Japan's Twitter crashes after boy band SMAP declares they are not breaking up

Fans of Japanese boy band SMAP breathed a sigh of relief late on Monday (Jan 18) at the news that the middle-aged heartthrobs were staying together, after their agent said they were mulling a break up.

The announcement on their weekly television show that they were not splitting prompted so much joyful Internet chatter that Japan’s Twitter network briefly crashed.

Even Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the announcement, telling a parliamentary committee: "It was good that the group responded to the wishes of many fans and decided to continue (as it is)."

He said this in response to an opposition lawmaker who asked him for his reaction during budget committee deliberations.

News last week of the possible disbandment shook Japan.

Devastated fans had called on each other to "protect" SMAP members by buying their old hit songs, in the hope it would avert a split.

SMAP, whose name stands for Sports Music Assemble People, has been together since 1988. The five members now range in age from 38 to 43.

Weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported last week that SMAP as a group produces an annual revenue of 25 billion yen (S$304 million).

The quintet carved out time on their variety show SMAPxSMAP to apologise for causing anxiety among their fans and pledged to remain an item.

Takuya Kimura, the most popular member and a veritable megastar in Japan, explained they had hastily arranged for live speeches to be injected into their taped episode, acknowledging that the group had been on the verge of a "mid-air break-up".

Member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi said: "I am relieved that we five are again together right here."

The group’s troubles were reportedly sparked by infighting between the agent in charge of SMAP and other top managers at their talent agency Johnny & Associates.

Sources: AFP, Reuters