Sexist Lyrics in Japan: translating 3 songs by AKB48 Mastermind Yasushi Akimoto 日本の性差別的な歌詞秋元康の歌詞の翻訳

A country’s lyrics say a lot about where that country is at culturally. Whether it is American lyrics that call out Japanese designers as a way of expressing socio-economic superiority, or Japanese lyrics about the pre & post-Olympic Tokyo, it’s always interesting to see what is causing people to break into song.

Today we look at three song lyrics by Yasushi Akimoto, polymath producer behind the modern-day mega-girl group idol phenomenon in Japan.

These lyrics show women & girls as being in turn fawning, ditsy and hot for sex. What this says about the Japanese zeitgeist I will leave up to the reader to determine. It’s worth having a look at these though, especially if you are fan of the 48 girl group franchises.

Who is Yasushi Akimoto? 秋元康 Lyrics

Yasushi Akimoto is the man with the midas touch in the Japanese entertainment industry. His activities span the worlds of music, television, novels, anime, even women’s entertainment wrestling. But he’s most well known as the producer, lyricist and co-creator of the outrageously successful “48” groups that started in Akihabara with AKB48 before expanding, rather like a chain of fast-food restaurants, to have franchises across Japan and later across many parts of Asia.

He got his start working as a writer for the broadcaster Nippon Housou in the 70s, and wrote his first lyrics for the pop group The Alfee in the early 80s. He came to greater prominence as producer and lyricist with comedic-sometimes-musical duo Tunnels. 

Yasushi Akimoto enters the “idol” trade

But it wasn’t until 1985 that he was to come across the formula that would be his bread and butter, or perhaps caviar and truffles, for the greatest part of his life, the marketing, production and promotion of young girls. Specifically, he hit upon the idea of creating large groups of cute, largely subservient and more or less sexualised teenage idol groups. Starting with the smash-hit group Onyanko Club, and eventually mutating into the gargantuan, factory-like fun-machine that is the 48 phenomenon.

It was an inspired, and lucrative, modus operandi, that allowed an older, somewhat portly, bespectacled man in a suit to have a potentially indefinite lifespan as a provider of fun times, earworms and entertainment. 

It was as if Yasushi had discovered the pop “fountain of youth” where he could vicariously live through an ever-changing array of hostess bodies. He was parasite and queen bee rolled into one. 

The funny thing was that his product, of the sweet, innocent singing and dancing girl, multiplied by powers of ten, was just what the mostly, but not exclusively, male public needed. 

It was also as if large parts of Japan, later the world, were looking for some kind of idealised body corporate to vicariously live out their lives. 

Kaori Shoji, on the Japansubculture blog, has gone as far as calling Yasushi a “Zegen” 女衒, which was the term used for the middle-men merchant pimps who bought and sold girls into both the sex trade and entertainment industry half a century ago. 

Though I think this characterization goes too far, it is worth looking at, and being aware of, some of the overtly sexist lyrics that he writes and has his girl groups deliver. And we’ll look at three examples today.

セーラー服を脱がさないで (don’t take off my sailor-style school uniform) lyrics

This was the 1985 debut hit for the idol girl group Onyanko Club. The song turned heads at the time with it’s quite straightforward voicing of the somewhat conflicted sexual desires of a school girl – sung as it was by a group of innocent-looking school-age girls. The song voices a “no-means-yes” playing out of women’s sexuality that can still be seen today. 

The song is probably more of a cultural phenomenon than its top ranking at number 5 on the Oricon charts might suggest.

セーラー服を脱がさないで

今はダメよ 我慢なさって

セーラー服を脱がさないで

嫌よダメよ こんなところじゃ

Don’t take off my sailor-style school uniform

Not now! Please be patient

Don’t take off my sailor-style school uniform

I don’t want you to, no, not in a place like this

女の子は いつでも

“MI・MI・DO・SHI・MA”(耳年増)

お勉強してるのよ

AH- 毎日

Girls are always 

Mi mi do shi ma (acting like they know all about sex)

Everyday

友達より早く

エッチをしたいけど

キスから先に進めない

臆病すぎるの

週刊誌みたいな

エッチをしたいけど

全てをあげてしまうのは

もったいないから…あげない

I want to have sex

Before my friends do

But I’m just so timid

That I find it hard to get past kissing

I want to have sex

Just like the weekly magazines

But going ahead and giving it all to you

Just seems such a waste. So I won’t.

セーラー服を脱がさないで

スカートまでまくれちゃうでしょ

セーラー服を脱がさないで

胸のリボン ほどかないでね

Don’t take off my sailor-style school uniform

You’re going to even lift up my skirt, aren’t you?

Don’t take off my sailor-style school uniform

Don’t untie the ribbon on my breast

男の子はその時

どうなるの?

興味津々 しちゃうのよ

AH- 不思議ね

How do boys get at times like these?

