The new boss of disgraced Japanese talent management agency Johnny & Associates, Noriyuki Higashiyama, gave less than compelling responses last week when challenged about allegations of abuse that have been made against him personally.
Higashiyama has been given the job of “dismantling and restarting” the business after it finally admitted, after decades of denial, that its late founder Johnny Kitagawa prolifically abused boys that worked with the company.
That admission followed an independent investigation into the numerous claims of sexual abuse that had been made against Kitagawa over the years, which was in turn prompted by a BBC documentary earlier this year.
That programme put the spotlight back on all the allegations, well known within but extensively ignored by the Japanese music industry.
The investigation concluded 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, who was President of the company, should step down.
She confirmed she was doing just that last week, with Higashiyama – who, for 35 years until 2020, was a member of the Johnnys-managed group Shonentai – being announced as the new boss of the company.
However, at a press conference to formally announce those changes, journalists asked Higashiyama about allegations that have been made against him personally.
Those include that, in the past, he bullied younger performers allied with Johnny & Associates, and that he had massaged the crotches of boys, exposed his genitals and told them to “eat my sausage”.
According to the BBC, he replied: “I don’t remember clearly. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. I have trouble remembering”. He did admit, however, that he may have done things as a teenager and in his 20s that he would not do now.
He also confirmed that he was aware of the many allegations of abuse made against Kitagawa during his time working with the management firm, adding that he “couldn’t, and didn’t, do anything about it”. On the task ahead of him, he added: “It will take time to win back trust, and I am putting my life on the line for this effort”.
It remains to be seen if a company which facilitated, hid and denied the rampant sexual abuse undertaken by its founder for so long can do anything to rebuild its reputation, especially while it is still being run by people who knew about Kitagawa’s conduct for decades, had personal involvement in the business, but chose to do nothing about it.