TOKYO (AP) — The head of a powerful Japanese talent agency resigned Thursday and made an apology punctuated by repeated, lengthy bows, nine days after an internal investigation concluded that its founder had sexually abused hundreds of young performers over decades.
Julie Keiko Fujishima announced she was stepping down as president of Johnny & Associates, the agency founded by her late uncle Johnny Kitagawa, and promised to contribute to a compensation fund from her own fortune.
“This is what my uncle committed, and as a niece, I want to take responsibility,” Fujishima said solemnly.
Fujishima said the alleged sex abuse had really happened and that she would stay on the company’s board to see through a victim compensation program.
A group of men who accused Kitagawa of raping them as children said they were pleased the company apologized, but some had reservations.
“The wounds in my heart will not heal,” Yukihiro Oshima told reporters. “But I feel a little better.”
Fujishima remains the sole owner of Johnny’s, and her replacement faces his own allegations of mistreating young performers.
Rumors that Kitagawa had abused children followed his career for decades, but his power allowed him to silence almost all allegations until his death in 2019. The company agreed to investigate earlier this year, after the BBC aired a documentary that spoke with several accusers and others began to come forward by name.
The three-month probe concluded that Johnny Kitagawa sexually assaulted and abused boys as far back as the 1950s and targeted at least several hundred people.
The company named a 56-year-old performer as its new leader. Noriyuki Higashiyama said he was retiring as an actor and singer to take the job, a role that will include overseeing compensation for men who were assaulted as children.
“A horrendous crime has been committed,” Higashiyama told reporters at a Tokyo hotel, bowing deeply with Fujishima.
“It will take time to win back trust, and I am putting my life on the line for this effort.”
Higashiyama immediately fielded questions about allegations that he had engaged in bullying or sexually abusing other Johnny’s boys.
“I don’t remember clearly; maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t,” he said.
He acknowledged he tended to be strict with younger performers, and that he may have done things as a teen or in his 20s that he would not do now.
A new company structure, which will include an outside compliance officer, will be announced next month, Fujishima said.
At one point, she choked down tears, stressing the achievements of the company’s singers and dancers.
“I only feel deep gratitude to all the fans,” she said.
Kitagawa had been so powerful that she, and many others, had kept silent, she added.
The men who have come forward say Kitagawa raped, fondled and abused them while they were working for his company as dancers and singers.
Many of the victims were members of a backup group called Johnny’s Jr., who danced and sang behind bigger stars. One man who came forward recently said he was routinely molested when Kitagawa had yet to found his company. He was just 8 years old.
Higashiyama denied he was a victim. He said Kitagawa had been like a father to him, while denouncing his acts as “the most pathetic in the history of humankind.”
When he found out what Kitagawa had done, he felt as though he had lost everything, Higashiyama recalled.
“Whether I am qualified to take on this job, you be the judge,” he said.
Separately, Guiness World Records said it had stripped Kitagawa of all the records he had held, such as No. 1 hits, according to its policy toward “criminals.”
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama