Japan's Johnny Kitagawa sex abuse scandal forces shake-up at J-pop agency

Shimon Ishimaru (third from left), deputy head of Johnny's Sexual Assault Victims Association, with other accusers in Japanese boy band producer Johnny Kitagawa's sex scandal, attending a news conference in Tokyo on Sept 4, 2023. - AP

TOKYO (Reuters): The niece of Johnny Kitagawa, the late J-pop magnate at the centre of a sexual abuse scandal that has shocked Japan, said on Thursday (Sept 7) that she had stepped down as the head of the talent agency her uncle had founded.

Kitagawa, who died in 2019, has been accused of using his sway over young boys seeking stardom to sexually abuse them, and the scandal has gripped the nation since the BBC first aired a tell-all documentary in March.

As more Japanese media took up the story, lawmakers voiced outrage, while the United Nations' human rights experts also criticised the talent agency for its handling of the allegations.

Founded by Kitagawa in 1962, Johnny & Associates has an outsized cultural presence in Japan, producing some of the most popular names in J-pop including SMAP and Arashi, both with massive fan bases across East Asia.

At a press conference televised live by most broadcasters, Kitagawa's niece Julie K. Fujishima said she had stepped down as president on Tuesday.

Noriyuki Higashiyama, a former member of the popular 1980s boy-band Shonentai, was the new head of the agency, Fujishima said.

"It will take time to win back the trust we have lost, but I will devote the rest of my life to dealing with this problem," Higashiyama told the press conference, saying he would retire from performing at the end to the year.

Kitagawa's abuses of young, pre-debut boys and men, known as Johnny's Juniors, had first been chronicled by local tabloid Shukan Bunshun in 1999.

But the scandal blew up this year as more victims came forward after the BBC's report, leading to demands for stricter laws to prevent child abuse and a formal apology from the agency.

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