Thousands of fans of Japanese girl group AKB48 gathered Saturday for the results of a ballot on which member will lead the band for the next year amid tight security after two members were attacked by a man wielding a saw.
Organisers are to announce results of the popularity vote late Saturday at a football stadium in Tokyo as some 300 members were running for the top spot in one of the world’s highest grossing acts.
Fans finished voting by Friday for the girl they want to lead the collective for the next year, using ballot slips only available with the purchase of their latest single.
The annual vote was overshadowed by last month’s attack on two teenage members at one of the band’s regular meet-the-fans events in Iwate, northern Japan.
“People are gathering as we opened the gates as scheduled,” a stadium official said, adding that he had not received any reports of any trouble at the venue.
Organisers doubled the number of guards to search people entering the stadium and set up metal detectors at the gates for the nationally televised extravaganza, local media reported.
Rina Kawaei, 19, and Anna Iriyama, 18, both suffered broken bones in their right hands and received cuts on their arms and heads after a 24-year-old man attacked them with the 50-centimetre (20-inch) saw.
Kawaei and Iriyama are running for the top spot but may not show up at the venue as they are still under treatment, news reports said.
AKB48 is part talent show, part pop act — a venture in which a pool of more than 300 girls and young women at home and overseas compete for a spot in the limelight with each new catchy but formulaic hit.
The popularity of the group — one of the most successful acts of all time in monetary terms — is partly built on their accessibility to their legions of fans. They appear at regular events all over the country to shake hands and pose for pictures, as well as on social networking sites.
Satoru Umeda, arrested for injuring the two band members on May 25, reportedly told investigators: “I attempted to kill people. I didn’t care whom.”
The man will soon undergo psychiatric tests, news reports said.
Violent crime is rare in Japan. Carrying a blade without reason — even a pair of scissors, a box-cutter or a survival knife — is banned, while possession of guns is strictly limited to licensed hunters.