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Head of J-pop talent agency Johnny & Associates resigns over sex abuse scandal

TOKYO – The head of influential J-pop talent agency Johnny & Associates stepped down after investigators said the family-held firm turned a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse by its late founder.

The resignation of Ms Julie Fujishima, niece of founder Johnny Kitagawa, follows an investigation which found the music impresario had abused “at least hundreds of victims” between the early 1970s and mid-2010s.

The investigators’ report also said the agency’s management culture, with key decisions made by family members, allowed the misconduct to continue.

“As an agency, and as an individual, I understand that there was sexual abuse by Johnny Kitagawa,” said Ms Fujishima on Thursday, appearing before media in person for the first time to address the scandal.

It was also the first time the agency confirmed abuse by Kitagawa, who built a stable of popular boy bands including Hikaru Genji, Smap, Arashi and Sexy Zone before he died of a stroke at 87 in 2019.

The company’s stars for decades dominated Japan’s media and advertising industry, as well as the world’s second-biggest recorded music market.

Victims have said that Kitagawa preyed on them as young, aspiring performers, promising them opportunities in show business.

Although weekly news magazine Shukan Bunshun ran a story about Kitagawa’s abuse in the late 1990s, he was never charged.

The agency, widely known as Johnny’s, continued to wield influence over the entertainment industry, maintaining a tight grip over access to its stars and their images.

The release of a BBC documentary in March detailing allegations against Kitagawa prompted several victims to come forward, and the ensuing uproar led the agency to issue a rare apology and agree to an independent probe.

In August, members of a United Nations human rights group also looked into the case and called on Japan to better protect children from sexual abuse.

Some victims, however, had earlier criticised the agency for failing to acknowledge the abuse by Kitagawa. 

“With so many people speaking out, we confirm this as fact,” Ms Fujishima said, who occasionally broke down in tears during the news conference. She added that she would remain as a director at the agency to organise help for victims.

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She will be succeeded by Japanese television personality Noriyuki Higashiyama, a member of the idol group Shonentai. He is the first non-family member to lead the company.

The investigators’ report had blamed Ms Fujishima’s late mother Mary Fujishima – Kitagawa’s older sister – in particular, for ignoring the founder’s misconduct.

Higashiyama said he had not known about the founder’s abuse, although he had heard rumors. 

“I had believed in Mr Kitagawa, and hadn’t read the exposes,” he said, adding that he now understood what happened and is eager to ensure the agency has the right governance structure to prevent abuse. “It will take time to restore trust, but I will devote the rest of my life to this issue.”

Mr Junya Hiramoto, a former Johnny’s Junior – the name for those in the trainee system – and one of the first to step forward with allegations against Kitagawa, said Ms Fujishima’s resignation was not enough and the agency should establish a fund to help compensate victims. 

“Resignation is just a performance,” said Mr Hiramoto, now a representative of a victims’ association. BLOOMBERG

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