Founded by Kitagawa in 1962, Johnny & Associates has an outsized cultural presence in Japan, producing some of the most popular names in J-pop including SMAP and Arashi, both with massive fan bases across East Asia.
At a news conference televised live by most broadcasters, Kitagawa’s niece Julie K. Fujishima, 57, bowed deeply, apologizing for the abuses and saying she had stepped down on Tuesday.
Noriyuki Higashiyama, a former member of the hit 1980s boy-band Shonentai, was the new head of the agency, she said.
Higashiyama, 56, said he had never himself been a victim of the abuse or witnessed it, but had been aware of the rumors. “I couldn’t, and didn’t, do anything about it,” he said.
“It will take time to win back the lost trust, but I will devote the rest of my life to dealing with this problem,” he told the press conference, saying he would retire from performing at the end to the year.
Calling the scandal “the most pitiful incident in human history,” Higashiyama said there had been debate, but no conclusion, as to whether the agency should change its name.
Kitagawa’s abuses of young, pre-debut boys and men, known as Johnny’s Juniors, had first been chronicled by local tabloid Shukan Bunshun in 1999, but the scandal blew wide open this year as more victims came forward after the BBC’s report.
There have been calls for a formal apology from the agency, and demands for stricter laws to prevent child abuse.
One former “Junior,” Kauan Okamoto, told a news conference in April that he had been the target of Kitagawa’s advances on as many as 20 occasions since he was 15.
“Juniors” would regularly sleep over at Kitagawa’s apartment in groups, with one or several being targeted by Kitagawa for the night, he said. On one occasion, Okamoto said he had received oral sex from Kitagawa, and cash the following day.
A report published last week by a third-party investigation team led by a former attorney general and commissioned by the agency also described similar testimony from victims.
Despite his status, Kitagawa kept a low profile in public and few photographs of him are available. He never faced criminal charges and continued recruiting teenage boys until his death.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Japan, Kitigawa was known as Johnny-san by the boys on his agency’s books. He cultivated generations of male idols and all-boy bands, a business model that has been emulated across East Asia. He holds several Guinness World Records, including for the most #1 singles produced by an individual.