The golden era of Johnny & Associates has come to an end after the talent agency specializing in male J-pop idols admitted that its late founder, Johnny Kitagawa, sexually abused underage boys. It’s a drastic shift from the agency’s earlier position that the allegations of sexual abuse could do not be verified.
The scandal attracted international scrutiny following a BBC investigative documentary that interviewed victims and also detailed how the entertainment industry and local media turned a blind eye. Last month, an investigation by a United Nations team of experts found that Kitagawa abused hundreds of young boys. They criticized the agency for conducting an “insufficient” inquiry into the allegations and urged the agency for greater “transparency” and a new probe.
Johnny & Associates is facing a public relations crisis as several major Japanese companies begin to cancel commercials with talent from the agency while others plan not to renew their contracts. Kirin, Asahi, Suntory and Tokyo Marine Holdings are among those to have ended deals with the agency.
In an effort to put a stop to its reputational damage, Johnny & Associates says it will work for free by not charging management fees for advertisements and television appearances. It says all the fees it receives will also go to performers.
Last week the niece of Kitagawa, Julie Fujishima, stepped down as president, admitting to the pitfalls of a family-operated company in covering up abuse. Well known Japanese singer and actor Higashiyama Noriyuki, 56, was promoted to the top job. He vowed to “spend the rest of his life” tackling the issue and winning back public trust.
He also stressed that he was never sexually abused by Kitagawa. But he admitted to hearing rumors about the sexual abuse and felt “unable to take action” at the time.
Higashiyama’s promotion has raised eyebrows – not only for his lengthy association with the agency but also because he too faces allegations that he sexually abused junior members at the agency. During a press conference, reporters asked Higashiyama about abuse accusations published in a book. He replied that he could not recall abusing any members in the past. But he did hint at the fact that he bullied younger artists, saying that he had done things in his teens and 20s that he would not do today.
Higashiyama has framed the agency’s progress around compensation. The agency has chosen three judges to oversee the criteria and selection process for compensation.
Former J-pop idol Kauan Okamoto has spoken out about the abuse by Kitagawa. He has called for changes to the Child Abuse Prevention Law and a contact point for victims to reach out to.
Other victims are calling for the public and business sponsors to separate Johnny Kitagawa from the artists that are still with the agency in order to prevent secondary damage.
Johnny Kitagawa, known for scouting and producing chart-topping boy bands, was the most influential figure in Japan’s entertainment industry. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 87. But even after his death, his name and talent agency carried enormous power to make or break the careers of aspiring idols.
For decades it was an open secret in entertainment circles that Kitagawa sexually exploited teenage recruits of Johnny & Associates.
With Kitagawa, who actively recruited and trained teenage boys until his death, now outed as a sexual predator, the extent of the abuse will undoubtedly continue to unfold.