GKB47: Japans J-pop suicide prevention strategy

Girl group AKB48 inspired the government‘s latest campaign slogan

GKB47: Japan’s J-pop suicide prevention strategy

The 2011 Suicide Prevention Week poster puts a smiley face on the fight against self-murder

Update: At a press conference on February 7, DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada revealed that the proposed 'GKB47' catchphrase for this year's Suicide Prevention Month had been ditched, after it was given the thumbs down by politicians including PM Yoshihiko Noda at a budget committee meeting the previous day. With only a few weeks to go until the start of the 2012 campaign, 250,000 posters printed in advance will now have to be pulped – and a new, preferably more innocuous, slogan devised.

The Japanese obsession with AKB48 reached new and bizarre heights this week when it emerged that the girl group had inspired the government's latest suicide prevention campaign. At a meeting on January 23, an expert panel set up by the official Council for Policy of Suicide Prevention [sic.] was given a preview of the Suicide Prevention Month slogan for 2012, and it's enough to make a J-pop fan weep.

AKB48: meet GKB47. Or, to give you the complete slogan, 'Anata mo GKB47 sengen!' (which loosely translates as 'Declare yourself part of GKB47!').

Whether it's just tone-deaf or blatantly opportunistic, that acronym isn't quite as random as it first appears. GK is short for 'gatekeeper' – referring to the person who recognises symptoms of depression in someone else and recommends that they seek treatment – while the B is for 'basic', meaning that you don't have to be an expert to do it. And the 47? That's the number of prefectures and jurisdictions in Japan, natch.

The government launched its first Suicide Prevention Month in March 2010, taking inspiration from a public awareness drive that started in Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture. The original 'Sleeping Campaign' encouraged people to keep an eye on the wellbeing of family members, focusing in particular on a purported link between prolonged sleeplessness and depression. Its initial catchphrase, 'Are you getting another sleep, dad?', has since been broadened into something more inclusive – and a whole lot ickier.

Yet even the smiling cartoon characters that populated campaign posters in previous years (see the picture above) can't compare to this pop-inspired proclamation. As Japanese news services report, the government‘s expert panel were a little nonplussed by the AKB48 parallels. With gracious understatement, one member found it 'uncomfortable' to connect the prevention of self-murder with the group who gave us 'Everyday, Katyusha', while another questioned the merit of associating a fleeting pop phenomenon with an ongoing problem such as suicide. (Despite a slight reduction, 2011 marked the 14th consecutive year in which suicides in Japan exceeded 30,000.)

Assuming that these objections aren't enough to derail the proposed campaign slogan, we can expect a slew of 'GKB47' posters and adverts over the coming months – proving that in Japan there are few problems that, if not exactly solved, can't at least be made cuter.

By James Hadfield
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.

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