Johnny & Associates Scandal Leads Companies to Cut Ties, but Some Stay for Entertainers

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Johnny & Associates, Inc. in Tokyo, January 2021

Japanese companies are divided over how to respond to a sexual abuse scandal involving the founder of Johnny & Associates.

While more and more Japanese companies are reviewing their relationship with the major talent agency and use of its entertainers in ads, many are still unsure what approach to take as the personalities themselves did not cause the scandal.

Johnny & Associates admitted on Thursday that its founder Johnny Kitagawa sexually abused minors.

Suntory Holdings Ltd. asked the agency in writing on Monday to create a plan to support victims and prevent new cases of abuse. It says it will not sign a new contract until it receives a satisfactory reply.

Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. has decided not to renew a contract with a personality at the agency. The company is also considering terminating the contract before its expiration in December. “We cannot tolerate harassment in any form,” the company said.

Nissan Motor Co. announced Monday it will stop using performers from the agency in promotional materials. The automaker said the abuse described in a report by a third-party team of experts and in a press conference goes against the firm’s basic principle of respect for human rights.

An official from another company that has decided to stop using the agency’s talent in ads stressed the pull of the overseas market.

“People abroad are more aware of human rights issues than people in Japan,” the official said. “We have to demonstrate to those overseas that we’re taking a tough stance.”

But as the agency has many high-profile and popular personalities, some companies have been more cautious in their response.

One official at a food manufacturer has found the problem vexing.

“It’s not as if the entertainers have done anything immoral. And in ads what matters is the entertainer’s reputation, not the agency’s. It’s difficult to decide what to do,” the official said.

Kenei Pharmaceutical Co., which makes hygiene products, plans to keep using the agency’s entertainers until its contracts expire.

“For those entertainers who were victims, our cancellation of contract would be yet another hardship,” the company’s spokesperson said.

Takashi Inoue, chairman of Inoue Public Relations, Inc. and an expert on corporate crisis management, says that while each company must decide for itself whether to use the agency’s personalities, they should explain why they reached the decision they did.

“If they terminate a contract, they shouldn’t simply end things there,” said Inoue, who is also a visiting professor at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Management. “They should fulfill their responsibility as sponsors, and urge the agency to prevent new cases of abuse and support victims.”