TOKYO (AP) — The head of a major Japanese talent agency for boy groups has released a YouTube video in which she apologizes for the sexual abuse allegedly committed by her predecessor and vows to avoid a repeat.
Allegations against Johnny Kitagawa, a powerful figure in Japanese entertainment and the founder of Johnny & Associates, have been tossed around for over 20 years, though he was never charged with any crimes. He died in 2019.
The allegations resurfaced as a hot topic of investigation after BBC News ran a special earlier this year targeting several people who said they had been sexually assaulted.
“More than anything, I offer my sincerest apologies to the victims,” said a solemn Julie Keiko Fujishima, bowing four times during a one-minute video released late Sunday.
The scandal has served as a wake-up call to Japan’s lagging fight against sexual harassment. A consumer boycott has begun against Johnny’s, as the company is also known, making for an extensive list as dozens of “tarento” or “talent” appear in various advertisements. A petition expressing his outrage has garnered thousands of signatures.
Fujishima apologized for the “disappointment and worry” fans must feel. In an additional written statement, she stressed that she was not aware of any wrongdoing, although she acknowledged that it was not an excuse. Compliance teams and counseling have been set up, she said, while she stopped setting up an external third-party investigation.
According to the allegations, Kitagawa asked aspiring singers and dancers, many of them children, to stay at his luxurious house. When he told one of them to go to bed early, everyone knew it was your turn.
That kind of musician’s testimony Kauan Okamoto, last month at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo, increased criticism of Johnny’s. Okamoto was the first prosecutor to appear in front of reporters under his real name to share his story and be photographed.
He was part of the backup group Johnny’s Jr., which also worked as a talent pool for Johnny & Associates. The company has some of Japan’s top actors under its wing.
Fujishima recently met with Okamoto.
She couldn’t say for sure whether his accusations were correct or not. But she sees people claiming abuse, and something like this “should never happen again.”
“We’re just getting started, but he’s given us the chance to change,” she said.
Okamoto’s reaction to his first meeting with Fujishima, whom he called “Julie san,” was overwhelmingly positive. It was like talking to a mother, he added. He understood that she was genuinely sorry, but that she had privacy and legal concerns.
Some critics said Fujishima’s apology was not enough, that the company should hold a press conference and that she should step down to take responsibility.
Others have criticized the mainstream Japanese media for long silence, suggesting they feared retaliation and losing access to the talent pool. Shukan Bunshun, a weekly magazine, was an exception and aggressively covered the Johnny’s scandal from the start.
Japanese entertainers have faced serious competition from neighboring South Korea, where groups like BTS have enjoyed much greater international success. Some Johnny’s stars have left the company over the years, including Okamoto.
“Everyone needs to come forward and tell the truth,” Okamoto said in his latest YouTube video.
He had been afraid of being rejected by Japanese society, when he just wanted love, as a person and as a musician.
“It’s not easy to make dreams come true through entertainment and really touch people,” said Okamoto.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama