The head of influential J-pop talent agency Johnny & Associates Inc. stepped down after investigators said the family-held firm turned a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse by its late founder.
(Bloomberg) — The head of influential J-pop talent agency Johnny & Associates Inc. stepped down after investigators said the family-held firm turned a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse by its late founder.
The resignation of Julie Keiko Fujishima, niece of founder Johnny Kitagawa, follows an investigation which found the music impresario abused “at least hundreds of victims” between the early 1970s and mid-2010s. The investigators’ report also said the agency’s management culture, with key decisions made by family members, allowed the misconduct to continue.
“As an agency, and as an individual, I understand that there was sexual abuse by Johnny Kitagawa,” said Fujishima on Thursday, appearing before media in person for the first time to address the scandal. It was also the first time the agency confirmed abuse by Kitagawa, who built a stable of popular boy bands including Hikaru Genji, SMAP, Arashi and Sexy Zone before his death in 2019. The company’s stars for decades dominated Japan’s media and advertising industry as well as the world’s second-biggest recorded music market.
Victims have said Kitagawa preyed on them as young, aspiring performers, promising them opportunities in show business. Although weekly news magazine Shukan Bunshun ran a story about Kitagawa’s abuse in the late 1990s, he was never charged. The agency, widely known as Johnny’s, has continued to wield influence over the entertainment industry, maintaining a tight grip over access to its stars and their images.
The release of a BBC documentary in March detailing allegations against Kitagawa prompted several victims to come forward, and the ensuing uproar led the agency to issue a rare apology and agree to an independent probe. Last month, members of a UN human rights group also looked into the case and called on Japan to better protect children from sexual abuse.
Some victims, however, had earlier criticized the agency for failing to acknowledge the abuse by Kitagawa.
“With so many people speaking out, we confirm this as fact,” Fujishima said, who occasionally broke down in tears during the news conference. She added that she would remain as a director at the agency to organize help for victims.
She will be succeeded by Noriyuki Higashiyama, a former teen idol. He is the first non-family member to lead the company. The investigators’ report had blamed Fujishima’s late mother Mary Yasuko Fujishima in particular for ignoring the founder’s misconduct.
Higashiyama said he hadn’t known about the founder’s abuse, although he heard rumors.
“I had believed in Mr. Kitagawa, and hadn’t read the exposés,” he said, adding that he now understood what happened and was eager to ensure the agency had the right governance structure to prevent abuse. “It will take time to restore trust, but I will devote the rest of my life to this issue.”
Junya Hiramoto, one of the first to step forward with allegations against Kitagawa, said Fujishima’s resignation wasn’t enough and that the agency should establish a fund to help compensate victims.
“Resignation is just a performance,” said Hiramoto, now a representative of a victims’ association.
–With assistance from Go Onomitsu.
(Adds comments and photo from the news conference)
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