Johnny Kitagawa sexual abuse scandal

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Headquarter of Johnny & Associates

In 2023, it was revealed that Johnny Kitagawa (1931–2019), the founder of the Japanese talent agency Johnny & Associates, had committed sexual abuse from the early 1970s until the mid-2010s. Considered one of the most powerful figures in the Japanese entertainment industry, Kitagawa held a virtual monopoly on the creation of boy bands in Japan for more than 40 years.[1] No criminal charges were ever filed against him, as the Japanese media had covered up the sexual abuse without reporting it at all.

From 1988 to 2000, Kitagawa was the subject of a number of claims that he had taken advantage of his position to engage in improper sexual relationships with boys under contract to his talent agency. Kitagawa denied these claims, and in 2002 was awarded an ¥8.8 million judgment against Shukan Bunshun, the magazine that had published such allegations. An appeal by the magazine followed, resulting in a partial reversal of the judgment. The Tokyo High Court reduced the damages to ¥1.2 million, concluding that the reports of drinking and smoking were defamatory but that the allegations of sexual exploitation of adolescent boys by Kitagawa were true. A 2004 appeal to the Supreme Court by Kitagawa was rejected. The case saw minimal coverage in Japan, with many journalists attributing it to Kitagawa's influence on Japanese mass media.[2][3]

In 2023, four years after his death, his sexual abuse became more publicly known after a report in August that year concluded that he committed sexual abuse from the early 1970s until the mid-2010s, including the rape of hundreds of boys who were members of Johnny & Associates before their debut.[4][5] The report came after sexual abuse claims against Kitagawa had received renewed attention following a BBC documentary and further allegations being made by musician and former Johnny's Jr. member Kauan Okamoto earlier in the year. It was also revealed that the rape was covered up by the Japanese media.

As of 2023, a reported number of 478 persons have claimed to have been victimized by Kitagawa, of those, 325 sought compensation, and only 150 have been confirmed to have belonged in the company.[6] Later in the year, it was revealed that Johnny & Associates would be renamed to SMILE UP, and that that anything bearing the name "Johnny", such as related companies and performing groups, would undergo changes to remove any trace of Kitagawa's name.

Allegations during Kitagawa's lifetime

Initial claims

In the early 1960s, Kitagawa was accused of sexually assaulting students at Shin Geino Gakuin, a talent training school located in Toshima Ward, Tokyo.

In 1988, Koji Kita [ja], a former member of Four Leaves, published a series of diaries under the title Hikaru Genji e (光Genjiへ, Dear Hikaru Genji).[7] Kita wrote that Kitagawa had used his position of influence over the group to make unwanted sexual advances towards the boys under contract to him.[8][9][10] In 1989, former Johnnys member Ryo Nakatani published similar allegations in his book Johnny's Revenge and stated that he was sexually abused by Kitagawa when he was 11 years old.[11] Similar allegations were made in a book published in 1996 by Junya Hiramoto, a former member of Johnny's Jr. Hiramoto alleged Kitagawa shared the same dormitory as his talents and that he had seen him force a boy to have sex with him.[12]

In 1999, the weekly magazine Shūkan Bunshun printed a ten-part series that detailed numerous allegations of sexual improprieties.[13] The accusers were a dozen teenage boys who had been recruited into the Johnny & Associates organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity. In addition, the series accused Kitagawa of permitting minors in his employ to drink alcohol and smoke.[8][14]

Lawsuit

Yoshihide Sakaue, a member of the House of Representatives, held a hearing on the matter in April 2000.[9] Sakaue said that as a result of the media coverage, and in response to a request from a constituent, he wanted to examine whether government officials had properly investigated complaints about Kitagawa.[14] Officials of the National Police Agency acknowledged that they had investigated Kitagawa's agency, but had not determined that sexual harassment had occurred. Officials indicated that Kitagawa's company was warned about permitting minors to use alcohol and smoke cigarettes.[9]

The National Police and Welfare Ministry indicated that under the Ministry's understanding of the law, even if the allegations against Kitagawa were true, the acts could not be considered child abuse because Kitagawa was neither parent nor guardian to the boys in his employ.[9][7] Officials testified that neither the boys nor their parents had pursued a criminal complaint against Kitagawa.[9][7] Kitagawa denied any wrongdoing, and his attorney characterized the claims as being from disgruntled former employees voicing discontent.[9] Kitagawa sued Shūkan Bunshun for libel.[12]

