Image taken from The Guardian (* source URL below the image above is incorrect)
On 22 October, Keyakizaka 46 held their Halloween concert in Yokohama. Dressed in Nazi-like costume, their photos uploaded to various SNS platforms quickly spread globally and eventually drew the attention of international Jewish human rights organization, Simon Wiesenthal Center, who demanded an apology.
Parent company, Sony Music Entertainment, and producer, Akimoto Yasushi, were quick to respond and issued a public apology on 1 November, with the former acknowledging the lack of knowledge and the latter commenting on how unacceptable the choice of costume was. Apology note by Akimoto still available on Keyakizaka 46 official site as of today.
How similar it is to Waffen SS officers’ uniforms may be up for debate, but while Japan’s insensitivity to global issues is largely due to it being a nation that is very accepting of subcultures, it is at the same time, hard to grasp. Post-war Japan had a very lax control of such subcultures resulting in the release of several mass media productions influenced by Nazi Germany. Some of these can be seen in such books and animes as Space Battleship Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam, Kinnikuman, The Eagle Has Landed, My Friend Hitler, Konpeki no Kantai, and The Myth of the Twentieth Century. However, being such a major economic player in the world, it’s a mystery why education about these issues hasn’t been stepped up.
The Silent Majority music video by Keyakizaka 46 shared in an earlier post may also be thought to be similar to German military costume with choreography including the Nazi salute but depending on perception, saying that may be too much of a stretch. After all, it’s an extremely small part of an entire dance move and the amount of variation a person’s arm can conjure is somewhat limited.
In 2014, Pritz, a South Korean idol group, also came under fire for dressing with a Nazi-like armband at their performance (see image below). In my personal opinion, the Pritz armband design is comparatively more deplorable as it seemed more deliberate than a military uniform with buttons. But again, that’s just a personal opinion.
If there weren’t the Internet or SNS platforms, life would’ve gone on as usual and Keyakizaka 46’s costumes wouldn’t have been much of a deal. Not many people would even have learnt about it. After all, an idol group is an idol group. It wouldn’t have been mixed with politics in the first place. But with such easy access to all forms of information around the world, and more and more performances of idols at political events, correlation is inevitable, therefore, we have to be mindful about global issues and history. Many Japanese I speak with don’t seem to have a good grasp on global history and are less sensitive to what we find abhorring. This has to be changed especially when so many people around the world are more and more interested in Japanese culture and entertainment.
I remember watching a satire film in college on the sexist era when men were asking women to not speak and to know their place. While watching the film, everyone in class were laughing at each and every thing the chauvinistic men were saying to the women. If you think about it, the only reason we could laugh about it is because that form of sexism no longer exists and we are no longer that sexist. If the same video is shown to nations where such sexism is still prevalent, those people will not find it funny. In that sense, I’m thankful that I’m in a place where I can find that amusing.
By the same reason, if Nazism were simply a case of discrimination against the Jews, perhaps it may some day be ameliorated to the extent we could laugh about it too. But no, Nazism is not just about discrimination. It’s also about the millions of lives that were lost because of discrimination, so it is imperative that we be constantly sensitive to the people whose ancestors were brutally murdered. After all, there are so many other unoffensive costumes that we can don. Why choose something that upsets others for the sake of fashion?