TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese entertainment company that has acknowledged its founder sexually assaulted hundreds of boys over the span of half a century, took a new name on Monday: Smile-Up. It also vowed to focus on compensation for victims of the abuse.
Tokyo-based Johnny & Associates, founded in 1975, will eventually fold, but its performers can join an independent company that is being set up, said Noriyuki Higashiyama, the company’s new leader and a former star at Johnny’s, as the company is known.
Higashiyama, tapped last month to head the old Johnny’s, will now be president of both Smile-Up and the new company. The new company’s name will be put to public vote by Johnny’s fans.
“All things with the Johnny’s name will have to go,” Higashiyama told reporters at a Tokyo hotel. “A wounded heart isn’t easy to heal. Compensation on its own will never be enough.”
In recent months, dozens of men who were performers and backup dancers as teens and children at Johnny’s have come forward, saying they were sexually assaulted by Johnny Kitagawa.
Kitagawa, who died in 2019, was never charged.
So far, 325 people have applied to the company’s compensation program, and that number may grow. Payments will begin next month, Higashiyama said. How the monetary amount will be decided was not yet clear.
Last month, Kitagawa’s niece Julie Keiko Fujishima resigned as chief executive at Johnny’s and apologized for his past. She still owns 100% of the unlisted company but will not be part of the new unnamed company, whose capital structure is still being worked out.
Fujishima did not appear at Monday’s news conference and had a letter read aloud. The letter said she was “brainwashed” by her mother Mary, who insisted Kitagawa was innocent, even after the Japanese Supreme Court ruled two decades ago that the sexual allegations against him were accurate.
“I want to erase all that remains of Johnny from this world,” she wrote. “I do not forgive what Johnny has done.”
Some victims say they have suffered for decades in silence, unable to confide in family or friends, while experiencing flashbacks.
Most of the attacks took place at Kitagawa’s luxury apartment, where several youngsters were handpicked to spend the night. The following morning, he would thrust 10,000 yen ($100) bills into their hands, according to various testimony.
Rumors about Kitagawa were rampant over the years, with several tell-it-all books published. A recent U.N. investigation has said that the number of victims is at least several hundred, and called on the Japanese government to act. When BBC did a special on Kitagawa earlier this year, the scandal jumped into the spotlight.
Mainstream Japanese media have come under serious scrutiny for having remained mum about Kitagawa, apparently afraid of his influence and ability to deny access to his stars.
Now, some TV broadcasters and programming have done an about-face to shun Johnny’s stars. Major companies have also recently announced they will stop using them in advertising.
In a related development, several victims met with lawyers, feminists and Johnny’s fans to work together in pushing for legal changes so civil damages can be pursued after the current limit of 20 years. The criminal statute of limitations is now 15 years.
Attorney Yoshihito Kawakami said children often don’t understand what happened, and the changes will allow victims to seek damages from Johnny & Associates.
Japan raised the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16 only this year. Japanese media reports say Kitagawa often purposely picked on 13-year-olds, although his victims have been as young as 8.
The company has promised it will compensate victims “beyond the scope of the law. ”
“Some perpetrators are living their lives as though nothing happened. That causes great pain to the victims,” said Junya Hiramoto, who heads a group of Johnny’s victims.
The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of alleged sexual assault, but Hiramoto and others in the case have chosen to identify themselves in the media.
“By coming together, we can grow into a bigger force and move toward hope,” he said.
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