Japan boyband agency president resigns, admits founder’s sexual abuse for first time
TOKYO—The president of Japan’s biggest boyband agency admitted for the first time on Thursday, Sept. 7, that its late founder sexually abused young aspiring stars, as she announced her resignation.
“Both the agency itself and I myself as a person recognize that sex abuse by Johnny Kitagawa took place,” said Julie Fujishima, a niece of the accused music mogul who died in 2019.
“I apologize to his victims from the bottom of my heart,” she told a packed news conference in Tokyo while announcing she was stepping down as head of Johnny & Associates “to take responsibility.”
“I take seriously what happened,” she said.
Fujishima’s resignation came a week after an external panel published a damning report faulting her for longtime inaction.
Kitagawa, who died of a stroke aged 87 on July 9, 2019, engineered the birth of J-pop mega-groups including SMAP, TOKIO and Arashi that amassed adoring fans across Asia.
Allegations of abuse surfaced in Japanese media in 1999, but it wasn’t until early this year that they ignited full-on soul-searching, following a BBC documentary and denunciations by victims.
Fujishima, who said she had stepped down on Tuesday, named singer and actor Noriyuki Higashiyama, a veteran member of the talent agency, as her successor.
“It will take an enormous amount of time before we can regain trust,” Higashiyama said.
“I will stake the rest of my life on addressing this problem.”
Before his death, Kitagawa had successfully sued for defamation over the claims, although the verdict was partially overturned on appeal. He was never criminally charged.
A panel of experts last month released the results of its first, in-depth probe into allegations against Kitagawa, concluding his abuse dated as far back as the 1950s, even before the company was founded.
Over the years, aspiring boyband idols collectively dubbed “Johnny’s Jrs” sought his tutelage, and the panel estimated in its finding that at least “a few hundred” of them had been victimized.
The report also quoted former recruits as recalling in graphic detail how Kitagawa would allegedly perform oral sex on them, fondle them in their genitals or force his way into their beds at night.
The panel said Fujishima, a longtime executive who was named Kitagawa’s successor after his demise, had been “remiss” in her duties because she failed to probe the allegations despite her knowledge of them.
Her attitude perpetuated the leadership’s tendency to look the other way, and without her departure, a root-and-branch overhaul of the agency and its rebirth would be “extremely difficult,” the panel’s report said.
Fujishima, for her part, had offered an apology in May but denied she had known about her uncle’s predatory history.
She chalked her ignorance up to what she framed as the extremely opaque, family-run nature of the boyband empire, citing the way Kitagawa and his late sister Mary long monopolized information and the decision-making power.
“We do not believe there was no problem,” she said in May, expressing her regret that she had let herself grow inured to the “abnormalness” of the agency’s inner workings.
Her apology came after Japanese-Brazilian singer Kauan Okamoto spoke publicly of his experience of being sexually assaulted repeatedly by Kitagawa. /ra