Johnny Kitagawa: Japan’s biggest music agency apologizes for alleged sexual abuse of late founder

Hong Kong (CNN) The head of Japan’s biggest music agency has apologized for allegations of sexual abuse committed for years by its founder, the late entertainment mogul Johnny Kitagawa.

Johnny & Associates, a talent management firm known for its representation of hit bands such as SMAP, Arashi and Tokio, is facing calls for a full investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct dating back decades.

The problem was highlighted in a BBC documentary aired earlier this year. He also received new attention last month, when former J-pop star trainee Kauan Okamoto advanced allegations that he and several other young men were sexually abused by Kitagawa.

On Sunday, Johnny & Associates released a rare statement acknowledging the allegations.

“We sincerely apologize for the many problems caused by the alleged sexual abuse of our founder Johnny Kitagawa,” said Julie Fujishima, President and CEO of the company. According to Japan’s official Kyodo news agency, Fujishima is Kitagawa’s niece.

Call to a probe

The agency, however, refrained from promising an investigation.

In recent weeks, Japanese music fans have called on the company to set up an independent committee to investigate the allegations. An online petition urging the company to take action has received nearly 20,000 signatures.

Fujishima said the company decided against creating such a committee, citing advice from experts who had warned of a psychological impact on victims.

There’s also “a strong possibility that people don’t want to be interviewed in this matter,” the executive said.

Instead, the company will provide a point of contact for victims who have already come forward and wish to receive counseling services in the future, according to Fujishima.

Although she swore management would take the allegations seriously, she said it was unclear whether the individual accusations were true.

“Of course, we don’t think there was a problem,” Fujishima said in the statement. “In contrast, Johnny Kitagawa, who is the affected party, cannot comment on the charges.”

Fujishima also warned of the risk of “slander, due to speculation”, suggesting skepticism towards certain claims.

An industrial tycoon

During his long career, Kitagawa ran Japan’s biggest talent agency and was known for creating popular boy bands and launching the music and acting careers of teen idols. He has been a powerful figure in the media and entertainment industries for decades.

Dancer Yasushi Hashida (L) and singer Kauan Okamoto attend a hearing conducted by Japan’s Democratic Constitutional Party in Tokyo May 16, 2023. They discussed alleged sexual assaults by Johnny Kitagawa, who died in 2019.

This level of power made people fear losing their careers if they failed to comply with its demands, according to Okamoto, a Japanese-Brazilian singer-songwriter.

He alleged that over the course of four years, starting in 2012, when he was 15, he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Kitagawa, who died aged 87 in 2019.

Okamoto said last month he was speaking out in hopes that other alleged victims would come forward.

There have been longstanding allegations against Kitagawa. In 1999, the Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun published accounts of other young men and boys who claimed to have been sexually abused by Kitagawa. He sued the magazine for defamation and won damages, according to local media.

A Tokyo High Court partially overturned the earlier ruling in 2003, ruling that the published sexual abuse allegations were not defamatory. An appeal by Kitagawa was later dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2005.

Years later, his company responded to Okamoto’s new allegations, without going into specifics.

In a statement last month, Johnny & Associates said management had made it “our top priority” to be more transparent in how it operates and to work in a way “that evokes social trust”.

The company also said it rolled out new measures this year to “ensure strict compliance with laws and regulations without exception, by both management and employees, as well as the steps we are taking to strengthen corporate governance by consulting impartial third-party experts”. .”

Kitagawa was never charged for these allegations. He reportedly denied all charges during his lifetime.

– CNN’s Helen Regan, Sophie Jeong and Alex Stambaugh contributed to this report.

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