Japan’s prominent pop industry, Julie Fujishima, the niece of the late J-pop mogul Johnny Kitagawa, stepped down from her leadership role at the country’s largest pop agency.
The move comes as an act of apology towards the victims who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle, a revelation that has left Japan in disbelief. On Thursday, Fujishima tendered her resignation, severing ties with an agency deeply entrenched in the scandal around Kitagawa, who passed away in 2019 at 87.
Kitagawa, a central figure in the Japanese pop industry, has been implicated in sexual abuse allegations involving hundreds of young males over several decades. This scandal, which emerged from his time as the head of the most dominant talent agency in the Japanese pop sector, has sent shockwaves across the nation.
The airing of a revealing documentary by the BBC in March amplified the anger in Japan, drawing parallels with the backlash observed in the US and the UK following the exposure of sexual misconduct scandals involving figures like Harvey Weinstein and Jimmy Savile. As the story gained traction in the Japanese media landscape, it incited fury among lawmakers. It attracted criticism from UN human rights experts for how the agency responded to the accusations, as reported by Reuters.
A Change of Guard
Johnny & Associates, established by Kitagawa in 1962, has been a monumental influence in the Japanese cultural scene, fostering some of the biggest J-pop acts like SMAP and Arashi, who enjoy immense popularity across East Asia. To navigate this crisis, Fujishima, 57, held a widely broadcasted press conference, expressing her deep regret for the incidents and confirming her departure from the agency on Tuesday.
Noriyuki Higashiyama, 56, a former member of the popular 1980s boy band Shonentai, is taking over the reins. Although he admitted to being aware of the circulating rumours, he clarified that he neither experienced nor witnessed any abuse firsthand. Higashiyama pledged to dedicate his efforts towards addressing this issue, even announcing his retirement from performing at the end of the year to focus on rebuilding the tarnished reputation of the agency.
During the press conference, Higashiyama characterized the scandal as “the most pitiful incident in human history”, acknowledging ongoing discussions about possibly renaming the agency, albeit without a definitive conclusion.
Following these developments, major insurers Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance hinted at reconsidering its contractual relationship with Johnny & Associates, contemplating discontinuing the agency’s talents in television commercials and other promotional endeavours.
Kitagawa’s Dark Legacy
While initial reports of Kitagawa’s abuses surfaced in the local tabloid Shukan Bunshun in 1999, the issue escalated dramatically this year, with more victims coming forward after the BBC’s disclosure. The victims’ advocacy group has urged the agency to apologize formally and is advocating for legislative amendments to safeguard minors from abuse by adults in authoritative positions. An opposition party has also echoed this call for change, although their proposed bill stalled in the last parliamentary session.
The investigative report released last week, commissioned by the agency and led by a former attorney general, corroborates the victims’ narratives, shedding light on Kitagawa’s predatory behaviour. Kitagawa maintained a relatively low public profile and managed to evade criminal charges and continued recruiting teenage boys until his demise.
Born in Los Angeles and brought up in Japan, Kitagawa, affectionately known as Johnny-san by the boys he represented, has left behind a controversial legacy that contrasts starkly with his public accolades, including several Guinness World Records for the highest number of #1 singles produced by an individual. This scandal exposes a dark underbelly in the career of a man who pioneered a business model that produced generations of male idols, influencing the broader entertainment industry across East Asia.