Fans wept when SMAP disbanded in 2016 after almost three decades, but Goro Inagaki, embarked on a new journey with two of his fellow members of the massively popular idol group, Shingo Katori and Tsuyoshi Kusanagi.

The trio launched Atarashii Chizu (New map), a website that promotes their individual talents.

Goro, in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, shared his thoughts on what being an "idol" in the Japanese entertainment industry has meant to him and how the definition of the term has evolved during his 30-year career.

Below are excerpts of Inagaki's comments.

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The Heisei Era is ending. Looking back, I find I spent my time running through it.

The concept of what an “idol” is has changed in the past 30 years. In the 1980s, idols would perform on TV song shows. But right after we (SMAP) debuted, those programs began dying out.

Before then, no idols had done comedy skits on TV variety programs. We still sometimes do comedy on a program featuring Katori, Kusanagi and me that's available on Abema TV, a Japanese online broadcaster.

I'm honored that some people have said I was a pioneer (as an idol who did comedy). But I was just a young person working hard without having any detailed plan.

In retrospect, I might not have had high star quality. I wanted to do something really fun rather than something beautiful, and I felt laughs were needed (out there). It may not sound believable, but I don't feel I was like the character (of a prince) riding a white horse.

I feel that I have been acting up in a way I like. My being somewhat ordinary might have been highlighted as uniqueness and matched the era when diversity is valued. It was lucky for me that people enjoyed seeing me performing freely and spontaneously.

Having said that, I also have considered our fans' desires. I have always tried to share feelings with my fans and I do it even now, without going too far in a different direction from them or being complacent.

The term idol is a really complicated one. The image or interpretation of the word varies from person to person. I think it's fine to think about it freely. Some people think I'm an actor. “Singer” or “actor” are terms that can be clearly defined. Idol is not a limited word. We can be idols at any age if our fans think that we're idols.

In the past, only people under 20 could be idols, a very short period. But that tendency has changed with the times, hasn’t it? I myself felt uncomfortable in my 30s to identify myself as an idol. I wondered whether it was acceptable to use such a word to refer to myself at that age. I also felt the title was insufficient when I wanted to master just one field such as being a singer or an actor. However, when I was around 40, I came to think that it was great to be able to continue to be an idol.

We were also in the period that was suitable for being an idol, weren’t we? When we were in our teens and 20s, our fans were also in the same generation, and we were showered with attention from female fans. As a matter of course, everybody gets older and our fans are, too. But I guess they still want to let out a cry (to idols) and remain mentally young. (If we do it) both parties can stay young. That's the power of the term idol.

Recently, more and more fans who used to be young but are mothers now are attending our events with their daughters and the number of fans who span generations is increasing. I feel so happy to see those people after all this time working in the industry.

I think now the term idol is a really good one, not embarrassing at all, which probably differs from what I felt before.