Who are AKB48?

(From left) Japanese pop group AKB48’s Misaki Iwasa, Mika Komori and Miho Miyazaki met fans on May 14, 2011, and also performed at *Scape on the next day. -- PHOTO: AKB48 Singapore
(From left) Japanese pop group AKB48’s Misaki Iwasa, Mika Komori and Miho Miyazaki met fans on May 14, 2011, and also performed at *Scape on the next day. -- PHOTO: AKB48 Singapore
The 12 members of J-pop girl group SDN48 hit Orchard Road to greet fans on June 10, 2011. -- TNP PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Ardent fan Alex Suharli (right) is thrilled to get up close to his idols. -- TNP PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
(From left) Miyu Takeuchi and Haruka Shimazaki enjoying items on the menu at the new AKB48 cafe. -- PHOTO: ASIA PR WERKZ
(From left) Rina Matsumoto, Rikaka Hirata and Shiori Takada from Japanese pop girl group SKE48, ham it up for the camera. -- TNP PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Three members of Japan’s top girl group, the 61-member AKB48, graced the launch of the new AKB48 cafe in Singapore on June 25, 2011. -- PHOTO: ASIA PR WERKZ

The Japanese pop group AKB48 has hit the headlines for the wrong reason today. Two members of the group were attacked by a man wielding a saw in Iwate, northern Japan during a meet the fans session. Here is a quick primer on the girl group.

1. AKB48 was created in 2005 by veteran music producer Yasushi Akimoto. His catchy concept, as declared on the AKB48 website, is "idols you can meet everyday". What distinguishes the group is its interactivity and the accessibility of the girls. Fans can track each girl singer's progress, participate in voting for each girl so that she progresses from each tier of the group to the top ranks of AKB48 members, and meet the girls at various sessions.

2. There are more than 100 girls in the group and there are splinter groups as well, set up in various Asian cities including Jakarta (JKT48), Shanghai (SNH48) and Taipei (TPE48). The pop juggernaut is fueled by catchy sugary pop singles churned out like clockwork, a constant stream of daily shows at their permanent performance space in Tokyo's Akihabara district as well as a slew of supplementary paraphernalia, ranging from dolls to photobooks. The revenue stream from this group is estimated to hit US$212 million in record sales alone.

3. The AKB48 brand made a brief pitstop in Singapore. It opened a cafe and a concept store at *Scape in May 2011. There were plans for members of the group to fly for two days each month to do twice daily shows at the building. But the market here was evidently too small to support this and the cafe closed soon after although the performing space in the building still plays host to performances by other J-pop groups.

4. The youngest members of the group are just 13 years old but it is made up mostly of teenaged girls and women in their 20s. There has also been a virtual member - Aimi Eguchi, a computer-generated character whose facial features were a collage of six of the prettiest girls in the group. In April, the group added its oldest member, 37-year-old Tsukamoto Mariko, a mother of two.

5. The girls are under strict orders to toe the line, especially in their personal lives. They are not allowed to date, and revelations of boyfriends and trysts often result in scandals that lead to a member being demoted or even kicked out. One of the most shocking instances was member Minami Minegishi, who was spotted by a tabloid leaving the home of Generations boyband member Alan Shirahama. Not only was she demoted to the trainee team, she was shown in a video posted to the group's official YouTube channel with her hair shorn and weeping in apology.

An earlier version of this story mentioned HKT48 as a spinoff of AKB48 based in Hong Kong. HKT48 is actually named after Hakata, Japan and based in Fukuoka. We are sorry for the error.

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