Former teen performers who say they were sexually abused by Japanese impresario Johnny Kitagawa are asking politicians to strengthen the country’s laws against child sexual abuse.
Yasushi Hashida, now 37, was a pop-star trainee with Kitagawa’s talent agency, Johnny & Associates, from the time he was 12 until he was 19. He said he was 13 when Kitagawa first abused him.
“I found out that what I experienced is outside the legal framework of what can be prosecuted,” said Hashida, now a dancer and actor. “The child abuse prevention act in its current form is inadequate in protecting children.”
Hashida is the latest performer to say he was abused by Kitagawa, who died at age 87 in 2019.
Brazilian singer-songwriter Kauan Okamoto, now 27, has also spoken out publicly in April following the release of a BBC documentary detailing decades of assault allegations against Kitagawa, who was never charged.
Under current law, child abuse is an action perpetrated by a child’s “custodian”, defined as someone with parental authority.
Hashida and Okamoto are calling for a broader definition, arguing that children can suffer abuse by other powerful figures in their lives. They also want lawmakers to require adult witnesses to child abuse to file a police report.
As of now, 13 is the legal age of consent in Japan, one of the lowest in the world and, according to victims’ advocates, another barrier to prosecution under the law on sex crimes and abuse, which typically requires evidence of physical assault or verbal threat.
A measure to raise it to 16 is making its way through Japan’s parliament; it was passed by the lower house on Tuesday (May 30).
Earlier in May, Hashida spoke at a hearing held by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, asking for legislative changes to prevent further assaults in the entertainment industry.
So far, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has refused to discuss changes to the child abuse law, according to reports in the Nikkei newspaper and other local media.
Hashida is also calling on Johnny & Associates to take more aggressive steps to address the issue. The agency should acknowledge the truth of what happened and “come clean”, he said.
The agency has announced plans to set up a consultation service, which Hashida called insufficient.
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“For a long time, I tried to believe that it didn’t happen. I tried to hide it deep inside me and I kept on telling myself it didn’t happen,” Hashida said during a press briefing in Tokyo last week.
“If there’s a chance even for someone like me – not an influential person – to change things for the good in a significant way, I would like that, which is what’s driving me today.”
Johnny & Associates issued a rare apology earlier in May following the documentary and Okamoto’s public statements.
“I would like to express my deepest, deepest apologies to those who allege” abuse, Julie Fujishima, Johnny’s current president, said in a one-minute video on the company’s website.
She did not address any specific allegations and said she was not aware of Kitagawa’s actions.
Kitagawa, the boy-band mogul, shaped Japan’s pop idol industry, building a stable of groups that included Hikaru Genji, Smap, Arashi and Sexy Zone.
His company’s stars have dominated the media landscape for decades and advertised everything from fast food to cars and designer handbags.
“It may be hard to understand, but even after such an experience, I’m still in awe and have respect for Johnny’s great talent,” Hashida said.
“I am here because I sincerely wish that Johnny & Associates, to which I am indebted, would resolve this problem quickly – and start fresh.” – Bloomberg