Johnny Kitagawa’s niece apologized for the abuse her uncle committed and resigned as the president of the talent agency her uncle founded. Johnny Kitagawa was the late J-pop entrepreneur who is suspected of sexually abusing hundreds of adolescents and young men over decades.
The scandal, which fully surfaced earlier this year, has appalled the nation. Kitagawa, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 87, was the director of the most influential talent agency in Japan’s pop music industry.
Julie K. Fujishima, 57, bowed deeply as she faced reporters, and apologised for the abuses, saying she stepped down on Tuesday.
“Our office Johnny & Associates, and myself Julie Keiko Fujishima… recognize that Johnny Kitagawa did sexually abuse (the boys). I apologise to the victims from the bottom of my heart.”
Since the BBC aired a tell-all documentary in March, the national sense of outrage in Japan has borne similarities to the reactions seen in the United States and Britain after the scandals involving Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and British TV star Jimmy Savile.
As more Japanese media took up the story, lawmakers voiced outrage, while the United Nations’ human rights experts also criticised the talent agency for its handling of the allegations.
Founded by Kitagawa in 1962, Johnny & Associates has an outsized cultural presence in Japan, producing some of the most popular names in J-pop including SMAP and Arashi, both with massive fan bases across East Asia.
Fujishima named Noriyuki Higashiyama, a former member of the hit 1980s boy-band Shonentai, as the new head of the agency.
Higashiyama, 56, said he had never been a victim of the abuse or witnessed it, but had been aware of the rumours. “I couldn’t, and didn’t, do anything about it,” he said.
“It will take time to win back the lost trust, but I will devote the rest of my life to dealing with this problem.”
Calling the scandal “the most pitiful incident in human history”, Higashiyama said there had been debate, but no conclusion, as to whether the agency should change its name.
Yukihiro Ohshima, a member of the Johnny’s Sexual Assault Victims’ Association, said: “I think she acknowledged and sincerely apologised for what happened. It’s not like the emotional scars are gone but I think out of 100 points things have gotten a little easier by about 10.”
Fujishima, who is the sole owner of the company, said she would stay on as representative director until the work of compensating the victims was complete. The agency had yet to work out how that would work.
The agency’s official confirmation of Kitagawa’s conduct prompted Japan Airlines to announce that it would suspend the use of Johnny & Associates’ talent in its advertisements. Major insurer Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance also said it would consider terminating its contract with the agency.
The first media reports of Kitagawa’s abuses of boys and young men, known as Johnny’s Juniors, were carried by local tabloid Shukan Bunshun in 1999, but the scandal blew wide open this year as more victims came forward after the BBC’s report.
A victims’ group called for revisions to laws to protect children not only from abuse by a parent or guardian but other adults in positions of power. An opposition party put forward a bill, which failed to pass during the last session of parliament.
One former “Junior”, Kauan Okamoto, told a press conference in April that he had been the target of Kitagawa’s advances on as many as 20 occasions since he was 15.
“Juniors” would regularly sleep over at Kitagawa’s apartment in groups, with one or several being targeted by Kitagawa for the night, he said. On one occasion, Okamoto said he had received oral sex from Kitagawa, and cash the following day.
A report published last week by a third-party investigation team led by a former attorney general and commissioned by the agency also described similar testimony from victims.
Despite his status, Kitagawa kept a low profile in public and few photographs of him are available. He never faced criminal charges and continued recruiting teenage boys until his death.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Japan, Kitagawa was known as Johnny-san by the boys on his agency’s books. He cultivated generations of male idols and all-boy bands, a business model that has been emulated across East Asia. He holds several Guinness World Records, including for the most #1 singles produced by an individual.