• Kyodo


Thousands of fans of SMAP, one of Japan’s most popular pop groups that is set to break up as the year ends, placed a newspaper advertisement on Friday pledging to keep rooting for their idols.

The eight-page ad, which included messages such as “We love SMAP forever,” was paid for through an online crowdfunding campaign that raised about ¥39 million ($334,000) by early Wednesday morning from over 12,800 fans.

The band’s planned breakup, formally announced in August, shocked fans in Japan and other parts of Asia.

The ad, which included the names of the fans, ran in the Friday morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun, a day before the group’s breakup.

SMAP, which formed in 1988, made a final appearance as a group Monday on their signature variety show, but offered no explanation as to why they are disbanding.

Ryo Sato, one of the three fans who initiated the campaign, said he was “surprised at the larger-than-expected support.”

“We would like to convey an encouraging message through the ad that we will root for SMAP in any form,” Sato, 23, said. The fundraising project ran from Dec. 20 to 28.

After the five-member group’s agency, Johnny & Associates Inc., announced the breakup, fans launched an online petition drive collecting 373,515 signatures from around the world to call on the group to stay together.

Messages of gratitude and encouragement from fans of SMAP, which stands for Sports Music Assemble People, were also carried on the newspaper’s online message board.

Over the years, the group — made up of Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori — has become a fixture in Japan’s entertainment world. They started out as six members in their teens and are now five and in their middle age.

SMAP defied stereotypes of Japanese male idol groups known for separating after a short period of time, and remained popular at home and abroad, especially in Asia.

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