I get so intrigued!

It’s such a mystery

デートに誘われて

バージンじゃ つまらない

パパやママは知らないの

明日の外泊

ちょっぴり恐いけど

バージンじゃ つまらない

おばんになっちゃう その前に

おいしいハートを…食べて

It’s such a bore to be a virgin

When someone asks you on a date

Mum and Dad don’t know

About where I’m staying tomorrow night

I’m a slightly scared

But it’s such a bore to be a virgin

I’m going to be an old maid!

Before I do

Eat out my tasty heart


アインシュタインよりディアナ・アグロン (Forgot about Einstein, How about Dianna Agron) lyrics

Amongst Yasushi Akimoto’s canon of lyrics, these ones written for HKT48 are the reigning kings of portraying women as a bunch of right royal dimwits. The song rightly drew a lot of flak from both international and domestic Japanese media on it’s release. 

難しいことは何も考えない

頭からっぽでいい

二足歩行が楽だし

ふわり軽く

風船みたいに生きたいんだ

Don’t try and think of anything demanding

Being empty-headed is just fine

There’s enough comfort in just bipedal walking,

Soft and gentle

I want to live my life like a balloon

女の子は

可愛くなきゃね

学生時代は

おバカでいい

今 一番 大切なことは そう

キャピキャピと

Girls, 

They’ve got to be pretty, right?

When you’re a student,

It’s best to be dumb

Thing that matters most for the time being

Is to be bubbly

アインシュタインより

ディアナ・アグロン

テストの点以上

瞳(め)の大きさが気になる

どんなに勉強できても

愛されなきゃ意味がない

スカートをひらひらとさせて

グリーのように

Forgot about Einstein

How about Dianna Agron

I’m more worried about the size of my eyes

Then the marks on my exam

It doesn’t matter how much you study

If nobody loves you

Like the fluttering skirts in Glee

世の中のジョーシキ 何も知らなくても

メイク上手ならいい

ニュースなんか興味ないし

たいていのこと

誰かに助けてもらえばいい

You don’t need to know anything about common knowledge

You just have to be good at doing make-up

I couldn’t give a damn about the news

Whatever happens,

Someone or other will come to your rescue

女の子は

恋が仕事よ

ママになるまで

子供でいい

それよりも重要なことは そう

スベスベの

お肌を保つことでしょう?

Love, is a woman’s job

Until you’re a mum,

Just stay a child

Instead of all that

You should just have to make sure you have nice skin

アインシュタインって

どんな人だっけ?

聞いたことあるけど

本当はよく知らない

教科書 載っていたような

なんか偉い人だった

好きなのはディアナ・アグロン

Who was Einstein again?

I think I’ve heard of him

I don’t really know

He was, like, some great due

In some textbook

But I like Dianna Agron

もっともっともっと

輝きたい

人は見た目が肝心

だってだって

内面は見えない

可愛いは正義よ

チヤホヤされたい

アインシュタインより

ディアナ・アグロン

I want to sparkle

More and more

The way you look to others is important

Because, you know,

What is inside can’t be seen

Cuteness is righteousness!

I want to be pampered

Less like Einstein

Than Dianna Agron

テストの点以上

瞳(め)の大きさが気になる

どんなに勉強できても

愛されなきゃ意味がない

スカートをひらひらとさせて

グリーのように

I’m more worried about the size of my eyes

Than the score on my test

It doesn’t matter how much you study

If nobody loves you

Like the fluttering skirts in Glee


君に叱られた

This is the newest entry in Yasushi’s unflattering portrayals of women. It was written for Nogizaka 46 and reached number 1 on the Oricon charts. Full lyrics of kimi ni shikarareta are here, but here are a couple of excerpts.

“ずっと素直になれなくてごめん

言い負かされて悔しいけれど

一人きりじゃ 何もできない

言葉が 言葉が刺さってるのに

反論しても無駄な抵抗だ

プライドなんかどうでもいいよ

それより僕は 君に叱られて嬉しい

Though it hurts to be talked down to

I can’t do anything on my own.

For some reason, even though our words as so piercing

Even if I try and argue, it’s just a hopeless resistance

Who cares about pride?

Rather than that, it makes me happy when you set me straight”

“愛は甘えられるもの 許してくれるもの

だからいつだって 一方的だった

やりたいようにやっては 誰か傷つけて来たのか

例えば世界にたった一人の君には

叱ってもらいたい

Love is being spoilt rotten, and being forgiving

And for that very reason, it’s been so one-sided

Doing whatever I want, maybe I was always hurting someone?

Even though there is only one of you in this world

I want you to scold me.”

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1). I’ve written songs in Japanese and have released several albums through Tokyo label Majikick Records. You can hear my music at my bandcamp page:

ピータージョセフヘッドです。4年間京都市立芸大の大学院として日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

僕の音楽はBandcampで聞けます。

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