I don’t watch television so often, so it might be a shame that I did not know much about the boy band SMAP. However, I came to realize how influential they are as an iconic idol group through their engagement in the activities to promote Tokyo Paralympic games in 2020.
In May 2015, The Nippon Foundation opened The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center (the “Support Center”), which provides 10 billion yen through 2021 to support para sports leagues and help para-athletes prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The SMAP members were earnestly supporting the Support Center’s activities. When the Support Center organized the Para-Ekiden relay race in November 2015 at Komazawa Olympic Park in Tokyo, each of the five SMAP members participated enthusiastically for the demonstration of wheelchair basketball and blind soccer, which stimulated the excitement and passion for Paralympics. During these several days, the event went so well that more than ten thousand of admission tickets were sold out.
At the end of 2016, however, SMAP was disbanded. Three of its five members--Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori−left the talent agency giant Johnny & Associates Inc. in September 2017. Nevertheless, the trio continued to be the special supporters for the Support Center as active as they used to be as SMAP members. That is the reason why they were appointed as the special ambassadors by International Paralympic Committee in July 2018. Thanks to their hard work, the Support Center and The Nippon Foundation received many encouraging letters from their fans. Without their contribution, the Paralympics would not have reached such a high level of recognition.
But something incomprehensible, something that I could not understand happened. These three members, who should be proud of their huge national popularity, have disappeared from the television programs.
After their contract with the Johnny & Associates finished in September 2017, their regular television appearances have been cut back to almost zero except for commercials. This has aroused the suspicions that the powerful Johnny and Associates pressured or even threatened Japanese commercial broadcasters not to have the trio appeared on their television programs, or else other artists will not appear on their shows.
Television stations usually advocates a golden rule of “freedom of press”. But I am disappointed with their intentions that they only care about how the dominant talent agency feels rather than the importance of a national event like Tokyo Paralympics. According to a press report, Japan Fair Trade Commission has warned Johnny & Associates that their practices could lead to violation of the Anti-monopoly Law regarding television appearances by three former SMAP members.
Mr. Koji Kato, the MC of Nippon TV’s morning show “Sukkiri,” dared to make a comment in the program on July 18. He said, “Not just Johnny & Associates, it is well known in the Japanese entertainment business. The audience might have noticed that some artists who became independent from major agencies have not appeared on television shows for several years.” He continued, “It seems natural in the entertainment world and the television history, but some people might think that this sounds ridiculous in the modern times. Hope this will trigger some changes.” (extracted from Sankei Shimbun issued on July 19)
Television stations will do whatever possible to raise their viewership ratings even for 1%. It is abnormal that they do not invite the ultra-popular SMAP members on their shows for as long as two years. If Japan Fair Trade Commission confirms that there could be violation of the Anti-monopoly Law by the powerful agency, the television stations should humbly admit this fact. For the success of Tokyo Paralympic Games, I hope that television stations will let the three ex-SMAP members return and appear on their shows again.