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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogNine Types of Japanese Idols You Need to Know

Nine Types of Japanese Idols You Need to Know

By James Lau
March 30, 2022

Trying to get into the Japanese Idol scene but don’t know where to start? We’ve got this quick and easy guide to the types of Japanese idols out there, so you can dive straight into it!

What are Japanese Idols?

Japanese idols are entertainers that mainly work in Japanese pop culture. They’re mostly singers, but some eventually become actors or models. And of course, they have to learn how to dance.

Many companies market their idols on their ability to sell dreams. They might not be the best dancers or singers when they first debut, but as the saying goes, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.” As a fan, your job is to watch your idols grow and become more confident and capable in their abilities! 

In fact, idols are often marketed as aspiring stars or newcomers to the entertainment business. However, sometimes this leads to them being seen as not taking their job as seriously as other artists who have dedicated their life to pursuing their passion. Actually, many young Japanese artists reject and refuse the title of idol.

But with so many types of Japanese idols, many young artists find a place in one.

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The Idol Image

Japanese idols are often viewed as good role models and often appear in public service endorsements. Their companies also carefully maintain their image through strict rules set by their company, like dating bans or bans on drinking or smoking in public. 

They also manage their image through the outfits that they wear during promotions. Many female idols will wear Japanese school uniform-like costumes or cutesy dresses, tapping into a kawaii aesthetic. Meanwhile, the male idols go for the manly or cool look.

Idols are usually typecast for their youthful appearance, but there are also plenty of niche groups. (Looking at you, Ojisan48. Yeah, that was a thing). Most female idols retire or graduate from being an idol sometime in their mid-twenties and move on to work as an actress or in another entertainment field. 

Likewise, male idols will also do the same, usually before their 40th birthdays.

Now that we’ve discussed the basics of the Japanese idol, let’s look at the different types of Japanese idols popular in the country!

National Female Idols

The storefront of the AKB48 Cafe in Akhiabara, where people can meet some of the members of the Japanese idol group, with several people waiting in front or buying a drink from the to-go window
Groups like AKB48 are one of the most popular types of Japanese idols with so many members that they have a team for their cafe, a team for their stadium, AND a team for tours. Image via Shutterstock

These are the idols that people usually think of when they hear the term ‘idol’. These idols usually appear on television, either as guests on variety shows or as guest appearances on  Japanese dramas. Many idols have also been known to break out and amaze viewers with their acting abilities, earning them leading or supporting roles in movies and dramas. 

Mainstream idols usually promote in groups like Morning Musume or AKB48 and its sister groups, Hello!Project and Momoiro Clover Z. Famous for their colorful outfits and cheerful attitudes, idol fans will usually attend handshake events to support them and get a few minutes of one-on-one time with their favorite idol.

Johnny’s

A billboard featuring the members of Arashi, one of the most popular male types of Japanese idols in Japan, in business suits as they play with white and red Japanese new year cards.
If you’ve heard of Arashi, then you know a Johnny’s band. Their all over advertisements in Japan thanks to their swoon-worthy image. Image via Shutterstock

Not every male idol is a part of Johnny’s, but you’ll usually never hear about other male idols outside of Johnny’s. These idols all belong to the company, Johnny’s and Associates, who has a strong grip over the male idol industry, creating a number of groups still popular to this day. 

Today, other male pop idols can succeed, but chances are, if you think of a male idol group, they’re Johnny’s. 

Arashi? Johnny’s. KAT-TUN? Johnny’s? King and Prince? Johnny’s. JO1? Joh- Oh no, they’re someone else’s.

Local Idols

These idols usually work within their prefecture or city, explaining their name. These local idols (or locodol) promote prefectural staples and assist in the revival of the region, hoping to attract tourists to come and visit. 

Local idols work with their area’s tourism board and work local events. They often compete against National Idols using their knowledge of the region to appeal to their audience. Local idols aim to build a strong relationship with their community while also working towards National Idol status. 

The group, Perfume, started out as a local idol girl group in Hiroshima in 2002 before debuting with a major label in 2005. Kanna Hashimoto also started out in a local idol group in Fukuoka before going viral for her looks and eventually became an actress.

