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

Source: BBC

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 “extensively” abused young idols at his boyband agency for over six decades.

A BBC documentary this year about the abuse led more victims to come forward.

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.

Kitagawa was arguably the most influential figure in Japan’s entertainment industry – his agency has held a near-monopoly on Japanese boy bands for decades.

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

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

Even though some of the allegations were proven in a civil court, Kitagawa successfully sued for defamation over the claims on at least one occasion.

The pop mogul also 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.

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 BBC 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.

In May, Ms Fujishima had expressed regret that she had become inured to the “abnormalness” of the agency’s workings.

She has 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.

“It will take time to win back the lost trust, but I will devote the rest of my life to dealing with this problem,” he said.

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