Sex abuse reparations may just be tip of iceberg in Johnny’s scandal
Male talent agency Johnny & Associates Inc. will begin from November paying compensation to the 325 men who claimed to have been sexually abused by its founder, but as more victims may come forward the scandal is not over.
How the company goes about compensating Johnny Kitagawa’s victims will be watched closely by the agency’s corporate clients and broadcasters that have said they would stop casting Johnny’s performers until the issue is addressed.
The agency said Monday it will change its name to “Smile-Up” on Oct. 17 and dedicate itself to paying reparations to victims abused by Kitagawa over the decades before his death in 2019. A new company will be set up within a month to manage its performers, it said.
Noriyuki Higashiyama (2nd from R), president of Johnny & Associates Inc., and Yoshihiko Inohara (2nd from L), president of the talent agency’s subsidiary Johnnys’ Island, attend a press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 2, 2023, over late namesake founder Johnny Kitagawa’s sexual abuse. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
Once the compensation process is complete, the entertainment behemoth, which was formed in 1962 and went on to propel SMAP, Arashi and numerous other groups to stardom, said it will cease operating.
A committee the agency set up on Sept. 13, comprising three lawyers tasked with overseeing redress to victims, has established a contact point for the victims to discuss compensation and started their hearings to determine how to progress each case.
In providing compensation, “We will not ask the victims to bear responsibility to prove the damage that was inflicted upon them,” Hiroshi Kimeda, a lawyer for the agency, told a press conference on Monday.
“We will make sure to compensate as broadly as possible,” Kimeda said. “Under the premise that all responsibility falls on Johnny’s and Smile-Up, we want to make sure not to overlook anything in recognizing the abuses and providing relief to victims.”
The agency plans to offer compensation not just based on documentary evidence, where it exists, but also factoring in statements by relevant parties.
In cases where accusers say they were members of Johnny’s Jr., a talent pool of male idols in training who had yet to make their contracted debut in a group or solo act, the agency will have to look at past appearances at concerts and in magazines to confirm their links to Johnny’s.
In addition, while the agency said it would offer a settlement proposal to each victim based on the compensation amount calculated by the committee, it remains to be seen whether the victims will consider the proposed amounts sufficient and decide to not pursue their claims further.
The number of victims who have requested compensation may increase from the 325 disclosed by the company on Monday, as former and current agency members will be given access to a hotline at a law firm where they can come forward with previously undisclosed abuse.
Kitagawa’s niece, Julie Keiko Fujishima, who acknowledged her uncle’s sexual abuse and resigned as president last month, will remain a director of the agency while retaining 100 percent ownership, claiming it will allow victims to receive the most possible compensation.
In a letter read at the press conference, she explained she would keep her ownership stake intact as allowing others to buy in would “effectively mean I cannot guarantee compensation beyond what is legally required will be offered.”
“I believe closing down Johnny’s is something I must do as a relative of the perpetrator. I want to erase every trace of Johnny Kitagawa from this world,” Fujishima said in the letter.
Victims, corporate clients and broadcasters are carefully watching how the agency addresses the fallout from the scandal.
Japanese actor Yasushi Hashida attends a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on May 26, 2023. (Kyodo)
Yasushi Hashida, one of the firm’s former performers who alleges he was sexually abused by Kitagawa as a teen, said on Monday he was “disappointed” there was no announcement of specifics other than the start of compensation payments in November.
Junya Hiramoto, a former Johnny’s performer who was one of the first to allege sexual abuse by Kitagawa, said, “I hope all victims will be provided relief.”
NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, has suspended the inking of new contracts with Johnny’s performers. It said, “We will continue to check whether compensation is paid to the victims and steps toward preventing a repeat of this situation are being implemented.”
Other major broadcasters Fuji Television Network Inc. and Nippon Television Network Corp. made similar statements.
Among other firms, major cosmetics maker Kose Corp. said it would decide whether to resume TV commercials using Johnny’s entertainers by closely watching how victims are treated and how the company’s management reforms progress, while Nissan Motor Co., which has suspended advertising campaigns with actor Takuya Kimura from Johnny’s, also made similar comments.
Allegations against Kitagawa came under scrutiny in Japan after the BBC aired a documentary in March featuring interviews with multiple people claiming to have been abused by the pop mogul. Rumors had swirled for decades about his abuse, but he was never held responsible.
Several former members of the agency have since come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by Kitagawa when they were teens, and a U.N. human rights delegation in early August issued conclusions regarding the company following interviews in Japan with multiple alleged victims.