The below article contains references to sexual abuse and child abuse.
Talent agency Johnny & Associates president Noriyuki Higashiyama announced on Monday at a press conference in Tokyo that the agency will change its name to Smile Up starting on October 17, as part of the company’s “vision” to earn back fans’ trust.
Smile Up will be responsible for handling the compensation measures for sexual abuse victims of the agency’s late founder Johnny Kitagawa, and will start that process in November. The company will shut down after the compensation measures are completed. The agency will establish a separate new entity to oversee talent management operations, and will announce that name at a later date. Members of the Johnny’s fan club will decide on the name.
Higashiyama had previously stated last month when the agency publicly admitted for the first time that Kitagawa did sexually abuse a large number of aspiring pop star teenagers from the 1970s to 2010s that the company would not change its name.
At the press conference last month, then-president Julie Keiko Fujishima stated she was retiring as president, but will remain the representative director and owner of the company. The agency stated it is taking measures to compensate for the damage caused and prevent reoccurrences.
After the September press conference, sponsors in Japan announced they would not renew contracts with Johnny’s, or indicated they would disassociate themselves from the agency. More recently, NHK stated last week that it will “not make new requests to entertainers from … [the agency] to perform in its programs for the time being.” This policy will extend to the popular New Year’s Eve music program Kohaku Uta Gassen.
Meanwhile more alleged victims have recently come forward with stories of abuse, including former Kis-My-Ft2 member Kyohei Iida. Update: Kyodo News reported that Higashiyama said during the press conference that the committee established to oversee the compensation measures has “so far received consultations from 478 sex abuse victims, with 325 of them seeking compensation.”
March BBC Report Leads to External Probe
On March 7, the BBC released an hour-long documentary titled Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop, which detailed “a long history of allegations of sexual abuse, made by boys in [Kitagawa’s] agency” and why “the Japanese media remained largely silent.”
On April 12, Kauan Okamoto, a Japanese-Brazilian singer and songwriter, held a press conference and claimed Kitagawa abused him about 15 to 20 times between 2012-2016 when he was still a member of the agency, and said he knew at least three other people who had also been abused.
After Okamoto’s press conference, a group of fans and idols held a press conference on May 11 stating they had sent a petition to Johnny & Associates calling on the company to apologize and launch an investigation.
An external probe set up in late May to investigate Kitagawa concluded in August that Kitagawa sexually abused members of the agency for decades, and that the agency had covered up Kitagawa’s behavior. Kitagawa’s family members had allegedly known what he was doing and did not do anything to stop him.
Kitagawa’s Death and Past Allegations
Kitagawa passed away at 87 in July 2019 due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage (a form of stroke). Fujishima then became president in September 2019.
Kitagawa founded Johnny & Associates in 1962 after establishing the male idol group Johnnys. Johnny & Associates went on to establish and manage many male idol groups such as SMAP, Arashi, Tokio, KinKi Kids, V6, KAT-TUN, and Hey! Say! JUMP. The members of idol groups under the management of Johnny & Associates are collectively known as “Johnny’s.”
Kitagawa previously faced allegations of sexual misconduct during his career. The Shukan Bunshun magazine published 14-week expose in 1999 detailing accusations of child abuse and sexual exploitation. However, the accusations never resulted in formal criminal charges. Kitagawa and Johnny & Associates sued the magazine, and the magazine lost the first trial in March 2002. However, the magazine effectively won its Tokyo High Court appeal in July 2003. The High Court’s decision stated the alleged victims’ testimonies were “generally consistent” and “specific, frank, and detailed.” The decision also stated Kitagawa had “no concrete counterargument or rebuttal evidence.”
Update: Added in more details from Kyodo News. Thanks, AiddonValentine.
Sources: Nikkei Asia (Alice French), The Japan Times (Karin Kaneko, Kanako Takahara)