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Japan taps pop idols to sell bonds: reports
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) May 25, 2012


Japan's cash-strapped government is turning to wildly popular music group AKB48 to help it sell government bonds, as interest in the low-yield paper wanes, reports said Friday.

The all-female pop group will headline a summer campaign for "reconstruction bonds" aimed at financing projects in regions hammered by last year's quake-tsunami disaster, the Wall Street Journal said, citing an unnamed source.

AKB48, one of the world's highest-grossing acts with more than $200 million in CD and DVD sales last year, are a phenomenon in Japan and across Asia, with members appearing in commercials for everything from chocolate to mobile phones.

The debt campaign will see AKB48 -- comprising about 90 performers, ranging in age from early teens to mid-20s -- joined by sumo wrestling's champion Hakuho and female football star Homare Sawa, Japan's Jiji press agency reported.

The group's bubblegum pop and synchronised dancing has proved a huge hit with pre-pubescent girls.

Running the gamut from girl-next-door to sultry temptress, the band also has a substantial male following -- many of whom are older -- who support a vast merchandising industry.

However it stirred controversy after a commercial aired in March showing group members passing bite-sized candies seductively from mouth-to-mouth, sparking cries it promoted homosexuality.

The finance ministry has previously relied on celebrities to push Japan's government bonds, with a 2010 campaign suggesting that public debt-buying men may attract the opposite sex.

Japan has the industrialised world's worst public debt, amounting to more than twice its gross domestic product -- topping hard-hit eurozone countries including Greece, which have drawn fire from foreign investors over their fiscal management.

But the yield, or interest rate, on Japan's bonds is low with over 95 percent of the national debt held by long-term, domestic investors.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year bond stood at just 0.880 percent on Friday, a relatively unattractive return.

AKB48 have also promoted the government's suicide prevention programme and appeared in a farm ministry rice campaign.

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