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Editorial: Comedians in Japan should end ties with 'antisocial groups' like yakuza

Comedians belonging to a talent agency in Japan have been suspended for receiving money to appear at parties organized by "antisocial groups," such as organized crime syndicates. These entertainers received the work not via the company.

The agency, Osaka-based Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., declared in 2009 that it would never have any ties to antisocial organizations. When popular comedian Shinsuke Shimada retired in 2011 for his relationship with those linked to an underworld group, Yoshimoto clarified its policy of thoroughly ensuring compliance with all laws. Nevertheless, scandals involving comedians' ties to antisocial groups have been exposed again.

Yakuza organizations have historically been involved in the entertainment industry. Unless the sector reforms its outdated culture, the entertainment world cannot completely cut off its relationship with antisocial groups.

The problem is largely attributable to the fact that many younger comedians are in socially and economically unstable situations.

Approximately 6,000 entertainers belong to Yoshimoto Kogyo. However, less than 10% of them are believed to live on just work they receive through the company, while many others do part-time jobs to make ends meet.

In some cases, the comedians reportedly only receive a small percentage of fees the company earns for their performances. Apparently, Yoshimoto customarily does not have management contracts with entertainers who belong to the firm.

There are many people who want to work as comedians even though they can barely make a living in that field. Antisocial groups such as yakuza organizations try to take advantage of such desires by comedians to seek links to them. Talent agencies are required to protect their entertainers from such antisocial bodies.

At the same time, Yoshimoto Kogyo has obligations to give instructions to comedians under its umbrella and supervise them. Entertainers involved in the latest incidents initially denied having received any money for appearing at parties organized by antisocial organizations but later admitted to having done so. The talent agency has regularly held seminars for its younger comedians about the need to sever ties to gangsters but one cannot help but wonder whether such seminars ended up being just a formality.

In some cases at Yoshimoto, only one manager looks after dozens of younger entertainers. The company's organization seems to have failed to deal with an increase in the number of comedians belonging to the firm.

As Yoshimoto has won a growing number of contracts with national and local governments, comedians belonging to the company have more opportunities than ever to make comments on political, economic and social issues, wielding more influence on the public.

Following the latest scandal, Yoshimoto has only released a statement announcing its determination to abide by all laws but has failed to hold a news conference on the scandal. The company should be fully aware of its social responsibility and fulfill its obligations.

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