Suit tossed out of Tokyo district court in rare win for idols’ romantic freedom.
It’s long been known that the Japanese idol singer industry discourages its performers from openly dating, so as not to sour fans’ infatuation with the perky vocalists. Recently, though, there’s been increased awareness of just how far talent agencies will go to keep their vocalists from having romantic liaisons. In many cases, idols are contractually prohibited from dating, and production companies have taken their former idols to court and won lawsuits stemming from violations.
However, a recent ruling in Tokyo district court suggests that production companies might not hold all the cards in these legal disputes. The lawsuit, overseen by district judge Katsuya Hara, involved an unnamed talent agency and a now-23-year-old woman (also unnamed). In April of 2012, the woman entered into an agreement with the company to become a member of a multi-performer idol group. Among the provisions in the contract she agreed to was a clause stating that “If performers are found to be dating a fan, they will be sued for damages.”
Nevertheless, the woman began a relationship with one of her male fans around December of 2013. Slightly over half a year later, in July, she announced that she wanted to quit the idol unit, and did not appear in concerts that she was scheduled to.
Once the details of her contractually prohibited relationship became known, the company filed a lawsuit against the woman and her boyfriend, seeking some 9.9 million yen (US$82,500) in compensation for violating the agreement and business damages.
Judge Hara issued his ruling this Monday, in which he partially acknowledged the logic behind the production company’s mindset. “Fans desire integrity in idols,” he stated, “and as such, prohibiting romantic relationships, from the management’s perspective, has a certain amount of rationality.”
However, in Hara’s opinion that wasn’t the only issue at play. “The enrichment of one’s life that comes from association with the opposite sex is covered under the right of self-determination,” he said in his final statement, which also included the assertion that “Association with the opposite sex is part of the pursuit of happiness. Even taking into account the unique circumstances of being an idol, prohibiting such associations is going too far.”
Hara explained that had the woman chosen her course of action with the deliberate aim to cause damage to the company, he would have ruled in favor of the plaintiff. Without anything to suggest such malicious intent, however, he dismissed the lawsuit, meaning that the defendants now essentially have an extra 9.9 million yen in their dating budgets.