nikkan Cyzo’s sources, an anonymous member of the Japanese publishing industry, notices have been circulating from AKB48’s management team saying that from now on, members of the group who are high school-age or younger will not pose for swimwear gravure photos. “Even if there’s a situation that calls for all of the members to wear swimsuits,” the source states, “Members who are high school-age or younger will wear suits that are modest and reveal a minimum of skin.”

AKB48’s frequently rotating roster of members and numerous sub-groups makes it hard to speak in absolute statistical terms, but as of this moment, the members of the group’s three primary teams (Teams A, K, and B) range in age from 14 to 26. Out of those, 13 are 18 years old or younger, three are 19 (still under Japan’s age of legal adulthood, 20), and the remaining 21 vocalists are 20 or older.

Another source quoted by Nikka Cyzo, also a member of the publishing industry, cites AKB48’s growing international fame as a reason for the alleged change in policy. “AKB48 is becoming more well-known overseas, and that’s bringing attention to their media activities. If they have members younger than 18 posing in skimpy bathing suits, there’s a chance they’ll be labeled as engaging in child pornography. The upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics are probably also a factor,” the source said, likely thinking of the persistent speculation that AKB48 will somehow be involved in the Games’ opening ceremony or other official festivities.

AKB48 itself, however, is yet to make any official statement regarding the rumor, nor have any other prominent idol groups publicly pledged to limit their gravure activities.

Source: Nikkan Cyzo via Rakuten Infoseek News via Yaraon via Anime News Network/Jennifer Sherman
Top image: Gahag