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Johnny Kitagawa: Further allegations of abuse by staff at J-pop founder’s agency revealed in BBC documentary

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By  BBC News

After the BBC revealed in 2023 that Johnny Kitagawa, the godfather of J-pop, spent a lifetime sexually abusing young boys in his talent agency, Mobeen Azhar has investigated the aftermath of Japan’s biggest child sex abuse scandal in its entertainment history.

Johnny Kitagawa died in 2019 and was celebrated for his six-decade long contribution to Japanese pop culture. His company was dissolved after the BBC’s documentary and was replaced by a new talent agency as well as Smile-Up, a company tasked with processing claims of abuse.

In The Shadow of a Predator which is available to watch on the BBC News Channel on Fri 5th April, it has been reported that 964 men have come forward to Smile-Up as survivors of Kitagawa’s abuse.

In an exclusive interview with the new CEO of Smile-Up, Noriyuki Higashiyama tells the BBC that he believes abuse to have been perpetrated by staff members as well as the company’s founder.

The documentary hears that survivors who shared their experiences have faced condemnation and harassment. The documentary also features an interview with the wife of a man who took his own life after he went public with his story.

The CEO of Smile-Up, who has been in post less than a year, Noriyuki Higashiyama, has given his first interview to the BBC. It is the first time a senior staff member linked to the agency, or its forerunner, has given an interview in its six decade-long history. Higashiyama is himself a former Johnny & Associates talent and has faced allegations of bullying and abuse, which he denies.

He told the BBC that an internal investigation concluded abuse was perpetrated by staff members in addition to the company’s founder. He says in the documentary: “I’ve heard there are two people.”

When asked if the survivors of abuse in these cases want to pursue criminal proceedings, he said “I am not aware of who they are.”

Higashiyama revealed that to date, Smile-Up have not contacted authorities with information about the two former Johnny & Associates employees who are believed to have abused talent

at the agency. Smile-Up has been criticised by survivors of abuse for having an opaque compensation process and for not acting quickly enough.

A lawyer representing survivors of Kitagawa’s abuse described Smile-Up’s process as being like “A black box situation.”

Higashiyama, a former actor and a well known public figure in Japan told the BBC that he has spoken to almost 200 people who have come forward with claims of abuse. He said: “I hope it will help to mend their hearts, even just a little. I consider that to be my role. My main focus is to meet with survivors”. He admitted that he has no formal training or experience in counselling of helping survivors of sexual abuse.

Smile-Up is organising and funding counselling for those who have come forward. Higashiyama says in the programme: “We are thinking of doing that indefinitely”

The programme also hears from Akimasa, a former Johnny & Associates talent who joined the agency as a thirteen year old with aspirations of becoming a pop star. He went public with his own experience of abuse when he saw the story reported in 2023. “I feel like there are still issues that are hidden.”

Kitagawa’s place in Japanese pop culture has shifted in the public consciousness since the revelations. The United Nations sent a task force to Japan to explore work place exploitation in the entertainment industry. The report made recommendations regarding Johnny and & Associates specifically. In 2023 the age of consent shifted from thirteen to sixteen and Prime Minister Kishida has faced increasing pressure to reform sexual abuse legislation.

A woman who did not want to be identified for fear of becoming a target, says in the documentary her husband faced death threats and harassment when he shared his story of being abused by Johnny Kitagawa. “Being a survivor of child sexual abuse, he wanted to reveal everything. He didn’t want future children to be harmed in the same way.”

Soon after he spoke out, the man’s details were leaked. “His name and face was exposed online. Even his workplace was revealed.” Seemingly, fans of Johnny & Associates talent were angry that concerts had been cancelled in the wake of the scandal. “They were saying; ‘It’s all your fault.’”

Eventually the woman saw a text message from her husband telling her that he’d gone to the mountains. It was there that he ended his life. “When I found him, it was too late.”

Noriyuki Higashiyama told the BBC that he is aware of this case. He said “People have freedom of speech. I’m not encouraging slander. If it’s possible, I would really like to eliminate online abuse.”

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