Underground Idols/Akiba-kei Idols

A group of young girls in masks and cute outfits dancing together as part of one of the underground types of Japanese idols in Akihabara with passerbys watching
Underground idols are often harder to find, but they actually have more creative freedom in their songs and costumes. Image via Shutterstock

Underground idols are usually independent youths who want to break into the mainstream. They usually perform in smaller venues or do street performances to try and get a contract with a large company. However, some of them already have a contract with a smaller company. Sometimes, they are also called “pre-idols” or “indie idols.” 

Thanks to their smaller fanbase, many underground idols are more willing to interact with their fans and provide more fanservice than mainstream idols usually do.

There is even a sub-group of underground idols called “Akiba-kei Idols.” These idols mainly work within the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Now, the term is used for idols who include otaku (nerd or enthusiast) culture into their performances to appeal to their male-dominated fanbase. 

Other Akiba-kei idols might include someone who has their own otaku hobby, or maybe a famous maid from one Akihabara’s many famous maid cafes, or possibly a voice actor who also acts as an idol. Speaking of voice actors…

Idol Voice Actors

A giant window advertisement for LoveLive!, one of many animated types of Japanese idols, featuring many girls in cute, colorful, modified sailor style school uniforms.
LoveLive! is one of the most uniquely Japanese invention of all time, but they are also gaining popularity worldwide. Image via Shutterstock

Voice actors might also participate in idol events while trying to make it big. These voice actors can even gain popularity by singing songs associated with their anime. These actors can appear on variety shows and might participate in crossover events, connecting them even more to the character they voice.

LoveLive! is a good example with both an anime and anime performances. They even have games and a LoveLive! Cafe.

Bandols

Bandol comes from the combination of the words “band” and “idol.” So, these idols usually promote in a band and play instruments. The word originally appeared in the 2000s as a catchphrase for the group ZONE. 

While the group pretended to play their instruments at first, ZONE eventually did learn how to play and became pioneers of the fusion between band and idol. In the 2010s, the musical manga K-On! and other influences sparked the return of the Bandols, with groups like SCANDAL and Silent Siren debuting to public success.

Net Idols

Net Idols are the idols who promote over the internet. Net idols actually began in the 90s, using forums to post pictures of themselves along with diary entries. They would interact with their fanbase through these sites, and some did eventually reach the mainstream. 

Today, it’s easy to become a net idol with the help of social media. However, like many other influencers, popularity is the main challenge. Some net idols might cosplay in an attempt to boost their popularity.

Virtual Idols

A figure of Hatsune Miku, one of the virtual types of Japanese idols, who has long blue pigtails, a white flower in her hair, and a red kimono.
Hatsune Miku is one of the most futuristic types of Japanese idols with plenty of holographic performances and a variety of fan-sourced songs. Image via Shutterstock

It was bound to happen, but I bet you didn’t know how early it happened. In the 1980 Macross anime series, Lynn Minmay becomes a popstar and stops a war with her songs. Her songs broke over into the mainstream and Lynn Minmay is considered the first Virtual Idol in Japan. 

But of course, if we mention Virtual Idols, we have to mention the almighty Hatsune Miku. There’s no denying her popularity in Japan. You’re bound to see her image almost everywhere you look in Japan.

Japanese-Korean Idols

With the K-pop boom, it seemed almost inevitable for Japan to get in on the action. While Japanese idols were popular in Korea during the 90s, nowadays, Korean Idols are popular internationally. These idols follow the stylistic choices of K-pop but promote heavily in Japan. 

We could talk about Route 0, one of the first Japanese-Korean idol group collabs. Well, it’s more like a duo, but one of the main claims to fame for this duet is Choi Sooyoung. She’s their Korean member who later debuted as a member of Girls’ Generation in 2007. 

However, in the third wave of K-pop, Japanese-Korean Idol groups came to life again with Iz*One in 2018 who promoted in Japan and Korea, and NiziU who only promotes in Japan.

Did you know about these idol genres? Which one is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!

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