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Music group SMAP to perform in Beijing in bid to improve Japan-China ties



BEIJING -- Popular Japanese music group SMAP will perform in Beijing on Sept. 16, the first overseas performance for the group, an event that Japanese and Chinese officials hope will improve strained relations between the two countries.

The performance will be held at Workers' Stadium in Beijing. Furthermore, on Sept, 24, female pop group AKB48 will perform at "Shanghai Japan Week," a Japan-China cultural interchange event. As next year marks the 40th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries -- relations that were destabilized when a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japan Coast Guard vessels last year -- both governments appear to be hoping that pop music stars can help mend the bilateral relationship.

According to a Chinese newspaper and other sources, SMAP will perform their song "Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana" (the only flower in the world) in Chinese before an audience of around 30,000.

It will be the first visit to China of a big Japanese music group since popular rock band GLAY performed at a concert there in 2002 and met with then President Jiang Zemin.

At a Japanese restaurant in Beijing, a poster welcoming SMAP's arrival reads in Chinese, "Stay strong Japan! Thank you China! Asia is one!"

However, despite the band's popularity, not everyone is happy.

Bao Meirong, a 25-year-old worker at the restaurant, remarked, "Even the cheapest seats are 280 yuan (about 3,400 yen). It's too expensive for me."

Formed in 1988, SMAP is very well-known in China, partly because the group's television show "SMAP x SMAP," the popular drama series "Moon Lovers" -- which features SMAP member Takuya Kimura in the leading role -- and other media featuring SMAP have been uploaded without copyright permission on Chinese video sites like Tudou and Youku.

Meanwhile, the site Weibo, which is like a Chinese version of Twitter, is overflowing with comments about SMAP such as, "It's not easy to have kept going for (over) 20 years" and "They're amazing because they can do music, variety programs, movies and dramas."

A source familiar with Japanese-Chinese diplomatic relations offered a reason for SMAP's popularity in China, saying, "The members of SMAP are handsome men who sing and dance and are also successful actors. In China, there are still few such entertainers."

However, the road to making SMAP's concert in China a reality was not a smooth one.

Originally, a SMAP performance was planned for June 2010 at the World Expo in Shanghai, but it was canceled for fear of chaos occurring if the site was overwhelmed by too many fans. The performance was planned again for October, but the maritime collisions on Sept. 7 raised diplomatic tensions, and that performance was also canceled. A performance was also planned for May of this year, but after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, it was canceled as well.

Now, despite the repeated setbacks, SMAP performing in China is set to finally become a reality. Thought to be behind the event organizers' persistence is the desire by the Japanese and Chinese governments to use SMAP as a powerful "trump card" to repair the countries' soured relations.

Other efforts by government officials to use SMAP or other pop groups to repair relations can be seen. On Sept. 15 last year, despite the fact that it was only days after the collision incident, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua showed up at a SMAP performance in Tokyo Dome, where he met with SMAP members and fans, and in May of this year, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with the members of SMAP in Tokyo, where he told them, "I wait with anticipation from my heart for your performance (in China)."

In response, this year Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa has brought up the names of SMAP and Arashi, another popular pop band, again and again in his public appearances. Last month, when he visited Qinghai Province, he gave Arashi DVDs to President Hu Jintao and first secretary of the Communist Youth League of China, Lu Hao.

In August, SMAP's Kimura held a press conference in China, where he expressed his desires for the upcoming performance, saying, "I want to express the energy of Japan (as it works to recover from the March 11 disasters)."

Source: Mainichi Japan

small shout out for the brief mention of my boys, Happy 5x12!!!
Tags: arashi, smap
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