This is a big election year in many parts of the world, and in Japan, one held on the night of June 6 at a jampacked Nippon Budokan in Tokyo was the talk of the town--and much of Asia, too.
Well, among J-pop fans, anyway.
Yuko Oshima was elected by fans as the most popular member of all-female pop idol group AKB48 in its fourth annual "general election."
In the poll, fans elected 16 singers for a new single.
Broadcast live across the nation on Fuji Television and on venue screens across Asia, the three-hour spectacle was full of drama, music and, of course, tears.
"I have wanted this so badly," the 23-year-old Oshima told adoring fans, estimated to be around 10,000. "Dear fans, please continue to support us."
Oshima reclaimed her position as the most popular AKB48 member after losing out last year to Atsuko Maeda. Second place this year went to Mayu Watanabe. Yuki Kashiwagi grabbed the No. 3 spot.
Oshima took 108,837 votes out of the 1,384,122 votes cast. Her victory means she will take center-stage for the popular idol group until the next general election.
Last year's winner, Maeda, has announced her plans to "graduate" from the group, meaning she will go on to do other things, and did not run in the election this year.
There were a record 237 candidates. Fans could also vote for members of AKB48's sister groups.
Shinshi Okajima, co-author of "Gurupu Aidoru Shinkaron" (Evolution of idol groups), said AKB48 had proven to be trendsetters for all-female idol groups.
"In the past, fan opinion was not a particular factor in the activities of idol groups," he said. "AKB48's general election has received a lot of attention from fans because the ranking process is so transparent."
Okajima said the general election-concept was born at the AKB48 Theater in Tokyo's Akihabara district--the capital's hub of anime and cosplay culture. The theater opened in December 2005.
Since then, the election concept to reflect fans' voices has ballooned into a nationwide phenomenon.
"It's an event that has been scaled up from what used to be held in Akihabara," said the 32-year-old Okajima, who has frequented the theater since April 2006.
Among the fans at Nippon Budokan was Hisashi Kitazawa, a 22-year-old from Mie Prefecture.
Kitazawa said he voted for Sakiko Matsui, who ranked lower than 65th in May.
"You feel a sense of empathy if you attend participatory events," he said. "You come to feel something like parental love (toward your idol) for having supported that person."
Kitazawa caught up with Matsui at a hand-shaking event last year.
"I will give you lots of votes," he told her.
"Be careful it doesn't bankrupt you," she replied.
Casting multiple ballots for Matsui didn't come cheap for Kitazawa.
He mainly relied on online auctions to obtain ballots, investing 530,000 yen ($6,700) to obtain 2,700 votes for Matsui, who moved up to 53rd spot after the general election.
Ballots were obtained by purchasing a copy of the pre-election AKB48 single "Manatsu no Sounds Good!" More than 1.74 million copies had been sold by June 3, according to Oricon Inc., a music information service company.
A third-year high school student in Tokyo said he sold two ballots for 1,000 yen each through online auctions.
"Despite being a general election, it is the rich people who can make certain which idol wins," the 17-year-old said. "It is like a shareholders' vote in which you get a greater say if you invest a larger amount. It is not a genuine election. Still, I think it is fine."
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For a video of the AKB members who ranked from 1st to 16th place in the general election, click play:
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