Think back to your most memorable competitive moment. Maybe it was a state championship in football. Or a cricket match for bragging rights. Now, instead of scoring a game clinching goal or batting in the winning run, imagine everything hinged on three simple words: Rock, Paper, Scissors. In Japan, this competition settles many disputes and even elevates one person to the top of the country’s musical hierarchy.
In case you haven’t heard of them, Japan has a supergroup called AKB48. Founded in 2005, the group consists of over 150 members. However, not all the members appear in the group’s television shows or sing on their songs. Nevertheless, AKB48’s success is impressive and the group has sold over 40 million singles. Another interesting part of the group’s existence is that, since 2009, there is an AKB48 general election. Yet, unlike American Idol or The Voice, this election is not a singing contest. Rather, it is the finest display of Japan’s distinct form of Rock, Paper, Scissors, known as “janken.” To put it in perspective, imagine the Hunger Games.
For the 2016 election, the 98 most popular group members participated in a janken competition. The members were grouped into seven smaller pools. After an intense series of Rock, Paper, Scissors matches, which included elaborate costumes and Japan’s Steve Urkel as a referee, one woman emerged victorious from each pool. Next, these seven women joined forces to become their own sub-group, with a CD contract in hand.
However, there was still more janken in their futures. Rather than warming up their vocal cords, the women flexed their fingers and prepared for the final round. The winner of the seven-person competition would become the lead vocalist of the sub-group’s next song. Her face would appear the largest on apparel and promotional material. In other words, it would be her chance at achieving superstardom from the group, like Nick Jonas or Justin Timberlake.
The winner of last year’s competition had been a member of the pop group for 10 years. Despite poor showings in the popularity contest, 24-year old Miku Tanabe reached the pinnacle of her musical life by throwing a Rock. Footage of the event shows the stunned woman staring at her hand with tears streaming down her face. Soon after, she sat on a throne with a gigantic trophy in one hand and a microphone in the other. Even more important, however, was being the lead singer on the sub-group’s new release, “Sakasa Zaka.”