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Niece of J-Pop mogul Johnny Kitagawa should resign over abuse allegations, panel says

The current president of Japan’s biggest boyband talent agency, who is the niece of its late founder Johnny Kitagawa, should resign over allegations that Kitagawa sexually abused recruits for decades, a panel has said.

The panel, commissioned by Johnny and Associates to address the allegations of abuse, recommended on Tuesday that Julie Fujishima should resign because she had long been aware of the allegations but “neglected to conduct a probe”.

The panel’s report quoted graphic accounts of abuse taken from interviews with 41 alleged victims and company officials in its first in-depth investigation of the allegations.

The panel consisted of a lawyer, a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist.

Fujishima released a video in May in which she made a “sincere” apology after Japanese-Brazilian singer Kauan Okamoto said he had been sexually assaulted repeatedly by Kitagawa. She said then that “we do not believe there was no problem”.

The talent agency Johnny and Associates was established by Kitagawa in the early 1960s and has since dominated Japan’s showbiz industry, but he was dogged for decades by allegations of sexual abuse against young boys seeking stardom.

Kitagawa died of a stroke aged 87 in 2019, having engineered the birth of J-pop mega-groups including SMAP, TOKIO and Arashi that amassed adoring fans across Asia.

The panel report said the assaults of recruits, who came to be known as “Johnny’s Jrs”, could have stretched back as far as the 1950s, even before the company was formed.

Despite such a lengthy timeline, the controversy surrounding Kitagawa only came under wider media attention after a BBC documentary this year.

Many of the alleged victims described sexual acts they were made to perform and spoke of the lasting traumatic effects of the assaults, including flashbacks and feeling “tainted”.

“I had no prior sexual experience so my body went rigid,” one interviewee told the panel. “But I thought it was a baptism of fire for me as a Johnny’s Jr.”

Another described Kitagawa’s advances and recalled being handed 10,000 yen (now about $70) by him the following day. “It made me feel like it was prostitution,” that interviewee said.

Allegations of abuse surfaced in Japanese media in 1999 and Kitagawa successfully sued for defamation, although the verdict was partially overturned on appeal. He was never criminally charged.

The panel said Fujishima’s attitude perpetuated the mindset within the agency’s leadership that “they might as well treat Kitagawa’s sexual abuse as if it never happened”.

“The replacement of the current president is essential to the agency overhauling itself and starting afresh,” its report said.

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