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Japanese talent agency admits founder went after the boys he was looking to make stars

The chairman of one of Japan’s most influential entertainment agencies has resigned after an independent investigation confirmed that the company’s founder, Johnny Kitagawa, had sexually abused young men in his care for years. 1970.

Allegations against Mr Kitagawa, who helped wannabes become a pop star in Japan, have been circulating for decades but have been largely ignored by a silent media outlet that has become dependent on the entertainment mogul and his family business, Johnny & Associates. , to provide them with access. to young performers. His reputation as a hitmaker associated with some of Japan’s most popular boy bands shielded Mr Kitagawa from scandal, even after his death in 2019 at the age of 87.

The March broadcast of an hour-long BBC documentary featuring interviews with three of Mr Kitagawa’s accusers set the stage for recriminations, prompting more men to come forward and putting pressure on the government. company to respond. Under intense scrutiny, Johnny & Associates announced in May that it was forming an internal investigative committee to “prevent recurrence” of future abuse.

At a press conference on Thursday, Julie Keiko Fujishima, Mr. Kitagawa’s niece, acknowledged the results of the investigation and apologized on behalf of herself and the company. She also announced on Wednesday that she had stepped down as president of the company.

“These issues were caused by my uncle and as my niece I want to take responsibility,” she said, adding that the company would seek to offer support and compensation to the accusers. (Ms. Fujishima, the company’s sole owner, will remain a member of the board of directors, solely responsible for relief and compensation.)

The report, released in late August, confirmed hundreds of cases of abuse by Mr Kitagawa dating back more than 50 years. He cited the lack of corporate governance within the company and the complicity of the media as major factors in his impunity. Mr Kitagawa’s sister Mary, who died in 2021, also played a role in covering up his behavior and protecting him from the consequences, the report concludes.

No criminal charges have ever been filed against Mr. Kitagawa, who has always denied the charges against him.

Ms Fujishima, who has served on the company’s board since 1998 and was named chairwoman in 2019, said she had no direct knowledge of Mr Kitagawa’s behavior and had little interaction personal with the artists represented by the agency before his death.

She was aware of the allegations against him, she said, but at the time ‘couldn’t imagine taking action’.

Ms. Fujishima will be replaced by Noriyuki Higashiyama, a singer who rose to fame under the auspices of Johnny & Associates and later became a successful actor and news anchor.

Mr. Higashiyama said he had not been sexually abused by Mr. Kitagawa and did not know it happened to others, although he had heard rumours. In his comments Thursday, he pledged to reform the company.

“I believed Mr. Kitagawa,” he said, describing the tycoon as a father figure.

Speaking at a parallel press conference, Kazuya Nakamura, who accused Mr Kitagawa of abusing him as an aspiring artist, said the company’s admission of guilt “looked like a dream “.

But he questioned the sincerity of the undertaking and suggested that the appointment of Mr Higashiyama, who was one of Mr Kitagawa’s biggest stars at the time of the abuse, made it hard to believe that the company was determined to change.

Some of Mr. Kitagawa’s accusers said they were considering filing civil and criminal complaints against the company in Japan and civil lawsuits overseas, where they believe some abuses took place.

During his heyday, Mr. Kitagawa was considered the king of Japanese boy bands, creating more than a dozen powerful groups that dominated the J-Pop music scene. Boys as young as 9 were recruited by Mr. Kitagawa and lived together in a dormitory, where they were trained to sing, dance and behave like pop idols.

The company continues to manage some of Japan’s most popular musical groups, with considerable influence and power in the entertainment industry. He will keep his name for now, Higashiyama said Thursday.

Rumors about Mr Kitagawa’s behavior first came to public attention in 1999, when the weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun wrote about the experiences of several unnamed men. But other outlets largely ignored the story, and Mr. Kitagawa won a libel suit against the publisher of Shukan Bunshun. Damages of 8.8 million yen (about $60,000) were later reduced on appeal.