Panel chair and former top public prosecutor, Hayashi Makoto, said at a news conference his team will investigate the allegations and make recommendations from the standpoint of an independent third party. He said he will examine problems in the organization's culture based on the assumption that sexual assaults took place.
"I think this is a very serious problem," Hayashi said. "I want to stand by those who have made allegations and call on the agency to implement measures to prevent a recurrence."
Hayashi said the team will interview former members of the agency who have made allegations, as well as senior agency officials.
The panel was first announced after current president and Kitagawa's niece, Julie K. Fujishima, made a public apology in mid-May.
Performers who once belonged to the agency have recently come forward with a series of allegations against Kitagawa, who died in 2019.
Agency president apologizes
In a video issued on May 14, Fujishima said she wanted to express a deep apology to those who say they are victims.
She said the agency takes the allegations very seriously, however, the truth of individual allegations is difficult to confirm, as Kitagawa has already passed away.
A statement was also released explaining the agency's position on the matter, and its response. The agency promised to fundamentally overhaul its management system by inviting outside directors. It said it will set up a consultation contact point by the end of the month under the guidance of experts, including counselors and doctors.
The move came a month after former agency member Kauan Okamoto held a news conference alleging sexual abuse by Kitagawa. Okamoto said Kitagawa had abused him while agency president about 15 to 20 times from the time Okamoto was 15.
A group of fans and supporters asked the agency to form an outside panel to investigate the matter. The group said it had mailed the signatures of more than 16,000 people to the agency.
Ex-talent firm members urge law revision on sexual abuse
Three former members of the talent agency, including Okamoto, submitted a petition to political parties last week calling for revisions to the law on child abuse.
The performers say they were sexually abused by Kitagawa when they were teens.
They delivered about 39,000 signatures collected in an online petition drive since May 26 to six ruling and opposition parties.
The petition calls for revisions to the law covering child abuse to include sexual misconduct targeting children by adults with economic and social status, in addition to that by parents or guardians. It urges that it be made mandatory for people around children to report suspected cases of abuse to the police.
Okamoto said he is pleased that the issue has resonated with so many people.
"We can't change what happened to us in the past, but we want to do something for the future. We considered what we can do, and decided to seek this legal change," he said.
Another petitioner, dancer and actor Hashida Yasushi, said he hopes Johnny & Associates will address the claims and face up to issues that have largely been concealed, and make a fresh start in the right direction.