President of a J-pop agency quits and apologises for sex abuse by late founder

Johnny Kitagawa, who died in 2019, was one of the most biggest names in Japan's entertainment industry but is said to have sexually abused minors for decades.

The boss of Japan’s top pop agency has quit after admitting the company’s late founder, who was her uncle, had sexually abused minors for decades.

Julie K Fujishima, the niece of Johnny Kitagawa, announced her resignation from Johnny & Associates, a Japanese talent agency, following months of international scrutiny and an independent investigation.

Kitagawa died in 2019, aged 87, but there has been renewed attention to allegations of abuse after the issue was spotlighted in a BBC documentary earlier this year.

In April, a former star trainee came forward with allegations he and multiple other young men were abused by Kitagawa.

Julie Keiko Fujishima has resigned over her late uncle’s abuse allegations. / Credit: AP

In a news conference on Thursday, the first time the agency had publicly addressed the scandal, Ms Fujishima said the company would compensate the victims of her uncle’s abuse, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Fujishima will be replaced by Noriyuki Higashiyama, one of the company’s performers, who began his career as a singer with the agency nearly 40 years ago, NHK reported.

At the news conference, Mr Higashiyama vowed to enact measures to prevent such abuse from happening again and to “respond sincerely” in compensating victims, and promised to contribute to a compensation fund from her own fortune.

Thursday’s announcement comes just a week after the independent investigation, which was commissioned by the agency, released its findings.

After interviewing 41 people, including victims and other company employees, the expert panel concluded that Kitagawa had “repeatedly committed sexual assault over a long period of time,” ranging from the 1950s to the mid-2010s.

A roadside screen in Tokyo’s Yurakucho area reports on the death of Johnny Kitagawa in 2019. / Credit: Getty

Most of the victims were backup dancers known as “Johnny’s Juniors,” the report found, according to NHK.

The abuse happened at numerous locations, including Kitagawa’s home and the company’s training camps.

A group of men who accused Kitagawa of raping them as children said they were pleased the company apologised, but some had reservations.

“The wounds in my heart will not heal,” Yukihiro Oshima told reporters. “But I feel a little better.”

The panel said the abuse had continued for so long in part because Johnny & Associates was a family-run business – meaning the founders wielded outsized power and faced little accountability.

Mary Kitagawa, the late former president of the agency and Johnny’s older sister, had known about the abuse but did not take action, the report found.

The investigators made a number of recommendations, such as setting up a victim compensation programme, and urged Fujishima to step down as president.

During his long career, Kitagawa headed Japan’s biggest talent agency and was known for setting up popular boy bands and launching the music and acting careers of many teen idols.

Yasushi Hashida, a former member of Japanese pop group Johnny’s Juniors. / Credit: AP

He was a powerful figure in the media and entertainment industries for decades, meaning people were afraid they would lose their careers if they didn’t comply with his demands, according to Kauan Okamoto, the star trainee who came forward in April.

He alleged that over the course of four years, beginning in 2012 when he was 15, he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Kitagawa.

The allegations against Kitagawa go back decades, but he was never charged and reportedly denied all accusations when he was alive.

In 1999, a Japanese magazine published accounts of other young men and boys who claimed they were sexually abused by Kitagawa.

He sued the magazine for libel and was awarded damages, according to local media.

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