The late founder of Johnny & Associates, one of Japan’s most influential talent agencies for boy bands, has been implicated in a series of sexual assaults spanning decades. A recent three-month investigation has found these allegations credible, revealing a dark underbelly in the world of Japanese entertainment.
The investigation, which concluded this Tuesday, involved interviews with 23 victims and found that Johnny Kitagawa had sexually assaulted and abused boys as early as the 1950s. The number of victims is believed to be in the hundreds.
The investigative panel has called for Johnny & Associates to issue a formal apology, bolster its compliance measures, and educate its staff about human rights. They also recommended the resignation of the agency’s current CEO, Julie Keiko Fujishima, for her inaction over the years. Kitagawa passed away in 2019 without facing any charges.
The extent of the abuse and the company’s alleged cover-up has raised concerns about Japan’s approach to issues of rape, sexual harassment, and human rights. Historically, public sentiment in Japan has often been dismissive or unsympathetic towards those who claim to have been victims of sexual predators.
Recent months have seen a surge in the number of men coming forward to share their experiences of abuse at the hands of Kitagawa during their teenage years. The report anticipates more victims to step forward in the near future.
Fujishima’s response to the allegations has been limited to a brief online video in which she expressed regret for the “disappointment and worries” surrounding the case. Her future at the company remains uncertain.
Despite whispers of misconduct at Johnny & Associates over the years, and the publication of several exposé books, the mainstream Japanese media largely remained silent on the issue. However, the tide began to turn this year when BBC News aired a special segment spotlighting several individuals who identified themselves as Kitagawa’s victims.
Further pressure was applied earlier this month when the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights called on the Japanese government to intervene. The UN group also criticised Japan’s mainstream media for their perceived silence on the matter.
The investigation’s findings paint a grim picture of Kitagawa’s modus operandi. Young performers, many of them minors, were often invited to stay at his lavish residence. A subtle cue, such as being told to retire early for the night, was an ominous sign of what was to come. Victims, typically aged 14 or 15, were subsequently assaulted by Kitagawa and given a sum of 10,000 yen (approximately £55) to ensure their silence. The report suggests that many victims remained silent out of fear of repercussions.
The investigation encourages more victims to come forward, assuring them of privacy and stating that no physical evidence of assault will be necessary. For many of those who have already spoken out, the trauma of their experiences continues to haunt them, manifesting in flashbacks and bouts of depression.