The circumstances surrounding the near breakup of SMAP underlined the idol group's sustained popularity, as evidenced by exceptional TV ratings, the apparent overloading of Twitter's servers and the fact that it drew comment from the prime minister.

"The group will remain intact in response to many fans' wishes, which is good," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during Tuesday's session of the Upper House Budget Committee. "As is the case in the world of politics, I presume there are many issues (that must be overcome) for a group to continue for many years."

SMAP fans let out a collective sigh of relief Monday night when the veteran boy band announced plans to stick together amid speculation that they were on the verge of breaking up.