Japanese pop group SMAP pledge to continue as group

TOKYO — SMAP, one of the most popular and longest-lived Japanese pop groups, pledged to continue as a group Jan. 18, days after media reports that they were on the verge of breaking up, as grieving fans in Japan and other Asian countries apparently moved them.

At the outset of their TV variety show “SMAP X SMAP,” the five members appeared live, standing in a line and wearing black suits. After apologizing to fans for causing anxiety, they said they learned anew how much they are supported by fans and said they will strive to go forward together no matter what from now on. Sources at their management agency said SMAP will continue to exist.

Takuya Kimura, at center, said that “SMAP has given many people much worries and trouble since last week” when the reports emerged.

“I thought the situation, if left unattended, might lead to a midair breakup of SMAP,” said the 43-year-old member, who apparently worked to prevent the four other members from quitting their agency.

The five members appeared in public together for the first time after the reports sent shockwaves through the Japanese entertainment industry on Jan. 13, saying that Masahiro Nakai, 43, Goro Inagaki, 42, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, 41, and Shingo Katori, 38, were in talks to leave Johnny & Associates Inc., the country’s top male talent agency, which would effectively spell the end of SMAP as a group.

Only Kimura plans to stay, according to the reports. The four members’ prospective departure was attributed to internal strife involving the band’s longtime female manager, who is scheduled to retire from the agency soon.

Kusanagi said on the program that Kimura “created an opportunity (for the four other members) to apologize to Johnny-san and that’s why we are able to stand here now.” Johnny Kitagawa is the president of their agency.

Fuji Television Network, which has been broadcasting the program since 1996, changed part of the program’s content to provide time for the members to talk to the viewers about their situation.

Fans not only in Japan but also in other Asian countries were taken by surprise by the media reports and expressed their shock and disbelief on the Internet. Japanese Cabinet minister Shigeru Ishiba said at a press conference he hopes SMAP will continue as a group.

SMAP are superstars and their breakup would “compare with the breakup (in 1978) of Candies,” a Japanese female idol group of which he was a hard-core fan.

“SMAP X SMAP” is known as a program that fueled the popularity of the boy band formed in 1988, showcasing the members’ cooking, dancing, singing, acting and comedic skills.

The program would mark its 20th anniversary in April.

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