Johnny Kitagawa: J-pop agency boss resigns over predator's abuse

Johnny Kitagawa: J-pop agency boss resigns over predator’s abuse

Johnny Kitagawa: J-pop agency boss resigns over predator’s abuse

By Shaimaa Khalil & Derek Cai

in Tokyo and Singapore

The boss of Japan’s biggest pop talent agency has resigned after finally admitting the sexual abuse committed by its late founder, Johnny Kitagawa.

Julie Fujishima resigned from Johnny and Associates on Thursday during a public apology to her uncle’s victims.

Her departure comes a week after investigators found Kitagawa abused hundreds of boys and young men over six decades, as head of the boyband agency.

Johnny Kitagawa died in 2019, having always denied wrongdoing. He never faced charges.

On Thursday, his niece and outgoing chief executive Ms Fujishima acknowledged his abuse for the first time.

“Both the agency itself and I myself as a person recognise that sex abuse by Johnny Kitagawa took place,” she said.

“I apologise to his victims from the bottom of my heart.”

Local media showed some of the victims watching the news conference, some looking visibly angry.

At a news conference in Tokyo after Ms Fujishima spoke, some of Kitagawa’s victims said they thought her remarks had been sincere and had helped them – but there was a long way to go.

Johnny"s Sexual Assault Victims Association representative Junya Hiramoto (R) speaks during a press conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Japan, 07 September 2023.

“I think she conveyed straight to us a message including talk of assistance, that was well prepared in her own words and not just read from a script,” Junya Hiramoto, head of Johnny’s Sexual Assault Victims’ Association, said.

Fellow association member Yukihiro Oshima said: “I think they did apologise sincerely – but it doesn’t mean that this has healed me. Out of 100, I’d say it has made a 10% difference.”

Another man said he’d nothing to be ashamed of. “I’ve learned that if you decide to act, you can change things. We don’t have to walk looking down – we can look forward.”

The scandal is parallel in its scale and impact on the industry to that of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein who was convicted of rape and sexual assault.

Kitagawa was arguably the most influential and powerful figure in Japan’s entertainment industry. His agency was the gateway to stardom for many young men through the years.

Several victims told the BBC’s documentary Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop that they thought their careers would be harmed if they did not comply with Kitagawa’s sexual demands.

Julie Fujishima (R) resigns in sex abuse scandal, names Japanese star Noriyuki Higashiyama (L) as new chief of J-pop talent agency

Rumours and some media reports of his abuse had been known for years, but no concrete action was taken.

The pop mogul never faced criminal prosecution and continued recruiting and training teenage boys until his death four years ago, at the age of 87.

His death was a national event, and even the prime minister at the time sent condolences.

And even though some of the allegations were proven in a civil court when he was alive, Kitagawa successfully sued for defamation on at least one occasion. Most mainstream Japanese media also did not cover the allegations for decades, prompting accusations of an industry cover-up.

Then in March, the BBC’s investigation detailing Kitagawa’s abuse was aired, sparking discussion across Japan and calls for a full investigation. Thousands of J-pop fans also signed a petition lobbying for an inquiry into the agency.

The documentary detailed allegations from victims who worked for the all-male agency when they were teenagers. It showed a pattern of exploitation, with the abuse taking place at Kitagawa’s luxury homes, and often witnessed by other boys.

The BBC’s coverage compelled more victims to come forward, including ex-pop star Kauan Okamoto who said that he had been abused by Kitagawa for four years, from the age of 15.

Public pressure led to the agency then launching its own independent investigation. The panel, composed of Japan’s former prosecutor general Makoto Hayashi, a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist, interviewed 41 people, including 23 victims as well as Ms Fujishima.

In the final report released last week, they found Kitagawa started sexually abusing boys in the 1950s, through the 1960s when Johnny and Associates was set up, until the 2010s.

They also found that the agency’s family management had allowed the abuse to persist for decades. Investigators said Ms Fujishima – a long-time executive in the company – failed to address the allegations despite her knowledge of them

Ms Fujishima had initially been against an independent investigation. In May, she apologised to victims but stopped short of saying individual allegations were true, and claimed not to have known about her uncle’s actions at the time.

On Thursday, she named as her successor Noriyuki Higashiyama, a household television name in Japan. The 56-year-old was also one of the first talents recruited by Johnny and Associates.

Mr Higashiyama said he had never been a victim of Kitagawa’s abuse but had been aware of the rumours.

“I couldn’t, and didn’t, do anything about it,” he told the news conference.

He also acknowledged public calls for the agency’s name to be changed- but said no immediate action would be taken.

There was talk at the press conference of structural change and many observers believe the organisation is likely to make amends – but it’s unclear what that change would look like and how the agency’s talents would be managed and protected.

There are also big questions about the future of Johnny and Associates as a brand that has been synonymous with fame and glamour, and which has now been so badly and so publicly disgraced.

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