Followers of pop culture in Japan, in particular, J-Pop music, would know all about the massive and sensational over-100-members strong girl pop group AKB48. Famous for its super-inflated roster, the group has used its numbers to project its image like no other song and dance group can replicate easy, having their own theater to perform in thanks to their members' grouping into teams to reduce workload. They’ve pulled feats like appearing in multiple concerts and TV spots simultaneously. It’s all part of the frantic and, to Westerners, strange world of Japanese showbiz. I mean, would you believe this article if it told about how AKB48 decided which of their many girls would get to be the latest front of the group via a rock-paper-scissors tournament?

Probably not, but they actually did.

Fate in one’s own hand

Rock-paper-scissors, or “Jan-Ken” in Japanese, is, of course, one of the most famous hand games in the world. It often gets used to settle minor disputes (like ‘Who goes first?’), But more so in Japan. In true modern Japanese fashion, a simple competition like a few rounds of “Jan-Ken” can be used in a grand-scale reality show format, as the one held by AKB48’s management to have the girls decide among themselves who among them will become the overall face of the band for this year, which took place during the previous month. The honor ultimately went to Miku Tanabe, age 24, after a theatrically intense and dramatized battle past her AKB sisters while dressed in the most eclectic costumes.

For her, getting to front the group for 2017 was a culmination of sorts for her career in performing, after being a more background character in past AKB48 performances.

Standing out in the crowd

As stated before, AKB48 (retaining its name from when it did start with 48 girls, not the 130-something of today) is both successful performance group and social phenomenon in Japan, as its 40-million singles record can attest.

While its structure and exposure ensures many will get a chance to be seen and met by fans, not all of them manage to build sufficient appeal and following to be a prominent face from the rest of the AKB girls. Tanabe has been part of the team for a decade, but only now after winning a rock-paper-scissors tourney to become the front-girl does she get a chance to take the lead and show the supporters what she can really do.

Pros and cons

Miku Tanabe’s big chance was thanks to the AKB48 management implementing the annual rock-paper-scissors game seven years ago to “elect” a girl as the face of the pack. While this televised event became a hit with fans, it also drew fire from older Japanese for its frivolousness, such as the tournament in 2014 that actually preempted news coverage about Japan-China tensions in the South China Sea.

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