Long before Simon Cowell created iconic bands like The Spice Girls and One Direction, Johnny Kitagawa was considered a legendary music producer who cultivated Japan’s top-selling male “idols.”
Kitagawa is a music mogul and household name in Japan. He is famous for establishing the most successful J-pop talent agency, “Johnny & Associates,” in 1962, which spearheaded the J-pop boy band landscape. The American-born Johnny Kitagawa specialized in scouting male musical talent.
It was only toward the end of his life that allegations of sexual assault first came to light in the Japanese media.
The BBC’s explosive documentary “Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop” exposed Johnny Kitagawa crimes to a worldwide audience in March 2023. Well before that, weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun first published allegations against Kitagawa in 1999. But it went largely unnoticed by mainstream Japanese media. In fact, Kitagawa sued the magazine for $1 million in damages, but a high court in Tokyo ruled the allegations were true. This also failed to gain media traction.
When Kitagawa died in 2019 in Tokyo at the age of 87, he was mourned as a national superstar.
The influence and power that Kitagawa held in the entertainment industry meant allegations that he had committed sexual assault fell on deaf ears. Even after his death, Kitagawa held power over the media. The BBC documentary made international headlines but was considered too “controversial” for local audiences. There has been some public backlash on social media, arguing that the victims were disgruntled idols taking revenge for their lack of commercial success.
But after the Shukan Bunshun published an interview last month with the high-profile former idol Shiga Yasunobu, 54, who also recounted experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of Kitagawa as a youngster, the dark secret became too large brush aside.
Shiga’s idol group, Ninja, made their debut with Johnny & Associates in 1990 and went on to top the Japanese charts and win over the public in a matter of months. Their popularity and fame made Shiga a household name. In the eyes of the Japanese mainstream media, the BBC documentary and Shiga’s testimony finally gave the decades-old suspicions credibility.
More than two dozen former idols have spoken out about their experiences of sexual assault by Kitagawa. Some victims said they were groomed as teens and forced to perform sexual acts. Kita Koji was 16 and an unemployed high school drop-out when he met Johnny in 1964. He was an aspiring idol. Johnny let Kita stay in his house, which led to a sexual relationship. Kita documented his experience in a book released in 1988.
As Johnny & Associates grew, Kitagawa held “training camps” for junior high school students in luxury hotels in the 1990s. Former idol Nihongi Akimasa said he was also sexually assaulted at a training camp.
Both Kita and Nihongi said that after they were scouted they were forced into sexual acts over the course of five years. Nihongi said he was victimized about 10 to 15 times. However Kita, who is heterosexual, said he was forced to have sex with Johnny Kitagawa on a daily basis. He described his experience as a “living hell.”
The latest Shukan Bunshun article prompted Johny & Associates CEO Julie Keiko Fujishima to respond with a one-minute video where she apologized to former entertainers who experienced sexual abuse. But she also stated that the allegations were hard to substantiate with Kitagawa having passed away.
Fujishima, Kitawaga’s niece, said she was unaware of any misconduct as important information relating to the company was carefully controlled by Kitagawa and his sister, Mary Fujishima. Julie Fujishima said that moving forward the company will carry out management reforms and increase staff awareness. They also announced an internal investigation into the matter alongside outside experts.
A Johnny & Associates fan group held a press conference revealing a collection of 40,000 signatures demanding an investigation into the claims. Kitagawa has become Japan’s most famous sex offender and the public are demanding answers.
The future of the company now hangs in the balance, with many people on social media questioning how the music mogul’s behavior went unnoticed. The Shukan Bunshun and BBC documentary have finally broken through the local media code of censorship to reveal the dark side of the entertainment industry. It took an outside news organization to shine a mirror onto the taboo topic and cultivate media space for victims to break their silence.