Johnny Be Gone: Top Japan Talent Agency to Erase Remnants of Scandalized Late Founder

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Johnny & Associates President Noriyuki Higashiyama, center, speaks at a press conference Monday afternoon in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, as Yoshihiko Inohara, left, looks on.

The saga of talent agency Johnny & Associates Inc. and the fallout from scandalous revelations about its late founder Johnny Kitagawa took a new twist on Monday, when the new management announced it would disband the company and eliminate the name “Johnny” from all remaining entities.

The dismantling of the company will be done once victims have been compensated for the sexual abuse carried out for decades by Kitagawa, newly installed President Noriyuki Higashiyama said at a press conference in Tokyo.

The decision to end the company marked a major change to a plan announced a month ago by the company, which was looking to remain intact but saw the writing on the wall as more people and companies began distancing themselves from the firm.

“I feel how inward-looking and how wrong we have been,” Higashiyama, 57, said on the company’s lack of foresight.

Higashiyama, a former member of a boys idol group in his youth, took a solemn tone Monday when he announced, “We will take the initiative ourselves and dismantle the agency.”

It was nearly a month ago that Johnny & Associates held its first press conference to address the sexual abuse allegations on Sept. 7. Since then, sponsors and companies one after another announced they will stop using the agency’s talents in promotions.

That forced the agency to dramatically change its strategy. “After I assumed the presidency, I had only two days before the first press conference,” Higashiyama said, reflecting on the original plan. “Even I felt that all of the measures were just reactive.”

A victims relief committee that the agency set up on Sept. 13 has received compensation requests from 325 alleged victims of Kitagawa as of Saturday. “I thought, ‘Could there be that many?’” Higashiyama said.

Regarding Kitagawa’s transgressions, he said, “I ended up pretending not to see the problem. I have to face the victims while thinking what we should do to make things right.”

At Monday’s press conference, the agency presented its plan for a new start.

Julie Keiko Fujishima, 57, the niece of Kitagawa who resigned last month as president of the agency, will not take a stake in a new management company, which will be established to sign individual representation contracts with current performers and groups who wish to remain with the agency. No relatives of Kitagawa will be involved in the new agency.

Yoshihiko Inohara, 47, who will serve as vice president, said, “Talents were long coddled by a strong company that made them spoiled and inward-looking. Since we will dismantle Johnny & Associates, we need to fundamentally change the culture.”

Johnny & Associates itself will be renamed “Smile-Up,” with Fujishima staying on as director, but will focus only on functions related to compensating sexual abuse victims.

Fujishima did not attend the press conference, but said in a strongly worded statement read by Inohara, “As a relative of the perpetrator, I believe it is my responsibility to close down the agency. I want to erase every trace of Johnny Kitagawa from this world.”

A group of former talents, who formed an association of Kitagawa’s sexual assault victims to publicize the matter, regarded the measures announced at the press conference in a positive light.

“I think the agency came up with a good idea that also takes into account the feelings of fans,” group leader Junya Hiramoto, 57. “I will judge the measures objectively and watch closely how they are implemented. ”

The name change will take effect on Oct. 17, and all entities bearing the name “Johnny” set up in the 61 years since the company was founded will be erased. These include such popular groups as “Kanjani∞(eight)” (for Kansai Johnny) and “Johnny’s West.”

“I understand why it has to be changed, but given what they have done so far, I also don’t want it to change,” said a 29-year-old female company employee in Tokyo and a loyal follower of the Johnny’s West faction.