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TOKYO (AP) — The head of a major Japanese boys-group talent agency has released a YouTube video apologizing for the sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by her predecessor and promised to prevent a recurrence.
Allegations against Johnny Kitagawa, a powerful figure in Japanese entertainment and the founder of Johnny & Associates, have been tossed around for more than 20 years, although he was never charged with crimes. He died in 2019.
The allegations resurfaced as a hot topic of scrutiny after BBC News did a special earlier this year, focusing on several people who said they were sexually abused.
“More than anything, I apologize very deeply to the victims,” said a solemn Julie Keiko Fujishima, bowing four times during a one-minute video released late Sunday.
The scandal has served as a wake-up call for Japan’s lagging fight against sexual harassment. A consumer boycott has begun against Johnny’s, as the company is also known, making for an extensive list, as dozens of the “tarento,” or “talent,” appear in various advertisements. A petition drive expressing outrage has collected thousands of signatures.
Fujishima apologized for the “disappointment and worries” fans must be feeling. In an additional written statement, she stressed she had not known of any wrongdoing, although acknowledging that was no excuse. Compliance teams and counseling have been set up, she said, while stopping short of lining up an outside third-party investigation.
According to the allegations, Kitagawa asked fledgling singers and dancers, many of them children, to stay at his luxury home. When he told one of them to go to bed early, everyone knew “it was your turn.”
That kind of testimony from musician Kauan Okamoto, appearing at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo last month, raised the level of criticism against Johnny’s. Okamoto was the first accuser who appeared before reporters under his real name to share his story and be photographed.
He had been part of the backup group Johnny’s Jr., which also worked as a talent pool for Johnny & Associates. The company has under its wing some of Japan’s top actors.
Fujishima recently met with Okamoto.
She could not say with certainty whether his allegations were accurate or not. But she sees people are alleging abuse, and such a thing “should never happen again.”
“We are barely getting started, but he has given us an opportunity to change,” she said.
Okamoto’s reaction to his first meeting with Fujishima, whom he called “Julie san,” was overwhelmingly positive. It was like talking to a mom, he added. He understood she was genuinely sorry but had privacy and legal concerns.
Some critics said Fujishima’s apology was not sufficient, the company should hold a news conference, and she should resign to take responsibility.
Others have slammed mainstream Japanese media for long being silent, suggesting they feared retaliation and losing access to the talent pool. Shukan Bunshun, a weekly magazine, has been an exception, aggressively covering the Johnny’s scandal from the start.
Japanese entertainers have been facing serious competition from neighboring South Korea, where groups like BTS have met far greater international success. Some Johnny’s stars have been leaving the company over the years, including Okamoto.
“Everyone should come forward and tell the truth,” Okamoto said in his latest YouTube video.
He had been afraid of being rejected by Japanese society, when he had simply wanted love, as a person and a musician.
“It’s not easy to deliver dreams though entertainment and to truly move people,” Okamoto said.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama