One of the major concepts behind AKB48 is the ability to meet some of your favorite members through handshake events. You could have a conversation (or ten) with any member on any team should you purchase and register handshake tickets, which are usually received through their singles. On occasions where an album is released, AKB48 members have events called 2-shots, which are opportunities for fans to take photos with some of their favorite members. As expected, some members get more handshake tickets and 2-shot tickets than others, so while some members get fairly short lines, others can get relatively lengthy lines.
However, on May 25, 2014, one man changed the handshake and 2-shot events forever.
Taken from Stage48: "...a man appeared with a sharp saw-like object and started to attack members, management staff, and even fans, during a handshake event in Iwate. The man was arrested, but the idols and staff members suffered injuries on their hands and head and were taken to the hospital for emergency surgery."
The consequences from this incident however ultimately affected all of AKB48 and its fans. All AKB48-based handshake events during the last week of May were cancelled, increased levels of security during handshake events among sister/rival groups (such as Nogizaka46) were present, a change in 2-shot events (you no longer can take photos next to members; you are separated by a table during the 2-shot) and finally, the man responsible for the incident was to serve 6 years in prison.
The two members who were injured were Kawaei Rina and Iriyama Anna. Their nicknames are Ricchan and Annin respectively. They both star in the AKB48-based combat drama, Majisuka Gakuen 4, and both of them ranked at high spots during last year’s sousenkyo election: Ricchan at #16 and Annin at #20. Kawaei Rina made a surprise appearance at the last sousenkyo despite still recovering from the injuries, while Iriyama Anna was contacted by phone during the election for her #20 spot. To this day, Annin is still recovering from her injuries and she still wears a glove on her injured hand. Neither Kawaei nor Iriyama will participate in future handshake events.
Because of the incident, people who are not familiar with AKB48’s “idols you can meet” concept called for the handshake event to be removed altogether, given how it will take months for Ricchan and Annin to recover from their physical and psychological wounds. Several ideas were suggested on how the handshake event should be implemented, such as having the handshake event through thick glass like what you’d find in a bank. Metal detectors were installed on the stages of certain groups, and several AKB48-based events scheduled in June were postponed. Basically, AKB48 and their sister groups were in a bit of a flux, as they have gone this long without an incident like this.
It is easy to see how some people may want the concept of handshake events removed from AKB48 in order to protect some of the idols. However, if the handshake event was removed entirely, AKB48 and its sister/rival groups would not be as popular as they are now. You select an oshi to support, and if you purchase a single with a handshake event ticket, you could visit her and have a short conversation with her. It has been like this for years now, and one unemployed man wielding a saw is not going to destroy AKB48.
The added security among handshake events and 2-shot events were basically a wake-up-call for the group. The amount of negative media attention this story received rivaled that of Minegishi Minami’s incident back in January 2013. News outlets such as the New York Times even covered this story. The question is: Why would it take this long for a potentially fatal incident like the one in Iwate to take place?
The answer is simple, because the fans know that they would never do this. The fans would never hurt their oshi or any idol they plan on visiting. There were never bag checks or metal detectors because the fans would never consider attacking their oshi outright. The members of AKB48 are there with dreams of becoming actressese, musical artists, dancers, or something along those lines, and they perform in theater events and concerts in order to entertain you, the fan. If you have an oshi you are willing to support, she will do her best! That man who slashed Ricchan and Annin is not a fan of AKB48 nor does he support the idols; he is an unemployed man down on his luck who took his frustrations out on the innocent. Thus, he single-handedly tarnished the name of AKB48 and made every fan suffer because of it.
As someone who has never been to Japan, I have never experienced the handshake event and only know what it is like through the descriptions of friends who have gone to Japan to see AKB48. But one day I will save up enough to visit Japan and visit some of my favorite members I am willing to support until they graduate: Minegishi Minami, Shiroma Miru, Wada Maaya, and Murashige Anna just to name a few. Even with the new precautionary measures, those measures will not stop me from visiting Miichan during a handshake event and ask her how many caps she has collected, for example. Heck, having 2-shots with Miichan would be an amazing experience as well.
The handshake event will never die because of the actions of one man. He may have forced management to increase security, but as long as AKB48 stands, so does the concept of “idols you can meet”.