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Is Japan's #MeToo movement coming for boy band talent manager Johnny Kitagawa?

A passer-by watches a TV news reporting Johnny Kitagawa's passing away in Tokyo, on July 10, 2019.

At least a dozen men have come forward with accusations that Japanese talent manager Johnny Kitagawa sexually assaulted them as teenagers.

Kitagawa, who died in 2019 aged 87, was the managerial force driving many of Japan’s biggest boy bands through his company Johnny & Associates.

Although Kitagawa was able to shrug off similar accusations in his life, since his death more people have been willing to publicly accuse him. The latest is Kazuya Nakamura who says he was 15 when Kitagawa forced him to have sex while he was part of a troupe of backup dancers.

Nakamura is one of a growing group of men alleging that the talent manager sexually assaulted them in their teens. Three spoke anonymously to the BBC in March.

Yet despite the salacious allegations and Kitagawa’s legendary status in Japan’s pop scene, the country’s national media hasn’t jumped on the story.

While opposition politicians set up a committee in parliament to investigate, and the talent agency Kitagawa founded promised to do the same and offered a brief apology, the news still rarely makes the front pages or lead television news broadcasts.

Allegations were largely ignored by the media before his death, allowing Kitagawa’s business to thrive. Even when a Tokyo appeals court found several accusers to be credible in a libel case in 2003. When Kitagawa died, he was honoured with a massive funeral that filled a stadium.

Kazuya Nakamura, a former singer and dancer for Japanese entertainment company Johnny & Associates, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, Monday AP Photo

Nakamura’s decision to speak out is because he believes it’s important that Japanese society finally listens. “I just want to speak the truth,” Nakamura told AP, willingly identifying himself to the media. “It happened.”

In the same AP piece, Kitagawa's agency, Johnny and Associates responded to a request for comment that all matters had been placed under investigation, and that it will also help with the “mental care” of those who come forward.

Previous allegations

The first time Kitagawa faced serious allegations was in 1999 when Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun published a series of anonymous interviews with boys he had forced to have sex.

Kitagawa sued the magazine for libel in 2000, but a court found that the boys’ testimony was reliable and the “sexual harassment was factual.” The magazine was still forced to pay damages for asserting that Kitagawa gave minors cigarettes and alcohol.

Despite the court’s findings, no criminal charges were filed and the story was largely ignored by the press.

Nakamura’s allegations

Nakamura joined Johnny’s Jr., a bootcamp for aspirational singers and dancers run by Kitagawa in 2001, after the Shukan Bunshun case.

Aged just 15, Nakamura recalls spending the night at Kitagawa’s home after a performance at the Tokyo Dome Stadium on 19 October 2002.

Nakamura said he was sleeping in a bed with two other Johnny’s Jr. members, lying in the middle, when Kitagawa, then 70, forced him to have sex. He just closed his eyes and prayed it would be over. The other two boys kept quiet, sleeping or feigning sleep.

The following day, Nakamura says Kitagawa offered him some money which he refused. Shortly after he stopped attending dance classes.

It was only after another accuser came forward that Nakamura felt confident to tell his story.

Kauan Okamoto, a musician and former member of Japanese pop group Johnny's Jr., speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan Eugene Hoshiko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Kauan Okamoto alleged in a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo that Kitagawa forced him to have sex repeatedly, a month after the BBC’s documentary aired. Okamoto was the first person in decades to accuse Kitagawa without anonymity. Okamato said he was assaulted beginning in 2012, a decade after Nakamura.

Current Johnny & Associates president Julie Keiko Fujishima has released a fan apology on YouTube and hired a prosecutor to conduct an investigation, though he says the company is not considering monetary compensation.

Nakamura has said that he has tried to reach the investigators, but claims the company is deliberately making them difficult to reach. He is considering a class action lawsuit.

Posted on 13 Jul 2023 14:15 link