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J-pop agency Johnny & Associates to change name amid sexual abuse scandal | Japan

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The Japanese talent agency Johnny & Associates, whose late founder has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of boys and young men, will change its name and establish a new firm to manage upcoming artists, as it struggles to repair its battered reputation.

The agency’s president, Noriyuki Higashiyama, told a televised press conference on Monday that the company would be renamed Smile-Up, as part of its attempts to distance itself from its disgraced founder, Johnny Kitagawa.

The firm’s role would be limited to addressing compensation claims by survivors of Kitagawa’s alleged sexual abuse, while a second as yet unnamed company would be set up to continue the work of discovering and nurturing new talent, Higashiyama said.

“We will disband Johnny & Associates and face the victims in a sincere manner,” said Higashiyama, a former actor and singer with the agency. “The new company will create a new future with its fans.”

Johnny & Associates – the creative force behind a string of successful boybands – had come under pressure to change its name because of its connection with Kitagawa, whose alleged abuse has shaken Japan’s entertainment world.

“The criticism was understandable … we want to build a new future under a new name,” Higashiyama said, adding that fans would be invited to submit names for the newly launched talent agency.

The existing company will be known as Smile-Up from 17 October, said Higashiyama, who recently replaced Kitagawa’s niece, Julie Fujishima, as president.

A panel set up to address the abuse claims has been consulted by 478 survivors, and 325 have sought compensation. Payments are expected to begin in November.

Fujishima admitted for the first time this month that Kitagawa had abused recruits hoping to become the faces of Japan’s most powerful talent agency, whose acts are a regular fixture on TV and in advertising.

But the initial decision to retain the name Johnny & Associates drew criticism from survivors and the public, while several companies including Nissan and Japan Airlines cut or suspended commercial ties with the agency.

A poll conducted last month by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that 55% of respondents supported a name change, with 36% opposed.

Allegations that Kitagawa, who died in 2019 aged 87, had sexually abused young men first appeared in the weekly magazine Shūkan Bunshun in 1999.

Kitagawa sued Bunshun for libel and was awarded damages but the judgment was partially overturned on appeal, with the Tokyo high court ruling in 2004 that the magazine had sufficient reason to publish the allegations. Kitagawa’s appeal was rejected by the supreme court. He was never charged with a crime.

His conduct became the focus of renewed media attention after the broadcast in March of a BBC documentary, Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop.

The following month, Kauan Okamoto, who had been hired by the agency as a 15-year-old, went public with allegations of abuse, telling reporters he had been sexually assaulted by Kitagawa on 15-20 occasions. Several other former members of the agency came forward with similar allegations.

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