The head of Japan’s biggest music agency has apologized over allegations of years-long sexual abuse committed by its founder, the late entertainment mogul Johnny Kitagawa.
Johnny & Associates, a talent management firm known for its representation of hit bands such as SMAP, Arashi and Tokio, has been facing calls for a full investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct dating back decades.
The issue was spotlighted in a BBC documentary that aired earlier this year. It also received fresh attention last month, when former J-pop star trainee Kauan Okamoto came forward with allegations that he and multiple other young men were sexually abused by Kitagawa.
On Sunday, Johnny & Associates issued a rare statement acknowledging the allegations.
“We sincerely apologize for the great deal of trouble caused by our founder Johnny Kitagawa’s alleged sexual abuse of individuals,” said Julie Fujishima, the company’s president and CEO. According to Japan’s official Kyodo news agency, Fujishima is Kitagawa’s niece.
Calls for a probe
The agency, however, stopped short of promising an investigation.
In recent weeks, Japanese music fans have called on the firm to set up an independent committee to probe the allegations. An online petition urging the company to act has received nearly 20,000 signatures.
Fujishima said the company had decided against creating such a committee, citing guidance from experts who had warned of a psychological toll on victims.
There is also “a high possibility that people do not want to be interviewed in this case,” the executive said.
Instead, the company will provide a point of contact for victims who have already come forward and wish to receive counseling services in future, according to Fujishima.
While she vowed that management would take the allegations seriously, she said it was difficult to tell whether individual accusations were true.
“Of course, we do not believe there wasn’t a problem,” Fujishima said in her statement. “On the other hand, Johnny Kitagawa, who is the party concerned, cannot speak on the accusations.”
Fujishima also warned of the risk of “slander, due to speculation,” suggesting skepticism over some claims.
An industry mogul
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 teen idols. He was a powerful figure in the media and entertainment industries for decades.
That level of power made people afraid they would lose their careers if they didn’t comply with his demands, according to Okamoto, a Japanese-Brazilian singer-songwriter.
He alleged that over the course of four years, beginning in 2012 when he was 15, he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Kitagawa, who died age 87 in 2019.
Okamoto said last month that he was speaking out in the hope that other alleged victims would come forward.
There have been longstanding allegations against Kitagawa. In 1999, Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun 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.
A Tokyo High Court partially overturned the earlier decision in 2003, ruling the published sexual abuse claims were not libelous. An appeal brought by Kitagawa was later dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2005.
Years later, his company responded to the new allegations by Okamoto, without addressing specifics.
In a statement last month, Johnny & Associates said management had made it “our utmost priority” to be more transparent in how it operated and work in a way “that evokes social trust.”
The firm also said it had rolled out new measures this year to “ensure strict compliance with laws and regulations without exception, by both management and employees, as well as the steps we are taking to strengthen corporate governance by consulting with impartial third-party experts.”
Kitagawa was never charged over the allegations. He had reportedly denied all accusations when he was alive.
— CNN’s Helen Regan, Sophie Jeong and Alex Stambaugh contributed to this report.