Japan pop band SMAP in rare Beijing concert

SMAP in Beijing on 14 September 2011
Image caption This is SMAP's first overseas concert, after a previous tour to Shanghai was cancelled

Japanese pop band SMAP are in China for a long-awaited concert seen as a rare chance to ease strained ties.

The five-member group are performing before a crowd of 40,000 at Beijing's Workers' Stadium.

They had been due to visit Shanghai last year but their tour was cancelled after a territorial row flared.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said she hoped the concert - SMAP's first overseas performance - would boost bilateral friendship.

It is the first visit to China by a top Japanese band for almost a decade, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

SMAP - a boy band that launched its debut single just over 20 years ago - is one of Japan's best-known groups.

Its members, who are now in their late 30s, host a weekly cookery and music show.

They have also appeared in numerous television dramas, building fan bases in both South Korea and China.

'National sentiment'

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao issued an invitation to the band in May, after previous plans were shelved.

Concerts scheduled to take place in Shanghai in September 2010 were cancelled by the Chinese organisers after Japanese coast guards arrested a Chinese trawler captain following a collision off islands that both countries claim.

SMAP had also been due to perform at the Shanghai Expo earlier that year but the concert was cancelled because of fears of over-crowding.

But this time the group have made it to China, and on Thursday they were welcomed by senior politician Tang Jiaxuan.

Band member Takuya Kimura said SMAP hoped the concert would celebrate friendship between the two sides.

And Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing held "a supportive and positive attitude" towards this kind of cultural exchange.

"We hope this will help improve national sentiment between China and Japan," she said.

The theme of the concert - which is also intended to thank China for its assistance in the wake of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami - is "Do Your Best Japan, Thank You China, Asia is One".

SMAP are said to be planning to sing at least one song in Chinese.

According to one posting on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo, the concert had attracted fans from across China.

"I am watching the concert right now. The atmosphere is lively, the fans are almost hysterical," the blogger wrote.

Ties between China and Japan remain strained by territorial rows and unresolved historical issues.

The dispute last year over the uninhabited Senkaku islands (called Diaoyu by China) led to small anti-Japanese demonstrations in several Chinese cities.

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