May 20, 2016. Local idol Tomita Mayu was violently stabbed 20+ times in the neck and chest by a man said to be her fan. From reports and tweets, the assailant, Iwazaki Tomohiro, 27, felt spurned by the young talent when she returned a gift he had given her (I believe a wristwatch?) months earlier. Tomita Mayu had been scheduled to perform at the event Koganei City, western Tokyo when she was confronted by Iwazaki near the entrance to the live house about two hours before the event’s scheduled start time. The downward spiral which began with a returned gift culminated horrifically with Iwazaki repeatedly stabbing Tomita in the neck, back, arms, and chest. As of writing, Mayu is still in critical condition and has yet to regain consciousness.
I am horrified. Regardless how you feel about idols and idol culture, we are talking about a young woman. I didn’t know anything about Tomita Mayu before this violent attack, but that doesn’t matter. This is a sister, a daughter, a friend. This 20 year old idol was a college student who long ago chose to bring smiles to our faces and lend us courage and hope when we feel despair: this is an idol. This kind of violent behavior cannot stand, and it cannot define who we are as a people.
I often worry about the state of idol fandom. The devotion to an idol is the single most defining trait of the fandom. Over-the-top signs of this devotion, let’s be honest, is scary. There is a line, and we encourage each other to cross that line repeatedly- whether buying multiple copies of the latest single, plastering our walls with photos of our idol, or simply cheering the loudest and waving the most light pens for our girl. Above all, we are driven to seek acknowledgement of our devotion from our girl.
It’s easy to say that we idol fans are all of the type to possess fragile egos that are shattered when spurned. It’s easy because so many of us are single, unmarried and unattached men seeking the attention of young women and girls. And, sure: people with those self-esteem issues inhabit our idol sphere just like every other fandom. I do not want anyone to walk away from this opinion piece believing that sick, psychotic individuals comprise the idol fandom- we are just like any other fandom.
The main difference between idols and other preoccupations is contact. Unlike many other fandoms, a main point to idols is the ability to meet with semi-regular to regular frequency. Our girls know some of us by name. In the arms race of the idol wars, the groups that provide meaningful and regular contact with their fan base often become the most successful. Of course, regular exposure to harmless devotional idol fan also means exposure to the crazily obsessive and borderline criminally psychotic among us. Quite literally, these girls come face-to-face themselves to that fraction of humanity capable of unspeakable acts and shake their hands. The conclusion is inevitable: sooner or later a girl like Tomita Mayu is bound to brush with an unhinged person like Iwazaki Tomohiro.
Why is it we are hearing about idol assaults with increasing frequency? Sure- many of us treat idols like surrogate girlfriends, I can’t deny that. With this fandom comes an obsessive devotion that crosses over dangerously with possessiveness and feelings of ownership. When this potent mix of possessiveness mixes with the pseudo-sexual receptors in the brain, the results become potentially tragic. And, this is not just true for the idol fandom. We are really talking about violence against women. We are really talking about domestic violence. We are talking about, in this case, a man attempting to reassert his dominance over the woman who symbolically castrated him by returning a watch.
Don’t let them tell you this is about idols. Don’t let them tell you this is about “Crazy Japan”.
(note: as you read further you will find sources identifying Tomita Mayu as a former AKB48 member. This is not true. Tomita Mayu and AKB48 Tomita Mayu are two different people)