U.N. Slams Response to Johnny Kitagawa Sexual Abuse Scandal – Billboard
Written by GRB on 09/08/2023
An investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council has concluded that the late Johnny Kitagawa, for decades the most powerful man in Japanese show business, abused hundreds of boys, and that the agency he founded has still not taken responsibility for the crimes.
Pichamon Yeophantong, a member of the U.N. working group which visited Japan, also criticized the inaction of the government and said it needed to act as “the primary duty bearer to ensure transparent investigations of perpetrators and that victims obtain effective remedies.”
The working group “observed deeply troubling issues” across the Japanese media and entertainment industry, according to Pichamon, who said that the absence of codes and rules around workplace behavior contributed to a culture of “impunity for sexual violence and harassment.”
Born John Hiromu Kitagawa in Los Angeles to a Buddhist priest in 1931, Kitagawa went back and forth between L.A. and Tokyo in his early life and began working at the U.S. embassy in Japan in the 1950s. While there, he recruited a group of teenagers to join a boyband he would manage and christen Johnnys, the name given to the multitude of groups he would go on to create. In 1962, he founded Johnny & Associates Inc. It was instrumental in creating the ‘idol’ group phenomenon, spawned megastar groups such as SMAP and Arashi, and only handled male talent.
An article this month in the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun quotes a former staff member who worked for many years with Kitagawa at the agency, saying, “More than a case of the president of an idol empire being a sexual abuser, this was a sexual abuser who created an idol empire to groom boys on the way to making their [showbiz] debut.”
Though the recent spotlight shone on Kitagawa’s crimes followed a BBC documentary aired in March Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop, his behavior was an open secret in Japan that was reported on by weekly magazines and covered up by the major media groups.
Indeed, the first allegations were printed in a March 1965 issue of the now defunct Shukan Sankei, when Kitagawa was still working at the U.S. embassy, with Shukan Gendai carrying a report from another victim in April 1981. A number of books written by former talent from Johnnys were published in the 1990s contained accounts of abuse both experienced and witnessed.
In 1999, Shukan Bunshun ran a 10-part series detailing graphic accounts of rape by Kitagawa from a dozen victims. Kitagawa sued the publisher for libel and won damages in the Tokyo District Court in 2002. His victory was reported by all the major newspapers. That decision was partially overturned and the damages were drastically reduced the following year by the Tokyo High Court, which concluded the abuse allegations were largely true. Only two newspapers, the liberal-leaning Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, carried the new ruling, and in smaller articles than they had run on Kitagawa’s previous victory.
All of Japan’s biggest newspapers belong to media groups that include television and radio networks. Kitagawa was ruthlessly effective in controlling the narrative around himself and his stars. It was well known that anything approaching negative coverage of anybody attached to his agency could result in an entire media group losing access to its huge stable of talent.
When Kitagawa died in 2019, then deputy chief cabinet secretary Kotaro Nogami paid tribute to the mogul, saying that he had “trained many idols over many years and left behind huge achievements in the Japanese entertainment industry. I wish to offer my sincere prayers for him.”
Since the airing of the BBC documentary and subsequent Japanese media coverage, dozens more victims have come forward, finally putting names and faces to what had previously been mostly anonymous accounts in weekly magazines.
In May, Takeshi Kitano, arguably Japan’s most recognizable entertainer, weighed in on the Kitagawa sexual abuse scandal. Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival, Kitano told The Hollywood Reporter that “the time of being able to speak up about LGBTQ stuff and sexual harassment has finally come to Japan.” He added, that “these stories have always been around [in our industry].”
Still, there appears a reluctance to fully accept the enormity of the crimes and how the complicity of the media and entertainment businesses helped facilitate pedophilia.
Shortly after the documentary aired, U.S.-born Japanese TV talent Dave Spector tweeted (in Japanese) that he was “Surprised at the difference in tone between the reporter’s insistent Western-style “sense of justice” and victim mentality thinking and that of the people involved in the actual case,” going on to question why they didn’t report about it while Kitagawa was alive if they cared so much.
Another regular on Japanese TV went further. Dewi Sukarno criticized the U.N. group’s visit to Japan on Twitter last month, and said that Kitagawa “loved the children from his agency as if they were his own,” adding that the criticism of him was “bringing disgrace to Japan.”
This article originally appeared in THR.com.