(Actually written on March 26th. Sorry for the delay)

After observing Japanese television these last 2 months, I have learned an important fact: No one in the Japanese entertainment industry is a match for the juggernaut that is SMAP. Believe it or not, SMAP is a boy band. Their name stands for Sports Music Assemble People. Neither one of these facts will help you to understand why SMAP is so big in Japan. Honestly, I don’t know that anyone can explain it, yet it’s true that you can turn on almost any channel at any time and you will see at least one member of SMAP. They sing, act in TV dramas and films, lend voices to anime characters, do commercials, host variety shows, and participate on various game shows. They are EVERYWHERE. They have this one variety show called “SMAP x SMAP”, and a segment of it is “Bistro SMAP.” During this segment, they don chef’s hats and cook for guest stars. Cameron Diaz, Madonna and Will Smith have all appeared on the show, so you know it’s fairly popular here. They also parody various TV shows (many of them their own) and sing with guest stars on their show. Last night, they sang with pop group has-beens Toto, known for such 80’s classics as “Rosanna” and “Africa” . It was one of their more pathetic episodes.

The thing that makes them different from U.S. products like Backstreet Boys and N’Sync is that they have been wildly successful both together and in pursuing their own projects, without having to resort to “reality” shows like “Nick & Jessica.” You never see them on the news because of a “wardrobe malfunction” or a drunken brawl (though I read that one of the member was involved in a “traffic altercation” some years ago and was banned from public appearances with the group for a short time). I have no idea what they are really like, but they seem like the nicest bunch of guys you’d ever meet. I assume they’re funny, because there seems to be a lot of laughing on their variety shows. They’re not all great singers (maybe only 2 of them are pretty good, 2 are so-so, and 1 should just have his mic shut off), but they’re determined and sincere. I guess that gets you pretty far here, because people keep buying their CDs and watching their shows.

Another note about Japanese TV is that is sometimes throws me off when I see Amaerican stars on commercials. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Tommy Lee Jones and Orlando Bloom are all currently in TV commercials here. And Tommy Lee Jones’ face can be seen frowning from many drink vending machines around town, as he is the spokesmodel for Boss beverages. The first time I saw Brad Pitt in a commercial, I didn’t realize it was him until the commercial was over. I had to think for a second and remember where I was. Alright, and I know you’re wondering what my reaction was to the Orlando Bloom commercials. He does commercials for a product line called UNO. One commercial is for hair wax, and the other is for face wash. I saw the hair wax one first when I was half-asleep and thought I was dreaming. I hate to admit it, but he’s even a bad commercial actor, and I don’t feel the slightest inclinaiton to buy UNO products.