My favourite Japanese idol group is C-ute, followed closely by Morning Musume. I came across one early C-ute music video on YouTube, and, despite not understanding a word of it, I thought is was great fun. I find it ironic that they sing of love, and yet they were not even allowed to go on dates. Perhaps dating has a different meaning in Japan. I also find it unjust and sexist that one C-ute girl got fired for going on a date (they watched a film) and yet the boy got promoted to a more senior band.
I get the impression that there is a supportive spirit instilled in Japanese children, if the lyrics of Morning Musume and the storylines of the manga I've read are anything to go by. Here in the UK (and I suspect in the US too) if you put yourself out there and really try something, you just get derision from your classmates.
As for AKB48; I've seen a video of one of their "live" performances, and I won't be becoming a fan anytime soon. To me, a live performance should be live (even if the music is on a taped backing track), rather than lip sync'd (badly at that). With the multiple franchises, constant shows, frequent handshake events and elections, on top of CD and video sales, I think AKB48 and their off-shoots are over exploiting their fan base. I know Hello Project groups have some of these aspects too, but not to the same extent. Of course, this is just my opinion, and I'm totally willing to have my mind changed.
I look forward to hearing more views from others.