Japan boyband agency to rebrand after sex abuse scandal

By Tomohiro OSAKI

Japan’s top boyband agency said Monday it will rebrand, erasing vestiges of its late founder who was accused of sexually abusing recruits over decades, by launching a new firm to manage its stars.

Boyband empire Johnny & Associates admitted last month that founder Johnny Kitagawa had sexually assaulted teenage boys and young men seeking stardom over decades.

The music mogul died aged 87 in 2019, having engineered the birth of J-pop mega-groups that amassed adoring fans across Asia.

The agency will be renamed “Smile-Up” and dedicated solely to redressing survivors of Kitagawa’s abuse, before being shuttered, officials said Monday. It will also transfer its talent to a newly formed management company.

The agency will “follow through on thoroughly compensating victims and then shut down its business”, agency head Noriyuki Higashiyama told reporters.

Higashiyama had hinted last month that he was disinclined to change the agency’s name.

But such an attitude “just went to show how inward-looking we were”, he said Monday, adding he intends to become president of the new management agency.

Its name will be decided by suggestions from fans, another official said.

Allegations that Kitagawa abused young men who wanted to be stars surfaced in Japanese media in 1999.

But it was not until this year that they ignited full-on soul-searching, following a BBC documentary and denunciations by victims.

“I want to eradicate traces of Johnny Kitagawa off the face of the earth,” Julie Keiko Fujishima, Kitagawa’s niece who will spearhead efforts to compensate victims, said in a statement released Monday.

“As a family member of the offender, I consider it my duty to dismantle the Johnny’s agency,” she added.

As of now, 325 people are demanding compensation for Kitagawa’s abuse through a hotline set up by an external panel of experts, according to the agency.

Compensation will start in November.

Scrutiny of Johnny & Associates intensified as a host of brands, including McDonald’s Japan, automaker Nissan and beer giant Kirin, dropped the company’s stars in recent weeks over the abuse.

Japan’s national broadcaster NHK also announced it will “suspend making new offers” to the agency, meaning its top stars may not appear in the TV station’s popular year-end music show.

The backlash though has garnered the agency’s talent some sympathy, with Masakazu Tokura, chairman of Japan’s most influential business lobby Keidanren, calling them “more of victims than offenders”. — Agence France-Presse

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