The late Johnny Kitagawa, an American-born Japanese businessman and talent manager, has been accused of sexually abusing Kauan Okamoto, a former J-pop idol, when he was a teenager.
Kitagawa, whose career was celebrated in Japan when he died at 87 in 2019, was one of the most prominent figures in the Japanese entertainment industry, having launched the careers of many lucrative boy bands.
In 1962, he founded Johnny & Associates, a talent agency managing male idol singers and actors. Kitagawa was behind some of Japan’s biggest stars, including SMAP, KinKi Kids and Arashi.
Okamoto, who was 15 years old at the time, was a part of Johnny’s Jr, which was a group of young trainees who worked as a talent pool for Johnny & Associates.
“One word by Johnny decided everything (about our future),” Okamoto recalled, according to Kyodo News.
On Wednesday, the now 26-year-old Japanese Brazilian singer-songwriter, alleged that Kitagawa had sexually abused him at least 15 times over a course of four years starting in 2012, when he and Kitagawa’s other “favorites” were invited to spend the night at his penthouse apartment in Tokyo.
Okamoto recalled Kitagawa approaching his bed, removing his outer clothing and laying down next to him while he pretended to be asleep.
He began massaging my feet, and his hands came up and touched my genitals through my underwear. He then removed my underwear and performed oral sex on me. I pretended to be asleep. The next day, when we were in the elevator together, he gave me ¥10,000 (approximately $75).
According to Okamoto, similar instances of abuse occurred 15 to 20 more times at Kitagawa’s apartment before he left the agency in 2016.
At the Foreign Correspondents Club of Tokyo on Wednesday, Okamoto told reporters:
I believe that almost all of the boys who went to stay at Johnny’s place were victims. If you stayed there, you were unlikely to evade him. I would say 100 to 200 boys stayed there on a rotation basis during my four years at the agency. [Kitagawa] never explicitly said that if you don’t put up with [the abuse] you won’t be a success. But Johnny’s favorite first picks would make it and have an opportunity to make their debut, and to act in a TV show or join a boy band. He would make that decision and we were all aware of that. Some even said that you had to be invited to his place to succeed, and that you should do what you needed to do to get invited. That’s how it was.
In response to the accusations, Johnny & Associates released a statement on Wednesday without directly addressing the allegations.
“The company will continue its unified effort to thoroughly ensure compliance without exception, and tackle strengthening of a system of governance,” the company said.
It is not the first time Kitagawa has been the subject of sexual misconduct allegations.
In 1999, Shukan Bunshun, a Japanese news magazine, published a series of articles detailing accusations of child abuse and sexual exploitation made by several teenage boys.
Kitagawa retaliated by suing the magazine for libel. Although he was awarded damages in 2002, the judgment was partially overturned on appeal the next year, with the Tokyo High Court ruling that the magazine had sufficient reason to publish the allegations against him.
Kitagawa’s appeal was rejected by the supreme court in 2004. He was never charged with a crime.
Okamoto hopes that coming forward will help break the media silence and encourage other survivors to come forward.
“I couldn’t talk about my experiences for a long time. I decided to show my face, but other victims have decided to stay anonymous. That might change … that’s my hope. We’re talking about an incredible number of victims,” he said.