TOKYO (AP) — A powerful Japanese entertainment company tarnished by sexual assault allegations against its late founder appointed one of its stars as its new president Thursday after the previous chief resigned and apologized for the abuse young clients suffered over decades.
Julie Keiko Fujishima announced she was stepping down as president of Johnny & Associates, the talent agency founded by her late uncle, Johnny Kitagawa. She 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.
“This is what my uncle committed, and as a niece, I want to take responsibility,” Fujishima said solemnly.
Noriyuki Higashiyama, a member of a boy group called Shonentai, said he was retiring as an actor and singer to become the new president of Johnny & Associates, 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 several times with Fujishima.
“It will take time to win back trust, and I am putting my life on the line for this effort.”
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 singers and dancers that the talent agency known as Johnny’s represented and promoted.
“I only feel deep gratitude to all the fans,” she said.
Kitagawa had been so powerful she, and many others, had kept silent, she added.
During Thursday’s news conference, Higashiyama immediately fielded questions about allegations that he had engaged in bullying or sexually abusing other Johnny’s boys.
“Maybe I did it; maybe I didn’t,” he said.
He acknowledged he tended to be strict with younger performers. He said he simply could not remember, as he may have done things as a teen and in his 20s that he would not do now, at age 56.
The news conference was the first since several people came forward this year, alleging they were sexually assaulted by Kitagawa.
Kitagawa was behind dozens of popular boy bands in Japan, starting in the 1960s. He died in 2019 and was never charged.
A three-month investigation by a special team set up by the company announced that the long-rumored allegations were fact.
The men who have come forward say Kitagawa raped, fondled and abused them in his Tokyo luxury mansion, as well as other places, such as his car and overseas hotels, while performing 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.
Nine men have formed a group demanding an apology and financial compensation from Johnny’s. They say they were raped by Kitagawa when they were minors.
They were pleased the company apologized and promised compensation, but some had reservations, while others said Higashiyama had not told the whole truth.
“The wounds in my heart will not heal,” Yukihiro Oshima told reporters. “But I feel a little better.”
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