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Johnny Kitagawa: Japan firms cut ties with boyband agency over sex abuse

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Major Japanese brands are cutting ties with the country’s biggest talent agency after it was engulfed by a sexual abuse scandal.

Firms including Nissan and Asahi say they will not renew any contracts with Johnny and Associates.

Toyota, which previously had a contract with one of its top stars, told the BBC it had no plans to sign any more deals featuring Johnny talents.

Japan’s agriculture ministry has also said it would stop hiring the stars.

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Johnny and Associates is Japan’s biggest J-pop and boyband talent agency.

Last month, an independent investigation into the agency found its late founder, Johnny Kitagawa, had abused hundreds of boys and young men over a six-decade career as one of the most powerful entertainment figures in Japan.

A BBC documentary about Kitagawa was aired in March, prompting national debate and more J-pop stars to report their experiences of abuse.

Public pressure eventually led to the resignation earlier this month of Julie Fujishima, Kitagawa’s niece who became the boss of Johnny & Associates when her uncle died in 2019.

Her resignation came after she publicly acknowledged for the first time the sexual abuse committed by her uncle.

The following day, drinks giant Asahi Group Holdings announced it would pull ongoing television and online advertisements featuring the agency’s stars.

“We should not book sales, even one yen, at the expense of human rights,” its president, Atsushi Katsuki told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Several other major brands followed.

Nissan Motors told the BBC: “Due to conduct by Johnny & Associates that contravenes our Human Rights Policy Statement, we will refrain from developing new sales promotion materials using that talent agency until further notice.”

Some of the criticism includes how the agency’s new boss, Noriyuki Higashiyama, also faces allegations of sexually assaulting young boys.

Others have questioned why the firm has chosen to retain the name of a sexual predator.

Until his death, Kitagawa remained a celebrated household name in Japan despite reports about his crimes.

He held the world record for the most number-one artists, the most number-one singles, and the most concerts produced by an individual.

But following the investigation, Guinness World Records announced it had removed his achievements from its official website.

Last month, a United Nations working group visited Japan and its chair, Damilola Olawuyi, also urged the government to carry out a “transparent and legitimate investigation with a clear timeline” while accusing the country’s mainstream media of staying silent about the alleged abuse for decades.

The male-only talent agency dominated the entertainment industry until recently, with TV stations afraid to lose access to Johnny’s talent, industry observers say.

But public opinion has shifted dramatically in recent months.

There has been growing pressure on TV shows to drop Johnny’s stars from their programming while many companies are postponing their decisions whether to sponsor their shows.

Some artists who were represented by Johnny and Associates have also defected to other agencies.

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