Japan's long-running, all-male pop group SMAP to break up

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TOKYO (AP) — The on-again, off-again breakup of an all-male Japanese pop group with a strong following in much of Asia is back on: The five members of SMAP will go their separate ways at the end of this year, after performing together for more than two decades.

The group's agency, Johnny & Associates, announced Sunday that SMAP would disband, according to Japanese media reports. The agency said its members would focus on their solo careers, Kyodo News service reported.

A possible split was widely rumored in January, until the group's members made an unusual television appearance to say they would stay together and apologized for causing concern among their fans.

Johnny & Associates said that it had recently proposed the band take a hiatus, but that some members wanted to break up for good, according to the media reports.

"We judged it difficult for them to continue activities as a group," Johnny & Associates said, according to Kyodo.

SMAP, which stands for "Sports Music Assemble People," was formed in 1988 as a six-person teenage boy band. Its first CD came out in 1991, and the group surged to stardom with choreographed singing and dancing.

SMAP's members now range in age from 39 to 43, and it remains a popular group that is a staple of entertainment shows and commercials. Each member has also performed individually in variety shows and films.

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