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Taipei drops millions on unknown Japan girl group members for promotion

TAIPEI, Taiwan --In order to promote Taipei to Japanese tourists, the city government recently spent nearly NT$7 million on inviting three members of Japanese girl group AKB48 to Taipei; however, the choice of members has been criticized by local media and the recording industry.

AKB48, the largest girl band in Japan — whose 90-plus members range from their early teens to late 20s — are selected from auditions held regularly in Japan and divided within “teams” based on age and popularity. The band finished its most recent membership popularity tournament in June.

Haruka Katayama, Maria Abe and Ayaka Kikuchi, the three members of AKB48, arrived in Taipei on Monday for a four-day trip.

The city's Department of Information and Tourism (DOIT) said the three singers will visit tourist attractions in the city and film an hourlong television show which will be broadcast in Japan this summer.

The three members signed a NT$6.9 million one-year contract with the DOIT to promote Taipei in Japan, the city government said.

The local recording industry and media have lashed out at the government for forking over such a huge amount on inviting relatively unknown band members to promote the city.

According to the tournament result, Haruka Katayama and Ayaka Kikuchi are ranked 34 and 51 respectively among the performers of AKB48, while Maria Abe is not even within the ranking.

In response to the criticism, the DOIT said that the city government has observed the three girls for a long time, noting that apart from the popularity of the three band members and their rankings in the tournament, the girls' squeaky-clean images — no negative news reports of scandals — are a part of the reason why they were chosen.

The DOIT said that even though Maria Abe is not ranked, she was nevertheless chosen to be a Japanese fashion magazine's model recently, which proves she has potential to one day be a core member of AKB48.

Japanese are the second largest origin of tourists in Taiwan, with 1.43 million Japanese traveling to Taiwan in 2012, the DOIT said, adding that the number of Japanese tourists last year increased 10.6 percent compared with the number in 2011.

The department said that 93 percent of Japanese visit Taipei during their stays in Taiwan, adding that between January and May, the number of Japanese visiting Taipei has reached 520,000 and the tourists have spent more than NT$14 billion in the city.

Over 40 percent of Japanese tourists who have traveled to Taipei would visit the city more than once, the DOIT said.

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