Johnny & Associates admits founder's abuse

The former head of Johnny & Associates talent agency has said its late founder Johnny Kitagawa sexually abused young men, and she has stepped down from the president role to take responsibility.

Fujishima Julie, Kitagawa's niece, said at a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday that her uncle abused minors. Following her resignation, which she said took place on Tuesday, Johnny performer Higashiyama Noriyuki became the new president.

Higashiyama, 56, is Johnny's oldest active member. He began his career as a singer with the agency in 1985, and also acted in various TV dramas. He said he will retire as a performer by the end of this year.

Fujishima said the agency will compensate those who have suffered and deeply apologized to them. Higashiyama echoed this, adding, "I will sincerely face the issue of compensation for the victims and respond sincerely."

He vowed that as the new president, he would take measures to prevent a recurrence. These include establishing a system to prevent human rights violations based on the recommendations of a special external team in charge of ensuring compliance.

Higashiyama: No change to company's name

When asked about a possible name change for the agency, Higashiyama said, "I understand the question is based on opinions that we need to be dismantled for a fresh start."

He said he has no intention of changing the Johnny & Associates name at the moment.

"I know that many people suffered. But we are supported by our fans," he said, adding, "I currently think we should work together to dispel the (negative) image."

Victims react to Fujishima's apology

Nine members of a group for victims of Kitagawa's abuse watched the live broadcast of the news conference together. The group has been speaking out about what its members suffered in the past.

The nine listened to the news conference while occasionally taking notes and nodding.

When Fujishima admitted the abuse had occurred and apologized for it, members' responses included, "Yes!" and, "I feel as if I'm dreaming."

But when the new president Higashiyama said he had previously thought the abuse incidents were just rumors, the group's leader Hiramoto Junya muttered, "That's disappointing."

Johnny fans hope company takes responsibility

A woman in her 50s who once belonged to a fan club for one of the agency's groups said she thinks it was good that the president resigned to take responsibility.

"I don't want it to go bankrupt, but I want the company to fix its bad points and become a normal part of the entertainment industry," she said.

She added that she wants Johnny & Associates to provide mental care and financial compensation to the victims.

Another woman in her 60s who is still a member of a fan club for one of the agency's performers said that it is reasonable for it to take responsibility. She said that she wants the agency to be able to protect the children among the many performers it represents.

Guinness drops Kitagawa's world records

Guinness World Records announced on Wednesday that it removed Kitagawa's records from its official website. He previously held production records which included the highest totals of number one singles and concerts.

"After hearing reports of the recent investigation made against the late Johnny Kitagawa, we have taken the decision to remove from our website the records he held as it does not feel appropriate to leave them published," it said.

Move follows expert panel's report

This was the agency's first time to address the media since a number of men alleged they were sexually abused by the late Kitagawa when they were minors. Kitagawa died in 2019.

It follows a report by a third-party panel which said the agency's founder and former president sexually abused minors for many years.

The expert panel's report released on August 29 was based on interviews with 41 individuals, including victims and staff. It said the team confirmed that Kitagawa sexually abused a large number of boys for years. Most of them were backup dancers known as "Johnny's Juniors" who were waiting to make their debuts.

The panel determined that the sexual abuse was allowed to continue for so long in part because Johnny & Associates is a family-run business. It said founders of this type of company can become untouchable and nobody else can stop them if they commit illegal acts.

The report recommended that Fujishima should step down to allow the agency to make a new start.

Outside experts released a report on the allegations against Johnny & Associates on August 29.

Former agency members speak out

Performers who claim to have been sexually harassed by the agency's founder said ahead of the news conference that they wanted it to admit the sexual abuse occurred and apologize for it.

Ohshima Yukihiro said he joined the agency in 1998 when he was in his second year of junior high school. He says he was sexually assaulted at the former president's home on his first day. He says he was victimized more than 200 times over two years until he left.

Ohshima joined the abuse victims' group last month and talked about his own suffering for the first time.

"If the agency admits that we have suffered damage and apologize, it won't heal my wounds or I won't forget, but I think it will be a little easier," he said earlier this week.

"They should not apologize to the public or to the media, but to the victims. I want them to apologize properly in front of us," Ohshima said.

He also said he wants the agency to provide relief to victims, including those who suffered trauma that they have not publicly revealed.

Former Johnny & Associates performer Ohshima Yukihiro speaks to NHK on September 5.

Hashida Yasushi, who worked at the agency for 7 years from 1998, spoke out in May. He said the former president began abusing him when he was 13 years old.

He said he wants the agency to firmly resolve at the news conference to remove corruption. He added that he wants to closely monitor the situation to prevent anything like it from happening again, and said this includes media outlets that ignored the abuse.

Former Johnny & Associates performer Hashida Yasushi speaks to NHK on September 6.

Expert: Agency 'different from ordinary companies'

Saijo Noboru is a professor at Edogawa University who specializes in the history of popular entertainment.

Johnny & Associates "operated differently from ordinary companies, in special ways," Saijo said.

"In order to prevent a recurrence, it's important for it to become like an ordinary company in ways it was not, such as having a functional board of directors."

He said the agency needs to consider how to apologize to victims, pay compensation, and create a system to prevent a recurrence.

Saijo added that he wants the agency to put top priority on correcting the problems.