Japanese pop stars go global with cafe

Japan's most wildly popular all-girl pop band has opened its first cafe outside its home market.

Three members of AKB48 were on hand Saturday to open the cafe that bears their name on Singapore's famous Orchard Road, with Maria Abe, Haruka Shimazaki and Miyu Takeuchi meeting with fans and handing out gifts to diners.

The cafe can seat 60 and is designed as a replica of the band's theater in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. The venue will also stage exclusive screenings of the band's new videos and patrons will be able to meet their idols when they are visiting Singapore.

The menu is described as modern Japanese fusion and is expected to feature as many as 70 dishes when it is fully rolled out.

In the future, the 58 members of the band - who are split into four different teams and currently hold the Guinness World Record for being the pop group with the greatest number of members - will also contribute their own favorite recipes that will be added to the menu.

Worldwide music-themed restaurant chain Hard Rock Café set up its location in Singapore in 1990, while the fast food chicken chain Kenny Rogers Roasters, which bears the name of the American country singer, has several outlets in the city-state.

AKB48 are at the forefront of Japan's efforts to promote its "soft culture" exports, which also include animated movies, fashion, art and manga, and the opening of the cafe in Singapore heralds a new campaign to further raise the profile of Japan's entertainment-sector exports.

The group is not entirely without controversy, however, as their management was forced to admit last week that one of AKB48's young singers does not even exist.

Aimi Eguchi has a personal "profile" on the group's website and has appeared in television and magazine adverts in Japan for confectionary company Ezaki Glico - until fans noticed an uncanny similarity with some of the other singers in the group.

Instead of being a 16-year-old up-and-coming starlet from Saitama Prefecture, Eguchi has been unmasked as a computer-generated composite of the best facial features of other members of the group.

The management team behind the group has turned all the teenagers of the group into media stars in Japan, with the group recently releasing an album that sold 1 million copies immediately after its release.

Older members who "graduate" from the group have gone on to careers in modelling and movie roles, their places taken by fresh-faced newcomers.

The ambition now appears to be to take that recipe for success overseas and to broaden the group's appeal on a global stage.

AKB48 Singapore: http://www.akb48.com.sg/