Johnny Kitagawa’s Accusers Express Mixed Reactions Over Agency’s Comments

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left, Yoshihiko Inohara, Noriyuki Higashiyama and Julie Keiko Fujishima are seen at a press conference in a Tokyo hotel on Thursday.

Noriyuki Higashiyama, a Johnny & Associates Inc. star who was named the new president of the scandal-ridden agency Thursday, raised eyebrows when he said he “had heard rumors” about Johnny Kitagawa’s behavior at a press conference held in response to a third-party investigation that acknowledged abuse allegations against the late entertainment mogul.

At the press conference, the agency apologized for multiple cases of sexual abuse committed over decades by Kitagawa, a move that has been welcomed by some victims but criticized by others for not going far enough.

“Those were the deeds of a brute. My affection for him has completely evaporated,” said Higashiyama, who made his professional debut in 1985 as a member of the Johnny’s boy band Shonentai.

Higashiyama, former Johnny & Associates President Julie Keiko Fujishima; and Yoshihiko Inohara, another star who has an executive role at the company, attended the press conference at a Tokyo hotel, answering questions for more than four hours.

Higashiyama was forthright in condemning the abuse acknowledged in the third-party panel’s report, which concluded that Kitagawa had sexually assaulted victims over a span of at least 40 years.

“It was a terrible crime committed when those young children were going through a period of development,” Higashiyama said. “As a result, that person did not make anybody happy.”

Higashiyama also expressed remorse that nothing had been done to address the scandal sooner. “I had believed that [Kitagawa] was the absolute authority and was always correct, but now that makes me feel ashamed,” Higashiyama said.

Fujishima, who is the sole owner of the agency and is Kitagawa’s niece, said, if she could, she would tell the company’s founder “to apologize in front of everybody.” Kitagawa died in 2019.

Fujishima said that deciding what to do with her stake in the company “isn’t a simple matter.” She said she “could not say” anytime soon whether she would reduce her stake.

“My job is to provide support for the victims and care to the performers who were harmed. I will not be involved in any other duties at all,” Fujishima said.

Eight members of an association comprising former members of the agency who claim they were abused by Kitagawa watched a broadcast of the press conference in Tokyo.

One said the press conference left him with mixed feelings of hope and disappointment. “I have high expectations,” he said. “But they haven’t talked about everything. Nothing has been resolved yet.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former members of the Johnny & Associates Inc. talent agency who claim they were abused by Johnny Kitagawa watch a broadcast of the agency’s press conference in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Thursday.

All eight men welcomed the apologies extended to the victims. “I’m glad that the acknowledgment we have repeatedly been calling for has come,” said one. “My emotional wounds haven’t suddenly disappeared, but I do feel a little better now,” another said.

The agency plans to speak with the victims and take measures to offer support and compensation.

However, the head of the association Junya Hiramoto said: “One-sided comments won’t provide any relief at all. They must listen to us and include our opinions.”

Higashiyama’s appointment as president was greeted with skepticism by many of the association’s members. “I felt uncomfortable when I heard him say he ‘had heard rumors’ about the assaults,” said 56-year-old association member Shimon Ishimaru, who is the same age as Higashiyama.

Yasunobu Shiga offered a more scathing appraisal. “Mr. Higashiyama called [Kitagawa] ‘father’ and he was on the same side as the people who were deliberately ignoring [the abuse],” Shiga said.

Victims who have come forward with allegations against Kitagawa have been accused of lying about the abuse, prompting Higashiyama to call for the smears to stop. “I ask that people stop slandering the victims,” he said at the press conference.

Kazuya Nakamura, a former entertainer at the agency who alleges Kitagawa sexually assaulted him, wondered “How will the agency approach us when the dialogue starts?”

Nakamura, 36, had told only his mother and a few close friends about the alleged abuse, but he went public with the accusations in spring.

“That lifted a weight off my shoulders,” Nakamura said. However, he harbored doubts about how the agency would deal with the issue.

Nakamura said Kitagawa sexually assaulted him at the mogul’s home in October 2002 after he performed with the pop duo Tackey & Tsubasa at Tokyo Dome. Nakamura, who was in his last year of junior high school at the time, said he and other performers stayed at Kitagawa’s home that night, which was common practice among boys at the agency.

As he drifted off to sleep he said felt hands groping his feet and then moving up his legs. He said the only thing he was thinking at the time was “when is this going to be over.”

Nakamura performed on stage at Tokyo Dome again the following day, but eventually stepped away from activities with the agency, using high school entrance exams as an excuse.

Nakamura said he was invited to stay at Kitagawa’s house again after the alleged sexual assault, but he refused. “The same thing would have happened again,” he said.

At a press conference on Thursday, Nakamura urged other victims who have remained silent to speak up. “If you pluck up the courage to take action, you might gain a perspective that you could never have imagined was possible,” Nakamura said.