The executives say they will consider changing the company's name which bears the name of the founder.
The agency's new president said earlier this month that Johnny Kitagawa sexually abused possibly hundreds of young male talents who were in his care before he died in 2019. He said the company needs to compensate the victims, but there was no plan to change the name soon.
But when asked by a reporter if there was room for consideration, Higashiyama replied it could be an option.
The agency says it held a board meeting Tuesday and discussed what was needed for a fresh start. Officials say a decision on whether or not to retain the name was on the agenda.
Alleged victims: Name reminds them of what they went through
Some alleged victims say the founder's name should be wiped from the agency. One of them, Nihongi Akimasa, said, "It reminds me of what I went through and triggers flashbacks." Another, Shiga Yasunobu, said the name Johnny should not be in any talent agency's name.
Many Japanese understand that changing the name is unavoidable, considering the problems the agency is facing. But others say the company has no need to change its name as the agency's talents had nothing to do with the scandal.
A quarter of client companies to sever ties
Business leaders are distancing themselves from the agency.
According to private research firm Teikoku Databank, 65 listed companies were hiring or planning to hire Johnny & Associates entertainers for their ads and commercials as of September 13.
A quarter of them, or 16 companies, plan to sever ties with the agency. Six of those have decided to immediately withdraw their TV commercials, while the other 10 say they will not renew their contracts when they expire.
Tokyo Shoko Research says 226 firms have direct or indirect ties with Johnny & Associates or its group company.
It says that because high-profile businesses fear a negative impact on their corporate image, more of them are likely to discontinue deals with the agency group.
The head of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry expressed understanding for companies that have decided to review their ties with the agency.
JCCI Chairman Kobayashi Ken told reporters on Wednesday that business managers would certainly think that way if their reputation was at stake.
He described the reported sex abuse as a "crime against minors," and said it is extremely problematic in terms of compliance that the perpetrator headed the agency and his successor and others were aware of the problem.
But he added that he personally believes the entertainers are not to blame.
Kobayashi suggested that companies may consider various options, such as signing contracts with the entertainers and asking them to move to a different agency.
TV broadcaster: Will decide whether to retain contracts with the talents after checking improvements of the agency
The president of Japanese broadcaster TBS Television says the company will decide whether to keep using entertainers from Johnny & Associates after confirming that improvements have been made by the talent agency.
TBS President Sasaki Takashi told reporters on Wednesday that his company last week requested the agency to publish and carry out specific compensation measures for the victims. He also said the company called on the talent agency to draw up and publish guidelines on human rights.
Sasaki said the broadcaster and the agency will hold a meeting in the near future to check on progress.
Asked about using talents from Johnny & Associates, Sasaki said entertainers who currently have contracts with TBS will keep appearing in TV programs. But he said the broadcaster will keep an eye on how the talent agency makes steady progress toward improvement. He added he wants to make an appropriate decision on what to do in the future.
Expert: The company name embodies the agency's style of entertainment
Edogawa University Professor Saijo Noboru, an entertainment critic, says the company name itself has become the identity for the talents.
He said, "The name 'Johnny' is not just a name of an individual or a company, but embodies the identity of the entertainment provided by the agency — entertainment that the performers believe in."
He says the new president of the agency, Higashiyama, might have had difficulty in severing the company from the style of entertainment they pursued with the late founder, so they have decided to retain the name. Higashiyama is himself a former TV talent.
But he added the company officials now seem to feel it is necessary to change the name as they have found it difficult to gain public understanding.
A lawyer who has expertise on corporate governance, Takada Tsuyoshi, says keeping the founder's name could contribute to a negative image, especially when the agency deals with clients overseas.
Takada said, "To give the company a clean image, it needs to adopt a new name that clearly shows it has broken away from the founding family."