A sexual abuse scandal involving the late founder of Johnny & Associates, a major Japanese talent agency, has prompted brands to re-evaluate their relationships with the company.
Johnny Kitagawa, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 87, was a prominent figure in the entertainment industry, known for cultivating J-pop mega-groups such as SMAP, TOKIO, and Arashi.
Allegations of abuse linked to Kitagawa date back to 1999, but it was not until recently, spurred by a BBC documentary and victim testimonies, that these allegations ignited widespread scrutiny.
While Kitagawa successfully sued for defamation over these claims before his death, a partial overturn of the verdict on appeal has cast a shadow on his reputation. However, he was never criminally charged.
A panel of experts recently conducted an in-depth investigation into the allegations against Kitagawa. Their findings revealed a history of abuse dating as far back as the 1950s, even predating the establishment of Johnny & Associates.
The investigation estimated that at least ‘a few hundred’ aspiring boyband idols, collectively referred to as ‘Johnny's Juniors’, had been victimised. The panel's report quoted former recruits who provided graphic details of the abuse they suffered, including oral sex, fondling, and unwelcome advances into their beds at night.
The scandal has prompted a significant shift in the stance of brands associated with Johnny & Associates.
Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance, a major Japanese non-life insurer, is contemplating the termination of its advertising contract with the agency. A public relations official from Tokio Marine stated that the company is committed to respecting human rights and will not tolerate any form of harassment.
Japan Airlines (JAL) has also decided to distance itself from the scandal. JAL plans to refrain from using personalities affiliated with Johnny & Associates in its advertising until the agency takes appropriate action.
The airline said this decision aligns with its human rights policy, and JAL intends to closely monitor the agency's efforts to prevent future incidents and support victims.
Similarly, major beverage maker Asahi Group Holdings has announced that it will cease running advertisements and sales campaigns featuring talents connected to Johnny & Associates.
The company emphasized the importance of recognising measures to support victims and implementing significant changes in the agency's organisational management as prerequisites for continued business ties.
Another beverage maker, Kirin Holdings, is considering its response to the scandal. Kirin plans to request that the talent agency provide assistance to sexual abuse victims and take comprehensive measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Amidst these decisions, a major food company has expressed its intent to continue collaborating with Johnny's entertainers, characterising them as "victims" in this complex situation.
The scandal has elicited responses from within the agency as well. Julie Fujishima, a niece of Johnny Kitagawa and a prominent figure within Johnny & Associates, has acknowledged the abuse allegations.
Fujishima announced her resignation as head of the agency, expressing her commitment to "compensate" victims. Noriyuki Higashiyama, a veteran member of the talent agency, was named as her successor, pledging to address the problem and work towards regaining trust.