After protracted litigation, in 2002 the Tokyo District Court awarded Kitagawa an ¥8.8 million judgment against Shūkan Bunshun, finding that the articles defamed him.[8] Shūkan Bunshun appealed the ruling. In a partial reversal of the district court, the Tokyo High Court in 2003 ruled that the Shūkan Bunshun series did in fact defame Kitagawa. However, it ruled that the defamatory content of the articles was limited to the allegations that Kitagawa had provided minors with alcohol and tobacco products. The court found that the Shūkan Bunshun had sufficient reason to accept as trustworthy, and publish, the sexual allegations by Kitagawa's former clients. Kitagawa appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. In 2004, the court rejected his appeal.[7]

Other than Shūkan Bunshun, none of the major Japanese media covered the story of the allegations against Kitagawa, the hearing in Parliament, or the Kitagawa lawsuit. The New York Times attributed this lack of coverage to Kitagawa's influence over the popular media.[9][7][15][16] Once Shūkan Bunshun began publication of the series, Johnny & Associates denied the magazine and the other media owned by its parent organization, access to any of its performers.[14] In 2023, The Asahi Shimbun speculated that the Japanese media also initially did not take the news seriously because men were not seen as sexual assault victims at the time and thus the news was seen as "gossip"; and because Shūkan Bunshun had lost the initial lawsuit.[11] In addition, each media company had a dedicated person who would act as a "representative" of Johnny & Associates, where they would act as an in-between between both companies; those representatives were often fans of talents from Johnny & Associates.[11]

Subsequent allegations and 2023 scandal

Following the lawsuit, in 2005, Shogo Kiyama, a former Johnny Jr., published a book criticizing how broadcasters never reported Kitagawa's case and he was never punished in spite of the allegations.[17]

Shortly after Kitagawa's death in July 2019, Shūkan Bunshun posted another sexual assault allegation from a former Johnny Jr. member, who alleged that his first kiss was with Kitagawa, and that because he resisted his advances, he was relegated to the corner of the stage during performances.[18] In January 2021, Koki Maeda, a former member of 7 Men Samurai, stated through an interview with Arama! Japan that he was "certain" there were sexual relations between Kitagawa and Johnny's Jr. because he "had the privilege of deciding who deserved to debut".[19] Moments after the interview was published, Maeda recanted his statement.[20][better source needed]

In March 2023, the BBC released a documentary centered on the sexual abuse claims against Kitagawa, Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop, presented by Mobeen Azhar. In response, Johnny & Associates stated that they were creating "transparent organizational structures" that would be announced later in the year.[21]

In April 2023, musician and former Johnny's Jr. member Kauan Okamoto told a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan that he had been subjected to sexual abuse by Kitagawa on a number of occasions between 2012 and 2016, and called on the management to acknowledge the misconduct.[22] Okamoto estimated that between 100 and 200 boys were invited to Kitagawa's home during his time at Johnny's, and claimed that when Kitagawa told one of his guests to go to bed early, everyone knew "it was your turn".[23][24] In response to Okamoto's press conference, Johnny & Associates released a statement saying that it would "continue its unified effort to thoroughly ensure compliance without exception, and tackle strengthening of a system of governance," but the company did not directly address the allegations at the time.[24] Later that month, NHK reported that Johnny & Associates was interviewing their employees and talents, and had sent a document out to business partners saying that they were looking into the allegations. The document said that the company took the allegations seriously and that their investigations so far had uncovered no cases of misconduct, adding that they were aware that such in-house interviews were not enough to uncover the truth.[25] After the press conference, NHK reported on the abuse on April 13. This was the first television report on the scandal by NHK. It was broadcast for two minutes at 4 pm.[26]

On May 14, 2023, Julie Keiko Fujishima, Kitagawa's niece and president of Johnny & Associates, issued an apology to those who had alleged sexual abuse by Kitagawa. She added that she was committed to implementing measures addressing the victims' needs.[27] Two days after Johnny & Associates released their statement, Okamoto and the former Johnny's Jr. Yasushi Hashida, along with Okamoto attended a parliamentary meeting at the National Diet organized by the Constitutional Democratic Party.[28] Hashida said that he was sexually abused around twice by Kitagawa when he was 13 years old.[29] Both Hashida and Okamoto credited coverage of the sexual abuse allegations by the foreign press as being key to paving the way for its coverage in the domestic press.[28][30]

In July 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Council investigated Kitagawa's abuse at the agency.[31][32] An independent probe established by Johnny & Associates reported the findings of their investigation on August 29, 2023, saying that Kitagawa repeatedly committed sexual abuse from the early 1970s until the mid-2010s. They recommended that Fujishima resign from her post as company president, and that the company must accept the claims of abuse and make amends for them.[33] On September 7, 2023, Johnny & Associates held their first official press conference, where they formally acknowledged Kitagawa's abuse for the first time.[34] Fujishima resigned, and former Shonentai's member Noriyuki Higashiyama took over as CEO.[35] However, Higashiyama is also alleged to have told a Johnny's Jr. member to "eat my sausage" in the past.[36]

