Talent agency Johnny & Associates held a press conference on Thursday to announce that Julie Keiko Fujishima, the current president of the agency, is retiring as president. Fujishima also publicly admitted for the first time that the agency’s late founder Johnny Kitagawa did sexually abuse a large number of aspiring pop star teenagers from the 1970s to 2010s.
The new president will be actor, singer, and television personality Noriyuki Higashiyama. Higashiyama will retire as an actor toward the end of this year. He is the oldest active member of the agency.
Fujishima and Higashiyama stated the agency will work toward providing compensation for the victims.
An external probe set up in late May to investigate Kitagawa concluded late last month that Kitagawa sexually abused members of the agency for decades, and that the agency had covered up Kitagawa’s behavior. Kitagawa’s family members had allegedly known what he was doing and did not do anything to stop him.
The investigation team heard from 41 individuals, including former members who claimed to be victims, as well as senior staff at the company, in its investigation. The probe also revealed that other company employees committed sexual abuse. The team added that, in addition to the issues with the talent agency itself, the silence in Japan’s media industry was one of the factors that allowed Kitagawa to continue abusing victims.
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights began an investigation of the allegations of sexual abuse against Kitagawa and reported in August that hundreds of the agency’s talents were sexually exploited and abused. The investigation team also claimed that the working environment in Japanese entertainment enabled sexual predators to act with impunity.
In June, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that he would hold a ministerial meeting to address the topic of child sexual abuse, in the wake of the allegations. Meanwhile, in the same month, internal investigations by Johnny & Associates regarding the alleged abuse, spearheaded by former prosecutor Makoto Hayashi, announced its priority to address grievances from victims by providing recommendations to prevent further abuse, instead of focusing on compensation or finding fault or criminality. Julie Keiko Fujishima, the current president of Johnny’s, released a video in May in which she “express[ed] a deep apology to those who say they are victims” of sexual abuse by Johnny Kitagawa, promising management reforms in the future.
On March 7, the BBC released an hour-long documentary titled Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop, which detailed “a long history of allegations of sexual abuse, made by boys in [Kitagawa’s] agency” and why “the Japanese media remained largely silent.”
On April 12, Kauan Okamoto, a Japanese-Brazilian singer and songwriter, held a press conference and claimed Kitagawa abused him about 15 to 20 times between 2012-2016 when he was still a member of the agency, and said he knew at least three other people who had also been abused. Okamoto stated in the conference, “I hope everyone will come forward because it is an outrageous number of victims.” Okamoto was a part of the backup boys’ group Johnny’s Jr.
After Okamoto’s press conference, a group of fans and idols held a press conference on May 11 stating they had sent a petition to Johnny & Associates calling on the company to apologize and launch an investigation. The group had collected 16,125 names since posting the petition on Change.org on April 19.
Kitagawa’s Death and Past Allegations
Kitagawa passed away at 87 in July 2019 due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage (a form of stroke). Fujishima then became the current president in September 2019.
Kitagawa founded Johnny & Associates in 1962 after establishing the male idol group Johnnys. Johnny & Associates went on to establish and manage many male idol groups such as SMAP, Arashi, Tokio, KinKi Kids, V6, KAT-TUN, and Hey! Say! JUMP. The members of idol groups under the management of Johnny & Associates are collectively known as “Johnny’s.”
Kitagawa previously faced allegations of sexual misconduct during his career. The Shukan Bunshun magazine published 14-week expose in 1999 detailing accusations of child abuse and sexual exploitation. However, the accusations never resulted in formal criminal charges. Kitagawa and Johnny & Associates sued the magazine, and the magazine lost the first trial in March 2002. However, the magazine effectively won its Tokyo High Court appeal in July 2003. The High Court’s decision stated the alleged victims’ testimonies were “generally consistent” and “specific, frank, and detailed.” The decision also stated Kitagawa had “no concrete counterargument or rebuttal evidence.”