Johnny Kitagawa sex scandal forces pop agency boss to quit

The niece of Johnny Kitagawa, the late J-pop mogul at the centre of a sex scandal that has shocked Japan, has stepped down as the head of the talent agency her uncle had founded.

Kitagawa, who died in 2019 aged 87, has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of boys and young men over several decades while heading the most powerful talent agency in Japan’s pop music industry.

Since the BBC aired a tell-all documentary in March, the national sense of outrage in Japan has borne similarities to the reactions seen in the United States and Britain after the scandals involving Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein and TV star Jimmy Savile.

As more Japanese media took up the story, politicians voiced outrage, while the United Nations’ human rights experts also criticised the talent agency for its handling of the allegations.

Founded by Kitagawa in 1962, Johnny & Associates has an outsized cultural presence in Japan, producing some of the most popular names in J-pop including SMAP and Arashi, both with massive fan bases across East Asia.

At a press conference carried live by most broadcasters, Kitagawa’s niece Julie K. Fujishima, 57, bowed deeply, apologising for the abuses and saying she had stepped down.

Noriyuki Higashiyama, a former member of the hit 1980s boy-band Shonentai, was the new head of the agency, she said.

Higashiyama, 56, said he had never been a victim of the abuse or witnessed it, but had been aware of the rumours.

“I couldn’t, and didn’t, do anything about it,” he said.

Calling the scandal “the most pitiful incident in human history”, Higashiyama said there had been debate, but no conclusion, as to whether the agency should change its name.

The first media reports of Kitagawa’s abuses of boys and young men, known as Johnny’s Juniors, were carried by local tabloid Shukan Bunshun in 1999, but the scandal blew wide open this year as more victims came forward after the BBC’s report.

A victims’ group called for a formal apology from the talent agency, and revisions to laws to protect children not only from abuse by a parent or guardian but other adults in positions of power.

An opposition party put forward a bill, which failed to pass during the last session of parliament.

One former “Junior”, Kauan Okamoto, told a press conference in April that he had been the target of Kitagawa’s advances on as many as 20 occasions since he was 15.

On one occasion, Okamoto said he had received oral sex from Kitagawa, and cash the following day.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Japan, Kitigawa was known as Johnny-san by the boys on his agency’s books.

He cultivated generations of male idols and all-boy bands, a business model that has been emulated across East Asia.

He holds several Guinness World Records, including for the most No.1 singles produced by an individual.

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