The president of major entertainment agency Johnny & Associates Inc. offered an apology in a video released on Sunday over sexual abuse allegations made against her predecessor and the agency’s founder, Johnny Kitagawa, who died in 2019.
The move came a month after singer Kauan Okamoto, who formerly belonged to the agency, revealed that he had been sexually abused while in his mid-teens by Kitagawa.
“We deeply, deeply apologize to those who have claimed to be victims,” President Julie K. Fujishima said in the video posted on the agency’s official website. However, in a written statement released separately, she added, “It’s not easy to clearly say that we acknowledge or do not acknowledge the truth regarding individual claims.”
In the video that runs about one minute, Fujishima repeatedly used the word for “sorry” or “apologize” and bowed her head.
In the written statement, which addressed specific questions submitted by the media and other entities, Fujishima said about the sexual abuse allegations: “We absolutely don’t believe that there was never a problem. In addition, both on behalf of the company and as an individual, I believe such conduct is never acceptable.”
However, Fujishima avoided stating whether the contents of individual claims were true, saying it is not possible for anything to be confirmed with Kitagawa. “On this point, we ask for your understanding. But having said that, we take it very, very seriously that there are people who claim to have been victimized right under our noses.”
The sexual abuse allegations against Kitagawa received wide attention in 1999 after a report by the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun. At that time, Fujishima was a director at the company.
“[Back then] Johnny Kitagawa produced the talent, while [Vice-President] Mary Kitagawa was in full control of company management, and those two alone made all the decisions,” Fujishima said. “Regrettably, everyone else, including myself, was in a situation in which we had no say in company management and operations other than playing our own assigned roles.”
Asked if she knew about the allegations, she said, “It’s a story that can never be forgiven, but I didn’t know,” adding, “I take responsibility for failing to have actively tried to find out or pursue the allegations.”
The agency has decided against establishing a third-party hearing to investigate the allegations, saying it is taking into consideration the psychological and other effects on those who would be subjected to questioning. But it plans to make external counseling available by the end of this month for those who formerly belonged to the agency.
Fujishima said the company will sincerely make efforts to help those who are suffering psychologically through counselors and experts. “Instead of running away from this problem, we will deal with people who claim to be victimized,” she said.
In March, the BBC aired a documentary alleging that Johnny Kitagawa had sexually abused a number of artists belonging to the agency. The following month, Okamoto held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, where he revealed he had been allegedly molested by Kitagawa on 15 to 20 occasions during his time with the agency from 2012 to 2016.
In response, Johnny & Associates conducted an internal probe of its performers and general staff. The agency said it was progressing with a plan to provide access to consultation by external experts for those who had left the agency.
Last week, fan clubs and others submitted a petition with about 16,000 online signatures to the agency, calling for an external investigation to find out the truth.