Japan's top talent agency to dissolve after sex abuse scandal; over 300 seek damages

Japan's talent agency Johnny & Associates Chief Noriyuki Higashiyama, flanked by CEO of Johnny's Island Yoshihiko Inohara, chief compliance officer Masayuki Yamada and their lawyer Hiroshi Kimeda unveils the new company name SMILE-UP. during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, October 2, 2023. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's top talent agency Johnny & Associates said on Monday it would split into two entities - one devoted to compensating victims of sexual abuse by its late founder, adding that 325 people so far have sought damages.

The agency will also be changing its name, disassociating itself from its founder Johnny Kitagawa.

The agency, which represents only male entertainers, last month admitted that Kitagawa, who died in 2019, had abused hundreds of boys and young men seeking stardom going back to at least the 1970s. Kitagawa's niece Julie K. Fujishima last month resigned as agency president, apologising and promising reform and compensation.

New president Noriyuki Higashiyama said the agency, commonly known as Johnny's, would change its name to "Smile-Up" and focus exclusively on compensating Kitagawa's victims before being dissolved.

A separate company would be spun off to take over the talent management business, renewing contracts with those individuals or groups wishing to stay, he told a briefing. Its new name will be chosen by fans of its entertainers.

The first media reports of Kitagawa's abuse were carried by local tabloid Shukan Bunshun in 1999, but the scandal blew wide open this year as more victims came forward after a report by the BBC in March.

Following the agency's acknowledgement of the abuse last month, dozens of major companies have said they would end their contracts with its entertainers.

In a statement by Fujishima read out in her absence, the former chief executive, who owns 100% of the agency, said it was her duty as Kitagawa's kin to put an end to Johnny & Associates.

"I want to remove all traces of Johnny Kitagawa from this world," her statement said.

(Reporting by Francis Tang and Satoshi Sugiyama; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Edwina Gibbs)

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