One of the yearly highlights on New Year’s Eve in Japan is the annual song contest on TV between two opposing teams, the red team and the white team (the colors of the Japanese ‘hinomaru’ national flag). It is titled the ‘Kohaku Uta Gassen’ and can be translated as Year-end Song Festival, and it usually features all the most popular singers and musicians for that particular year. This year, Piko Taro (aka Kosaka Kazuhito), the man who became famous for singing ‘PPAP’ – Pen Pineapple Apple Pen, will feature in the song contest.
One group who will not be participating this year, despite being a regular feature on the show for many years, is the popular boy band, SMAP. After 25 years of performing together as a band, they are breaking up their quintet (there were originally six members) and going their separate ways. There doesn’t seem to be any controversy or conflict regarding their decision, simply an agreement to split up so that individual members can focus on their own solo careers and television commitments. Why is this such a big deal? SMAP has been one of the most televised and publicized bands in Japan over the last two decades, working in many genres including radio, music, film, theater, and television. Many fans are shocked.
The band, started by music producer Johnny Kitagawa, is comprised of members Shingo Katori, Masahiro Nakai, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Goro Inagaki, and Takuya Kimura. As a band, they have released 22 studio albums, 14 of which became number one albums and all their albums at least reaching the top 10. From those albums were released 55 hit singles, all reaching the top 10, and 22 of which made it to number one. One of their hits, “The One and Only Flower in the World” remains to this date the bestselling single in the 21st century (and fifth overall in Japanese recording history). The band can be proud of this, as well as having sold 35 million records (just in Japan) over the course of their musical career.
In addition to this, their weekly variety television show, SMAPxSMAP was extremely popular and often received many high ratings and critical plaudits. Their famous TV program has been running for ten years now, and always in prime-time. It is a desire to focus more on TV shows and film roles which lead to their decision to disband. But not many groups can claim to have performed for 25 years. A couple come to mind though: Begin (from Okinawa), who Mandy and I saw play live last year in December in Nagoya, B’z and pop duo Chage and Aska (one of who recently went to jail on drug charges). Even in western countries not many bands last longer than 25 years (excluding ‘comeback’ bands) – even the Beatles lasted just over a decade. Three of my favorite bands though, the Rolling Stones, KISS and AC/DC have lasted the test of time. In fact, KISS has been celebrating its 40th continuous year in 2016!
Many fans will be devastated by their favorite pop idols calling it quits, but that’s show business. There are many other Japanese acts to follow which are becoming almost as popular, including Arashi, AKB48, B’z, Baby Metal, L’Arc-en-Ciel, One Ok Rock, X Japan and many more. Coincidentally, Arashi is also a five-member boy-band created and managed and produced by Johnny Kitagawa within Johnny’s Entertainment talent agency. Another SMAP in the making? Only time will tell. They have already been performing for 16 years now, so another nine years will bring them up to the same longevity as SMAP, and they are currently the 2nd best selling boy-band in Asia. Maybe SMAP have had their day, and what better time to stop than on New Year’s Eve. Wishing everyone a happy New Year in 2017.
Cheers! Warmest regards, Chris
Japan’s Traditional Sport
Sumo is Japan’s traditional national sport and is one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. Sumo has its roots in ancient Shinto religious rites to ensure good harvests. It is believed to be at least 1500 years old. For me it is the traditional aspects and rituals of this ancient sport that really appeal. I will briefly explain about some of the more common traditions and rituals in this post.
See More by John Asano
John Asano is a web developer and freelance writer living in Gifu, Japan. Originally from Melbourne Australia, he writes for Japan Australia, a blog dedicated to Japan travel, culture, traditions and modern life in Japan as well as Japan Travel Advice, a website dedicated to travel in Japan.