Arashi member Satoshi Ohno said Johnny Kitagawa transformed his life, and he is profoundly grateful to him for creating the group.
Takuya Kimura of pop band SMAP also thanked Kitagawa and said he hopes to emulate Kitagawa's hands-on attitude to show business.
Kitagawa's bands had large followings across Asia. Taiwan's Liberty Times newspaper called Kitagawa "the godfather of Japanese idol groups."
Kitagawa was born in Los Angeles in 1931 and spent his childhood moving between Japan and the United States.
He came to Japan when he was a boy, and survived the airstrikes on Wakayama Prefecture during World War Two. Kitagawa says bombs were falling all around him and he saw many dead bodies on the ground.
He returned to the United States after the war and was drafted for the Korean War.
Kitagawa founded the talent agency Johnny & Associates in 1962 and went on to produce a slew of famous male groups. He also produced solo male singers such as Hiromi Go, Toshihiko Tahara, and Masahiko Kondo.
Kitagawa scouted talented boys and trained them to become entertainers.
He was the holder of two Guinness World Records: as the individual who has produced the most number-one singles, and produced the most concerts.
Author Hiroshi Kosuga has been writing about Kitagawa for more than 50 years. He says the pop mogul had instinct and saw what was behind the face. He says Kitagawa looked at boys the way young girl fans do.
Masaki Aiba of Arashi remembers his first impression of Kitagawa. He says there was a man arranging chairs in the rehearsal room. The man introduced himself as Johnny Kitagawa, and Aiba thought it was impressive that the president of the agency would be performing such small tasks.
Kosuga saw similar scenes at other auditions.
He says Kitagawa arranged furniture and served drinks without introducing himself as the president, and said hello to all the applicants. About 30 minutes later, Kitagawa suddenly ended the audition. He must have been observing the boys and assessing them. As a result, he says, Kitagawa always found goodhearted boys.
On the record
Kitagawa usually stayed out of the limelight and seldom made public appearances, but he gave an interview to NHK last year.
Kitagawa said there is sadness in the world. But the shows he produced always have happy endings, because he hoped happiness would always prevail.
Johnny Kitagawa died Tuesday of a subarachnoid hemorrhage. He was 87 years old.