The late founder of one of Japan’s most powerful talent agencies assaulted and abused hundreds boys as far back as the 1950s and up through the 2010s, according to the findings of a new internal investigation.
Johnny Kitagawa, who died in 2019, was the founder and president of Johnny & Associates, a prominent agency that managed and assembled an array of popular boy bands in Japan. While sexual assault accusations against Kitagawa had been floating around for years, Johnny & Associates was compelled to launch its own investigation after a new BBC documentary aired earlier this year and new accusers came forward.
Per The Associated Press, the results of the investigation, shared Tuesday, Aug. 29, found the claims against Kitagawa credible and called for apologies, compensation for victims, and improved compliance and prevention measures. Investigators also said Johnny & Associates’ current chief executive, Julie Keiko Fujishima — Kitagawa’s niece — should resign.
“The company’s coverup led to the sexual abuse continuing unchecked for so long,” said Makoto Hayashi, leader of the investigative team. “There were many opportunities to take action.”
Kitagawa, who was born in Los Angeles before his family returned to Japan in the early 1930s, assembled his first boy band, known as Johnnys, in 1962. Over the decades, he built a pop music juggernaut, played a crucial role in shaping Japan’s idol industry, and pioneered a trainee system to hone the skills of potential future stars (this model is still widely used today in both Japan and South Korea).
The recent investigations into Kitagawa have led to the discovery of ostensible press mentions of his sexual abuse as far back as the 1960s (a 1965 magazine article refers to a court case centered around a “lewd act”). But it wasn’t until decades later that more prominent, and public, allegations emerged. In 1988, Kita Koji — a member of Kitagawa’s first major success, Four Leaves — accused Kitagawa of raping and coercing him into a relationship. In 1996, Hiramoto Junya, a member of Johnny’s Juniors, published a book describing his experiences, and others’, in the Johnny & Associates idol system. Junya’s book included the claim that he saw Kitagawa raping a boy in a communal dorm shared by various performers.
Then, in 1999, the magazine Shukan Bunshun published a major series filled with allegations. The exposé even led to hearings in Japan’s parliament, but the response was largely muted. Kitagawa, for his part, denied the accusations and sued Shukan Bunshun for libel. As The New York Times noted at the time, major news outlets in Japan shied from reporting on the accusations, or even Kitagawa’s libel lawsuit; this was attributed to the overly cautious nature of the Japanese press on certain subjects, though there was also the suggestion that Kitagawa was more than willing to curtail access to his stars if a media organization crossed him. (Indeed, Shukan Bunshun and other media properties owned by its parent company were denied access to Johnny & Associates performers after the magazine ran its exposé).
As for Kitagawa’s libel lawsuit, he won the initial case in 2002 and was awarded 8.8 million yen. An appeal the following year, however, went in Shukan Bunshun’s favor. Remarkably, the appeals court ruled that the magazine did not defame Kitagawa in its reporting of the sexual assault allegations against him — but they were still found liable for printing claims that Kitagawa had enabled underage smoking and drinking. (Japan’s Supreme Court rejected Kitagawa’s final appeal in 2004.)
But while Kitagawa may have lost the libel case, no criminal charges were ever brought against him.
While Kitagawa died in 2019, it was only this year — after the BBC documentary and the Japanese Brazilian singer Kauan Okamoto came forward with accusations of his own — that enough pressure had mounted on Kitagawa & Associates to address the decades of alleged abuse. In July, the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights also demanded the Japanese government take action, and even accused the country’s mainstream media of a “cover-up.”
Back in May, about a month before the internal probe was launched, Fujishima — the current head of Johnny & Associates (for now) — shared a one-minute apology video on YouTube, in which she said, “I would like to express my apology from bottom of my heart for the social problems caused by the sexual assault cases of Kitagawa, our founder.” Though Fujishima said the company took the accusations “very seriously,” she added, “It’s not easy for me to confirm if allegations are true or not without confirming with Johnny Kitagawa.”
Fujishima — who had been working at Johnny & Associates for decades before being named its president in 2019 — also said she had not been aware of the allegations against Kitagawa. Hayashi, the lead investigator, said the team found this statement “to be a lie.”