J-pop group SMAP announce their split: 7 things to know about the pop sensation

Japanese band SMAP announced that they would be separating at the end of 2016.
Japanese band SMAP announced that they would be separating at the end of 2016.PHOTO: AVEX TRAX

After performing together for more than two decades, popular J-pop group SMAP announced on Sunday (Aug 14) that they will be going their separate ways at the end of this year.

The quintet, which consist of members Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori, plan to focus on their solo careers following the split.

The all-male pop group, who have continuously dominated the Japanese music scene, is one of the nation's most popular and successful J-pop groups.

As they prepare for their bow out, here are seven things to know about the pop group sensation.

1. The five started out as back-up dancers


J-pop group SMAP (clockwise from bottom right) 
Shingo Katori, Takuya Kimura, Goro Inagaki, 
Tsuyoshi Kasanagi and Nakai Masahiro. PHOTO: AVEX TRAX

SMAP, which stands for "Sports Music Assemble People", was formed in 1988 by Japanese talent leviathan Johnny & Associates.

The five members, who are now aged between 39 and 43, made their debuts on the Japanese entertainment scene when they were about 15 years old.

Before their rise to stardom, the members of the group were back-up dancers for the then popular Japanese pop group Hikaru Genji.

SMAP's members were known as "Skate Boys" as they performed in roller skates in order to stand out from other emerging male idol groups at the time.

SMAP released their debut album in 1991.

They went on to release another 20 albums over the span of their 25-year career, garnering more than 35 million in overall record sales.

2. They are the biggest success story of talent agency Johnny & Associates

The pop group's rise to stardom propelled Johnny Kitagawa's talent agency, Johnny & Associates, to the top of the Japanese entertainment industry.

Set up in 1962, the agency takes in young teenage hopefuls and grooms them under a rigorous dancing and singing training regime. The junior members then begin their careers by first performing as back-up dancers for senior members before the agency organises them into individual pop groups.

This assembly line style of grooming pop stars is the backbone of Johnny & Associates' business model, and has successfully churned out numerous singing and dancing boy groups, with SMAP being its greatest achievement.

Kitagawa was the first to conceptualise and perfect this highly systematic and structured training method, which has since been adopted by many K-pop talent agencies, such as SM Entertainment.

The success of SMAP and Johnny Entertainment has given Kitagawa great clout in the Japanese entertainment industry.

His achievements have also been recognised on the international platform, with the Guinness World Records awarding him three titles: the most No. 1 singles produced by an individual, the most concerts produced by an individual, and the most No. 1 acts produced by an individual.

3. Their music has a global reach

SMAP's fame extends beyond Japan into South Korea and China.

The regional popularity of the boyband allowed the group the opportunity to perform and meet prominent Chinese leaders, including then Premier Wen Jiabao.

At the performance, he remarked that SMAP could "bring seeds of China-Japan friendship that take deep root and blossom in China".

A few months after the showcase, the group held a concert in Beijing that was attended by 40,000 people.

Their concert marked the first time a Japanese pop group had visited China in a decade.

As band member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi can speak fluent Korean, he has acted in various South Korean movies and television shows, and has been credited with bringing Japan closer to the hearts of South Korean fans.

4. SMAP born on a variety show

The variety television programme, called SMAP X SMAP, first aired in 1996, and was conceived as a showcase for the group. It has succeeded beyond its creators' wildest dreams and, since its debut, has consistently garnered high ratings.

The show features the group members doing comedy skits, sharing cooking tips, chatting with special guests and putting up performances.

Many local and international celebrities have been guests on the programme, including Michael Jackson, David Beckham and Mariah Carey.

5. All five members are multi-talented

Given that Johnny & Associates expects its idols to do more than sing and dance, it is no surprise that SMAP members have racked up varied resumes. Each member has appeared in films, soap operas, dramas, commercials and movies.

Masahiro Nakai, the group's front man, has been the main newscaster for the Olympic Games for the Tokyo Broadcasting System for the last five summer and winter games.

The group's youngest member, Shingo Katori, on the other hand, played a popular TV character named Shingo Mama on a weekly variety show called Sata Suma.

Because of Shingo Mama's popularity among children, Japan's Education Ministry invited Katori, in the guise of Shingo Mama to be the face of a nationwide campaign that promoted family communication from 2000 to 2001.

Arguably the most successful actor of the group is Takuya Kimura, who has starred in Japanese TV series which drew record-breaking ratings as well as international arthouse films such as Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai's 2046 (2004) and Yoji Yamada's Love And Honour ((2006).

6. SMAP originally a sextet

When SMAP first debuted in 1988, they comprised six members: the existing five members as well as Katsuyuki Mori. The latter left the band in 1996 in order to pursue a career in motorcycle racing. Since then, the group has operated as a quintet.

J-pop group V6's Masayuki Sakamoto and Tokio's Taichi Kokubun were also members of SMAP before the group was officially launched by Johnny & Associates.

7. Break-up rumours have been circulating for some time

Rumours that the landmark pop group were facing an imminent split first surfaced in January.

Many tabloids and fan blogs reported that the band members were trying to leave Johnny & Associates, which would effectively disband them for good.

It was reported that, apart from Kimura, the other four had planned to leave and follow their long-time manager Michi Iijima, who resigned from the company in January.

Iijima was believed to have fallen out with the founder's sister and vice-president, Mary Kitagawa.

The furore over the rumours eventually prompted the members to make a public apology on their variety programme, SMAP X SMAP, to dispel the rumours and reassure fans that they were planning to stay together.

The Japanese public rejoiced at the news, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He told a parliamentary committee: "It's good that the group responded to the wishes of many fans and decided to continue (as it is)."

Sources: BBC, Japan Times, Spin, Billboard, Guinness World Records