In Japan, a junior idol is a child or early teenager pursuing a career in glamour modeling (called gravure modeling in Japan) or pornography. However, child actors, musicians, and J-pop singers (whose musical genre is often termed idol pop) can also be considered junior idols. The primary divisions are divided by years U-18, U-15, and U-12, but there are also more recent partitions designated as U-10, U-6, and U-3 to reflect changes in the marketplace and idol fan communities.
Japan, which has long been relatively tolerant of the open sale and consumption of sexually oriented material, has developed a brisk trade in works that in many other countries might be considered child pornography. Recently however, public officials are moving to place tighter restrictions on the provocative depictions of young girls that are prevalent in magazines, DVDs and online.
The coining of the term ‘chidol,’ literally ‘child idol,’ is attributed to columnist Akio Nakamori and dates back to the mid-1990s, a period marked by significant increase in the number of child models and works involving individuals in that age range. Eventually, this neologism fell out of use and was replaced by ‘Junior Idol.’ There exists not a clear set of guidelines regarding the age at which an individual becomes a junior idol: Yumi Adachi, for instance, started her modeling career at age two and many other idols have starred in image DVDs at the ages of three, four and five. It can therefore be postulated even a new-born girl posing for one of the aforementioned products can be considered a junior idol for as long as she performs and is under the age of eighteen.
The majority of junior idols belong to specialized talent agencies, some of which offer acting and voice training and are geared towards the production of television commercials, photobooks, and related materials. Though sources indicate revenue is relatively low for photographic models, a number of idols (and their parents) see this activity as a gateway to more mainstream media roles. These transitions are indeed frequent, one example being the case of Saaya Irie who was cast into the live action adaptation of the popular anime series ‘Hell Girl’ and several other television programs. To promote a particular idol, or to celebrate the release of a specific title, certain stores hold special events where fans get to meet the idols, shake hands with them, obtain autographs or take photographs, in accordance with the amount of money spent on related goods (either regular DVDs, photobooks, etc., or multiple copies of the same title).
The Japanese Anti-child prostitution and pornography law enacted in 1999—and revised in 2004 to criminalize distribution of child pornography over the Internet—defines child pornography as the depiction ‘in a way that can be recognized visually, such a pose of a child relating to sexual intercourse or an act similar to sexual intercourse with or by the child,’ of ‘a pose of a child relating to the act of touching genital organs, etc.’ or the depiction of ‘a pose of a child who is naked totally or partially in order to arouse or stimulate the viewer’s sexual desire.’ Given the adumbrated definition, junior idol materials stand on legally ambiguous ground: it is often difficult to draw the line between art and pornography.
Despite inherent difficulties in effectively enforcing a ban on such materials, in 2007 the Japanese branch of Amazon.com removed over 600 junior idol titles. This incident was then followed by the arrest of 34-year-old Jisei Arigane chief producer of Shinkosha (a company specialized in idol and pornographic materials, as well as a number of novels and technical texts) and three associates over the production of an ‘obscene’ DVD shot earlier in 2007 in the Indonesian island of Bali, starring a girl who was seventeen at the time. The prolonged filming of the girl’s genitalia was in violation of Japanese law.