Japanese boy-band production company sets up panel to compensate sexual assault victims

TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese boys-band production company at the center of an unfolding sexual abuse scandal, Johnny & Associates, chose three former judges Wednesday to head its effort to compensate hundreds of victims.

The Tokyo-based agency also said it will not take its usual cut from its performers’ earnings for the next year “in an effort to win back public trust,” and all the money for shows and other appearances will go to the individuals.

The actions come after Johnny’s, as the company is known, acknowledged last week that Johnny Kitagawa, its late founder and former chief, had sexually assaulted at least several hundred teens and children over half a century.

A special online site will be set up for people who worked under Johnny’s so they can be financially compensated, the company said in a statement. Privacy will be protected, and the monetary amount will be worked out in direct talks with each person, it said.

Kitagawa died in 2019 and was never charged.

Julie Keiko Fujishima, his niece, stepped down as chief executive of Johnny's last week and was replaced by Noriyuki Higashiyama, a Johnny’s star. Fujishima remains on the board and owns 100% of the unlisted company.

Japan has been shaken by the scope and systematic nature of the once-powerful Kitagawa’s acts, as more people come forward to say they were victimized.

Johnny’s also reiterated its promise to strengthen governance and appoint a compliance officer in the company.

“We recognize that the late Johnny Kitagawa carried out sexual assaults over a long period, and we apologize to the victims from the bottom of our hearts,” the company said. “We vow to carry out compensation and prevent a recurrence.”

Various Japanese companies, including beverage makers Asahi Group Holdings and Suntory Holdings, have announced they will no longer use Johnny’s stars in ads or promotions. Among the latest was Kao Corp., a chemical and cosmetics company, which cited “considerations for people’s various feelings” on Tuesday.

McDonald’s Japan has also said it will stop using Johnny’s stars in future deals, but past ads featuring them remained on its official site.

Japanese mainstream media have come under attack for remaining silent, despite tell-all books and a Japanese Supreme Court ruling in 2004 in favor of the weekly Shukan Bunshun, which Kitagawa had sued for libel.

Public broadcaster NHK did a special program this week asking producers at that time why they did not cover the story. They said they had hesitated because Kitagawa had not been arrested. One person acknowledged he had “chosen bread over the pen,” meaning he had chosen money over journalistic integrity. Johnny’s stars are extremely popular, leading to sponsorship revenue and hit TV shows.

A group of nine victims set up this year is demanding an apology and compensation. They went to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations on Monday to ask for its backing. They have also gone to Parliament.

The U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights has urged the Japanese government to support the compensation efforts. Its investigation, as well as the company’s own probe, found Kitagawa routinely molested children, mostly at his luxurious home, after they auditioned as backup dancers or took lessons. One victim said he was raped 200 times.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama