JE politics: Team I or Team J?

The original title of this post was: “Team S or Team A?” If you’re a JE fan or watcher, it won’t take long to guess what S and A stand for, or even the meaning behind Team I or Team J. But I didn’t want this to be a SMAP vs Arashi post, because while they are the primary talents that are caught in the power struggle within Johnny’s, it’s not really about them. Heck, it’s not even about Iijima or Julie, but more about the old man himself, Uncle Johnny.


It would have been foolhardy to think that the rivalry between the two camps within JE has subsided given the lack of news but it’s just simmering below the surface and never cooled down. Now, it’s boiled over again through the music shows battle between NTV and TBS. It’s not just a mere network war but observers are reading deeper into it because NTV’s 12-hour music special will be hosted by Sakurai Sho of Arashi while TBS’s 13-hour program will be hosted by Nakai-san of SMAP. In other words, it’s not just NTV vs TBS or Sho vs Nakai but Arashi vs SMAP, which is tantamount to Julie vs Iijima again.

Politics exist not only in the political world, but in business, entertainment and every day life. We have office politics. We have family politics. We have company politics. You don’t need to be a politician to get involved or get caught in it. It sucks but it’s a reality and what’s happening in JE is not unique.

However, since it involves my favorite pop idol group, I feel bad. I like SMAP. But I love Arashi. Unlike Sakumoto who can’t answer whether it’s like or love (I just have to insert that), I know the difference between liking and loving. And while it saddens me that Arashi is caught in this, it scares me more how the outcome of the power struggle between Iijima and Julie could affect them.

In an ideal world, hard work is enough to get you the credit and success that you deserve. You don’t need connections, you don’t have to play politics. You just work hard and you’ll get your due recognition.

Unfortunately, that is not how it works in the real world. No matter how hard Arashi work, if they don’t have the right people to back them up, the right connections to open doors for them, they would still be languishing in the late night variety slot doing crazy experiments and pranking people on the streets, maybe, release a single here and there, but never making it to the top of Oricon. Lucky if they even get a second lead role in a drama. A concert at the Kokuritsu? Forget it.

But they had people who believed in them, who pushed them, who recognized their talents. It was their hard work coupled with support from key players in the industry that brought them to where they are now. It is indeed sad that they are caught in this power struggle. But you know what’s even sadder? It’s because Arashi, like SMAP, are being used as pawns–by Iijima, Julie, the TV networks and, yes, Uncle Johnny. At the end of the day, it is just business.

It would be interesting to see the psychology behind the paradox that is Johnny Kitagawa. And no, I don’t mean the allegations against him and the fact that he only grooms male idols. Let’s not even go there. I’m merely curious on how you allow infighting that has turned vicious to happen within your business empire. True, SMAP practically built JE on their backs but TOKIO, V6, KATTUN and all the others have been making their contribution throughout the years, especially with–and let’s face this–SMAP’s popularity waning.

This is a fact that even my male Japanese aniki-colleague-friend said (and undoubtedly amused me no end) when I lamented on how international fans don’t have a chance at getting tickets to Arashi’s concert:

“You can never get tickets for Arashi’s concert even in Japan. Meanwhile,  popularity of SMAP is going down and it becomes less difficult to purchase tickets for their concerts.”

(By the way, my colleague has a daughter who is a fan of Arashi; her ichiban is Sho.)

No doubt that Arashi are the golden boys of JE at the moment. But that’s just how it is. It was SMAP’s era before, it’s Arashi’s era now. Should there instead be a healthy evolution within JE? Just like how in an ordinary company, the juniors take over the seniors, who move on to bigger responsibilities and higher positions. So why let things go to this extent?

The thing is, Johnny is a monopoly when it comes to male idols in Japan. He has mastered the fangirl market. It works for him that there are two camps in JE. Divide and conquer, right? Let the networks fight. He’s not losing money, isn’t he? SMAP and Arashi are under him, plus a whole lot of other bankable male stars in Japan. Let Iijima and Julie fight. It benefits him more because the more the two women push for their talents, the more business it means for JE. What’s even more vexing, Johnny has not helped the situation at all. In fact, he has worsened it and considering what an astute businessman he is, there has to be something in him praising Julie previously then shifting gears towards Iijima. Why keep everybody guessing on who will succeed him? But still, it’s common sense to think that if this infighting was destructive to his company, he would have put a stop to it already and told the two women to shut up and perhaps exile them to a hell that has no male idols in it.  For all we know, it’s not even Iijima or Julie who will take over. Please, let it be Higashiyama senpai., right @tj_watts? Who knows, Johnny is even enjoying this little side show. Why not? He’s the one who keeps on pushing the players forward like chess pieces and stirring stories that Psycho Cyzo Woman and Arama easily jump on. Come to think of it, he’s the one power-tripping by pitting his niece against the SMAP manager. That way, he preserves his own power and at the end of the day, he’s the one laughing his way to the bank.

But my goodness, Johnny is already 81 years old. Unless he has discovered the elixir of youth, or is a relative of Edward Cullen, he can’t be around forever. He doesn’t want his legacy to be the destruction of his business empire through the political chess game he has played for so long, does he? For sure, he won’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, but there has to be a counterpart award in the fandom world if he puts a stop to this circus already.

Side note to this post, while I was researching on the TV networks in Japan, I discovered that they are tied up with major newspapers. This may be old news to some but still interesting for me as someone who works in the media industry:

TV Asahi – Asahi Shimbun
TBS – Mainichi Shimbun
NTV – The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fuji TV – Sankei Shimbun
TV Tokyo – Nikkei Shimbun

Among the networks, TBS (whose investors include Rakuten, Sumitomo and Bic Camera), is the biggest earner followed by NTV, Fuji TV and Asahi. In terms of newspapers though, Yomiuri has the biggest circulation (an astounding 10 million in an era of new media) followed by Asahi. (Something has to be said indeed about newspaper readership, not to mention album sales, in Japan that remain high compared to the rest of the world that has to compete with free online content and illegal music downloads.)

My conclusion? Johnny does not own Japan though sometimes it feels like it. Peace.


No rating for this post as I’m in no mood for tea. Can I have Kirin Green Label instead, please?


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8 thoughts on “JE politics: Team I or Team J?

  1. I honestly didn’t know anything was this bad but this is why I stay out of the know. This way, I can love SMAP and Sho, and like other Johnny boys, freely without distraction.
    But the issues are like the conundrum of art imitating life.


  2. Ahh, interesting. I tend to avoid digging into politics, but one can never escape it, eh?
    I am half afraid of and half very interested in what will happen once Johnny Kitagawa is no longer controlling JE.

    Thank you for your posts ❤


  3. Hello! I’m currently reading all your posts and it’s VERY interesting! You put words on all the subjects I want to write about – but i’m so bad at writing, unfortunately, even more in english because i’m french.
    Personally, I love SMAP as much as I love Arashi, and that “battle” in the agency really pisses me off. Well, you explained it very well here and… I’ll have some BLACK tea please xD.

    By the way, i don’t know if it’s intentional or not but in the sentence at the top of your blog, from Le Petit Prince, the first word “L’essential” doesn’t exist in french. it’s “L’essentiel” ^^’. Humm, i shouldn’t saying that since my comment must be full of mistakes xD. Sorry.


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