TOKYO -- An investigation by a major Japanese talent agency into sexual abuse allegations against its founder won’t address monetary or criminality questions but rather aims to prevent such cases in the future, the lead investigator said Monday.
“We see what has happened at the company and this is a serious governance problem,” Makoto Hayashi, a former prosecutor, told reporters at a Tokyo hotel.
Hayashi said the process would focus on hearing from victims who have come forward. The panel will outline where the response at Johnny & Associates failed and provide recommendations to prevent a recurrence, he said.
Allegations against Johnny Kitagawa, a powerful figure in Japanese entertainment, have been tossed around for decades but he was never charged with any crime. He died in 2019.
The allegations resurfaced as a topic for scrutiny after BBC News produced a special segment earlier this year focused on several people who said they were sexually abused as youngsters while working at the company.
Since then, others have come forward, including Kauan Okamoto, who spoke in April at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo.
The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of alleged sexual assault, but Okamoto has chosen to identify himself in the media.
The scandal at Johnny’s, as the company was widely known, has served as a wake-up call over Japan’s lagging fight against sexual harassment and abuse.
Dozens of children, perhaps hundreds, may have been assaulted while working at Johnny’s.
Earlier this month, Okamoto and two other men submitted to Japan's parliament a petition signed by 40,000 people, demanding revised legislation to better protect children against abuse. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has promised to take action, although his specific plans remain unclear.
According to the allegations, Kitagawa asked fledgling singers and dancers to stay at his luxury home. When he told one of them to go to bed early, everyone knew “it was your turn,” Okamoto said.
“These are facts. Instead of denying these facts, I hope people will respect and support us,” Okamoto told reporters.
Hayashi’s in-house investigation has been criticized as lacking independence.
Laurie Wesselhoff, a lecturer at Keio University in Tokyo and a cultural anthropologist, said Japan should do better, stressing there was “absolutely no possibility” the in-house investigation would be impartial.
Those “complicit in these crimes will remain in their positions, like nothing has happened. Inexcusable. Accountability must be called for. Simply saying we won’t do it again makes a mockery of sexual abuse legislation,” she said.
Hayashi stressed his panel’s efforts are independent despite being paid by Johnny’s office.
Hayashi also brushed off a question about Chief Executive Julie Keiko Fujishima’s apparent denial of the allegations. What the company decides to do with the panel’s findings is up to the company, he said. He gave no date for when the investigation might be finished.
Fujishima apologized last month in an online video for the “disappointment and worries” fans must be feeling. But she said she was unaware of any wrongdoing. She did not appear at Monday’s news conference.
Top executives at many major Japanese companies that become ensnared in scandals, including Toyota and Toshiba, bow deeply in apology at a news conference.
Hayashi said finding fault was not the point of the probe and suggested instead that aspects of the company culture may not have taken sexual abuse seriously.
“But our mission is separate from any criminal investigation,” he said.
Much of Japan’s mainstream media has been silent or reticent in reporting about the allegations against Kitagawa.
Foreign media, including the AP, have reported about the allegations. Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun, which broke the Kitagawa story, recently reported that another official at Johnny’s, a manager, was also abusing children.
Hayashi said all such allegations would be subject to the investigation.
Veteran Johnny's stars like Noriyuki Higashiyama and Sho Sakurai have recently spoken up, stressing the need for the agency to come clean. Singer and actor Hideaki Takizawa, who was an executive at Johnny’s, quit in November, and created his own production company called TOBE Co. in March.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama