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Editorial: Johnny's talent agency chief dodges real answers over sexual assault claims

The headquarters of talent agency Johnny & Associates Inc. is seen in Tokyo's Minato Ward on May 15, 2023. (Mainichi/Takuma Nakamura)

Johnny & Associates Inc. President Julie Keiko Fujishima recently released both a video and a written statement regarding sexual assaults of the agency's young talent by its late founder, Johnny Kitagawa. However, she gave essentially zero answers to the most important questions.

    In April, a former member of the company's talent roster held a press conference to level sexual assault allegations at Kitagawa.

    In her video, Fujishima apologized to the alleged victims, those connected to the agency, and to the fans of Johnny's stable of boy bands. However, the video's question-and-answer format suggested a less than sincere attitude to the matter.

    First, Fujishima dodged stating clearly that Kitagawa had sexually assaulted anyone. The reason she gave was that, as Kitagawa is deceased, "It's not easy to say in one word whether we recognize it as a 'fact' or not." The claims of those men who had the courage to come forward and speak out must not be called into question by the agency casting ambiguity on the facts.

    Furthermore, Johnny & Associates will not set up a third-party investigative committee, which would be indispensable for a fair inquiry. In-house probes have their limitations. To this, Fujishima stated, "It's highly likely that (third-party inquiries) would cover people who don't want a hearing." Although it is natural to consider the privacy of the agency's current talent, it is unacceptable for the company to turn its back on trying to shed light on all that happened.

    One group made up of fans and other interested parties is calling for a probe, and pointed out that "there is speculation exactly because the agency has failed to take proper action."

    In 1999, the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine ran a weeks-long expose of Kitagawa's alleged sexual misconduct. Johnny & Associates sued the publication for defamation, but in 2004 Japan's Supreme Court ruled against the agency, upholding a high court finding that "important parts of the articles on sexual harassment were true."

    Fujishima, who was on the Johnny & Associates board of directors at the time, explained that she had been unaware of what was going on, but her responsibility should also be verified by a third party.

    Sexual abuse is a serious violation of human rights. Despite this, there have been many cases of people who have made sexual abuse complaints being attacked. Social attitudes must change.

    Johnny's, the talent agency home to many popular male idols, had and continues to have enormous influence in Japan's entertainment industry. The media must reflect on whether they have dealt with this grave problem properly.

    The dreams of young people must not be trampled upon. The first step toward this is for all society to hold to the common idea that sexual assault will not be tolerated.

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