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China Halts Ticket Sales For SMAP Concert: Political Move Or Thinking Too Much?

The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Real Time blog featured an interesting post today regarding what is slated to be J-Pop juggernauts SMAP first concert in Shanghai. Ticket sales for the concerts have been put on hold and one Singapore-based news outlets says the shows themselves have been canceled entirely. The reason for the move? Speculation centers on the recent spat between China and Japan over Japanese authorities arresting the crew of a fishing boat near disputed islands.

Though sort of ridiculous at first glance…picture a European nation deciding to stick it to America during the rise of the Iraq war by not letting the Backstreet Boys perform…the theory starts making a whole lot of sense when you couple it with China’s reaction to a scheduled visit by a group of Japanese youth to the Shanghai World Expo. Plus, to state it bluntly…China’s pissed about this incident. News reports here in Japan reported on various anti-Japanese protests raging in China, not to mention the head-butting between politicians and the cryptic remarks. Factor in the element of China now being the bonafide power in the region and it makes for high drama.

The Shanghai World Expo seems to have generated a lot of entertainment-based tension between the two nations this year. Japan took offense to the expo’s official theme song, which sounded like a blatant ripoff of an old Maya Okamoto number. This led to Okamoto performing her song on Music Station, a move that seemed like a bit of a jab at China. In June, China canceled ANOTHER SMAP show, this one happening at the Expo, citing security reasons caused by the mass influx of fans.

And now this. Though they might be reaching the last stretch of their dominance, SMAP still remain a massive J-Pop draw, and stand as one of the more internationally known acts to come out of Japan (Arashi, the heirs-apparent to the pop throne, aren’t quite there…yet). As the first cancellation attests to, SMAP would have drawn a huge crowd. This also strikes a big blow to one of Japan’s bigger pushes as of late – in June, the Manufacturing Industries Bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (deep breath) established a program to promote “cultural industries.” This “Cool Japan” project hoped to boost the nation’s economy by making the country’s cultural products – from anime to movies to fashion to music – more known around the world. Now China has helped put a stop to arguably the country’s biggest musical moneymaker. China might not be the world but it is at the very least the future of Asia and not getting the chance to sell Japanese cultural exports there stings. Just ask the NBA…the future goes through China.