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Naked, drunk and incoherent in Tokyo

Analysis: Japan enjoys its first celebrity scandal of 2009. Enter the morality police.

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi leaves a news conference in Tokyo on Apr. 24, 2009. Kusanagi, a member of the pop group Smap, was arrested last month on charges of public indecency after police found him naked and screaming in a Tokyo park. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)

TOKYO — Just a quarter of the way into 2009, Japan already has its celebrity scandal of the year.

The domestic media frenzy surrounding the arrest of Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, a member of the pop phenomenon Smap (Sports Music Assemble People), was such that it merited coverage in countries where almost everyone will have stopped to think, “Tsuyoshi who?”

But the almost comical circumstances surrounding his exploits late last month have become secondary to the fallout that the 34-year-old has had to endure at the hands of Japan’s self-appointed moral guardians.

Late last week, good sense briefly reigned when prosecutors decided not to press charges against Kusanagi after he was found naked by police officers in a Tokyo park in the early hours of April 23.

His prodigious beer and shochu consumption earlier the same night meant most of the details were lost forever in an alcoholic haze. What we do know is that, on being approached by officers, he asked them: “What’s so wrong with being naked?”

Kusanagi had, admittedly, woken nearby residents with his loud and incoherent ramblings, but beyond that, this was a case of a young man who had overindulged and deeply regretted it.

The Japanese public, both shocked and amused that the “quiet one” of the five 30-somethings who make up Smap — a band that has dominated music and TV variety programmes for almost two decades — refused to condemn their fallen idol. Almost to a man, besuited salarymen interviewed on Tokyo’s streets laughed off Kusanagi’s moment of madness, as if they were silently recalling sake-fuelled transgressions of their own.

TV reviewer Wm Penn, writing in the the Daily Yomiuri, described it as “the most widely watched drama” of the week, but asked, “Was it really such a big deal?”

Corporate and political Japan, on the other hand, showed itself to be woefully out of step with the man and woman on the Tokyo omnibus. In the 10 days since his arrest Kusanagi, who once commanded a reported 40 million yen ($405,000) per commercial appearance, has been deserted by his erstwhile sponsors.

Toyota, Procter and Gamble and other firms cancelled advertisements in which he appeared, while broadcasters said they were “reviewing” the future of a host of shows featuring Smap, including variety and cooking programs watched by millions on prime time TV.