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By Chris Cooke | Published on Thursday 31 August 2023
An independent investigation instigated by Japanese talent management company Johnny & Associates into allegations of sexual abuse that have been made against its late founder Johnny Kitagawa has said that the firm’s leadership should accept that the abuse took place, apologise to the victims and offer them financial relief. It also advised that Kitagawa’s niece Julie Fujishima should step down as president of the business.
The damning report into the company’s handling of abuse allegations, which spanned decades, says that Fujishima’s resignation should begin an effort to “dismantle and restart” the business, with a new management team and rigid policies designed to protect artists currently signed to the company – many of whom are young boys. It also states that Fujishima has already accepted that her resignation is necessary.
Kitagawa founded Johnny & Associates in the 1960s and grew it to become one of Japan’s biggest talent agencies, operating a near monopoly when it comes to boybands in the country. He is also credited with developing the system for developing pop groups that is now prevalent in Japan and South Korea, where hopefuls are trained in singing, dancing and acting from a young age before being debuted as public-facing pop acts.
A division called Johnny Jr was launched within the company in the 1970s to carry out this training and development. The report is particularly critical of the “sloppy management” of this division, saying that – while Kitagawa’s abuse of young boys dated back to the 1950s – it significantly increased with the launch of Johnny Jr and continued through to the 2010s, aided by “neglect and concealment” by his older sister and Executive Director of the company Mary Kitagawa, who died in 2021.
Allegations against Kitagawa were common knowledge in the Japanese music industry for decades, but they generally went unreported by the country’s media – in part due to fears at the media companies that reporting on any of the allegations would result in them losing access to the steady stream of popular boybands that Johnny’s delivered.
Many of those who have now made allegations against Kitagawa also say they knew at the time that speaking out about the abuse would end the pop careers they were seeking to pursue.
Despite those pressures, in 1999 Shukan Bunshun magazine published various accusations against Kitagawa. He successfully sued for libel, although the judgement was partially overturned on appeal. There were other allegations made beyond those published by Shukan Bunshun, but the music boss was never charged with any crime.
Kitagawa died in 2019, aged 87. Allegations against him surfaced again earlier this year with the broadcast of a new BBC documentary examining the abuse claims. This prompted further victims to come forward as well as the re-evaluation of past claims in the media.
In April, Johnny & Associates said that it would conduct an internal investigation, which has now resulted in the 71 page report prepared by former prosecutor General Hayashi Makoto, psychiatrist Asukai Nozomu and clinical psychologist Saito Azusa.
Fujishima issued an apology in May to those who had come forward to tell of how they were abused while working with the company. She said in a statement that she “absolutely do[es] not tolerate these acts”.
In a later press conference, she said that she had not been aware of the abuse carried out by her uncle. Despite being appointed as director of the company in 1999 and being interviewed for the Shukan Bunshun article, she said that for many years control of the company was mainly in the hands of Mary Kitagawa, while Johnny Kitagawa’s own office directly handled the management of the company’s artists.
The new report published on behalf of Johnny & Associates follows another prepared by the United Nations earlier this month. Although looking more widely at workplace human rights in Japan, it paid particular attention to the talent agency.
“Our interactions with victims of sexual harassment involving Johnny & Associates talents have exposed deeply alarming allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving several hundreds of the company’s talents, with media companies in Japan reportedly implicated in covering up the scandal for decades”, the UN Working Group On Business And Human Rights said in a statement.
In a statement alongside the new report, Johnny & Associates said: “We sincerely apologise again for causing a lot of concern and anxiety to everyone regarding this matter”.
The company also said that it plans to hold a press conference to further discuss the findings and recommendations in the report, although has not yet indicated when this will take place.