Ryoichi Hattori's son Yoshitsugu and his friend Motoyasu Matsuzaki said that Kitagawa sexually abused them as children in the 1950s.[37]

A follow-up program by the BBC aired in 2024, called "Our World: The Shadow of a Predator", continued with a further look at the case that got almost 1000 claims made.[38] The program included exclusive interviews with Smile-Up's new President, Higashiyama, Akimasa Nihongi, a former agency talent, and the widow of one of the victims. Higashiyama admits that he has no formal training or experience in counselling or helping survivors, and yet, he expects that, after talking to close to 200 victims personally, “... it will help to mend their hearts, even just a little.", he said. About the alleged existence of more perpetrators, Higashiyama confirmed hearing about two, but, as he mentioned, he did not report the fact to the police. According to him, that corresponds to the victims, for them to file a criminal complaint, with the agency cooperating as much as possible. Nihongi went public with his allegations, after seeing the story reported in 2023. He believes that there is still some secrecy involving the issue. "I want them to take responsibility. I think this is the biggest post-war sexual assault case in Japan. We shouldn't let it fade away as if it's a temporary problem. It's important to keep a record as part of Japanese history.", he said. According to the other interviewee, her husband suffered from online harassment and death threats after revealing the abuse. She received a message from her husband, telling her that he would retire to the mountains. That is where the search party found his corpse. It had been too late to save him. One of the consequences of the case is that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida faced increasing pressure to reform sexual abuse legislation, shifting the age of consent in Japan from 13 to 16, after multiple rape acquittals in 2019 and the increase of men reporting sexual abuse.[39][40]

Aftermath

On 6 September 2023, Guinness World Records decided to remove Kitagawa's achievement of producing the most top songs on the pop music chart from its official website. However, they did not eliminate his record titles, as he was never convicted.[41] This decision was accepted as a wise decision by the newly appointed president of Johnny & Associates, Higashiyama.[42] Companies such as Suntory and McDonald's which had previously contracted with Johnny & Associates for advertising or promotional campaigns decided to either retract or not renew their contracts with Johnny's artists as a response to the Kitagawa scandal. Suntory demanded plans of prevention and reparations for the victims as prerequisites of reestablishing partnership.[43][44]

Several major news outlets, including NHK, Nippon TV, TV Asahi, TBS, TV Tokyo and Fuji Television, issued statements in recognition of their years of silence that effectively allowed Kitagawa's sexual abuses to continue unabated.[45][46][47] Bungeishunjū and Mobeen Azhar were awarded in 2023 by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) for their coverage of the scandal. The FCCJ likened this scandal to the assassination of Shinzo Abe, citing media silence on the systemic abuses by organizations close to powerful figures.[48] [49]

Company renaming

Several Japanese news outlets reported on October 1, 2023 that Johnny & Associates was considering creating a new company to manage its performers, while the current Johnny & Associates would change its name and continue to exist for the purpose of compensating abuse victims. It was also reported that Noriyuki Higashiyama, who became the head of Johnny & Associates after the resignation of Julie K. Fujishima, was also expected to head the new company.[50] On October 2, Johnny & Associates held a press conference to outline their plans, announcing that they would be renaming the current company to SMILE UP–taking a name that they had used in their 2020 charity project–effective October 17.[51][52][53] SMILE UP will continue to exist under the ownership of Fujishima and will eventually close down once all sexual abuse compensation requests, which numbered 325 at the time of the announcement, have been processed.[51]

Higashiyama told reporters that performers working under the new, yet-to-be-named management company "will have the freedom to pursue their own career paths without being restricted or entirely dependent on the company."[51] It was also announced that anything bearing the name "Johnny", such as related companies and company sections like Johnny's Island and J-Storm and performing groups such as Johnny's West and Kanjani Eight, would undergo changes to remove any trace of the Johnny's name.[54] Higashiyama said that "all things with the Johnny's name will have to go," while Fujishima, who did not attend the October 2 press conference, said that she wanted to "erase all that remains of Johnny from this world."[52] While initially Higashiyama was supposed to take the reigns of the new company, on a conference given on 30 October, Higashiyama cancelled his appointment, and Atsushi Fukuda, president of Speedy, a consulting company, stepped up as the new president.[55]

It was revealed on December 8, 2023, that the new artist management company would be called "Starto Entertainment", a name fusing the word "star" and the hiragana と (to), with the meaning for the latter to be "toward the future". The name of the new company was decided after reviewing 140,156 fan applications. As said previously, Higashiyama was to replace Fujishima in both the new artist management company, as well as in the presidency of the original, but Higashiyama declined the role in the new one. Fukuda was appointed as president of Starto.[56]

See also

References

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