The Johnny & Associates sexual abuse scandal is like the Harvey Weinstein and Michael Jackson scandals rolled into one. Karin Kaneko catches us up on how things are unfolding, while Alyssa I. Smith and Patrick St. Michel discuss the effect it may have on the Japanese music industry.
Hosted by Shaun McKenna and produced by Dave Cortez.
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Shaun McKenna 00:25
Welcome to Deep Dive from The Japan Times, I’m Shaun McKenna. You were just listening to the now former president of talent agency Johnny and Associates, Julie Keiko Fujishima at a press conference held last Thursday, Sept. 7, where she acknowledged that her uncle, Johnny Kitagawa, the founder of the company and one of the most powerful men in Japanese entertainment when he was alive, had abused young boy band members at the agency. The four-hour-long press conference marked the first time the agency has acknowledged the abuse that occurred and the executives who gathered for it, including new president Noriyuki Higashiyama, used the opportunity to answer questions from the press and address how they might move forward. On today’s show, I’ll talk to culture editor Alyssa I. Smith and writer Patrick St. Michel, about what Japan’s music industry might look like post-acknowledgment, and we’ll talk to reporter Karin Kaneko, who has been covering the issue for The Japan Times. Some of the discussion on today’s show will cover mature topics, so please be forewarned if that’s not something you or your family members nearby are comfortable hearing. Before speaking to our guests, though, I hit up a hair salon in Tokyo to get a sense of what people there thought of the Johnny’s scandal
So I’m in Shinjuku to get a haircut at my friend Take’s salon. I’ve been going to him for about 16 years, and he’s had a few shop locations. The previous one was right in the middle of Shinjuku. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his customers stopped coming into central Tokyo, and he lost about 90% of his business. So Take pivoted to targeting otaku. For those who don’t know, otaku are kind of like obsessive fans, sometimes we translate the word as “nerd” in English, so you have music nerds or “Game of Thrones” nerds or anime nerds — in Japan you’d be an anime otaku. Anyway, Take had always been a fan of J-pop and so he started marketing his salon to fans of the boy bands that are signed to Johnny’s. I’ve seen people go in for a cut and style and they’ll put up pictures of their favorite Johnny singers, and they get to talk about them at length and there’s basically no judgment. So with the current scandal going on, I wanted to ask Take about what he and his customers thought of these abuse revelations. OK, we’re here, let’s go inside.
So I sit down for my haircut, and I’ll warn you it was a bit loud in there. But anyway, the first question I wanted to ask Take was who his favorite Johnny’s act is.
Shaun McKenna 03:20
SixTONES? What do you like about SixTONES?
I like Kyomoto Taiga. I like SixTONES but mostly I really like Kyomoto Taiga. His voice, his songs, is really good. He’s handsome. Yeah, he’s my type.
Shaun McKenna 03:44
Being a fan, I wanted to know if the relationship he had with SixTONES had changed at all due to the scandal. He said it didn’t but he still had some concerns about how the band would be affected by the news.
If the company, Fuji TV or something, don’t use Johnny’s … So that means I can’t say Kyomo on TV, that’s a problem for me.
Shaun McKenna 04:08
So there’s a chance that these TV stations might not use Johnny’s members and so then you’re going to you can’t see your favorite Johnny’s star on TV anymore.
Hmm, hmm. Dame.
Shaun McKenna 04:25
Take’s view of the situation is one that he says a lot of his customers have, too. They want their fandoms to continue and they want to keep seeing their favorite talents on TV.
How do you hope they’re going to handle this situation?
It’s impossible, but I hope, you know, like before — just before — (when) Johnny’s is one of the top idol in Japan, men’s idol. But now, we think, Johnny’s, how it’s gonna be? No one knows. We worry … I need Johnny’s for Japanese. I think yeah, even you know, the boss of Johnny’s was like that, but anyway he made this really great thing. What he did, I don’t know. But what he make for that company is a really great thing.
Shaun McKenna 05:21
Shaun McKenna 05:24
I pressed him a little on the distinction between Johnny the person and Johnny’s the company. And we spoke a little about whether or not the company needs to change its name.
I don’t think so. Why they really think about the name? Ah, it’s because that’s his name? But it’s not Johnny Kitagawa, it’s Johnny’s. His name is not Johnny’s … it’s Johnny. The change is a little different.
Shaun McKenna 05:48
So you think it’s like if, you don’t think about Johnny Kitagawa when you hear “Johnny’s?”
But, I said, you know, he was … what he did and what he made is different. So I don’t think that if I hear Johnny’s, I don’t remember that kind of things. Johnny’s is most famous men’s idol Japanese company. That’s Johnny’s.
Shaun McKenna 06:15
So from a fan’s point of view, what Johnny Kitagawa and others built — not just executives but acts like Hiromi Go, Hikaru Genji, SMAP, V6, Arashi, Kat-tun and SixTONES — all of them are Johnny’s. And that legacy is bigger than one man and his crimes.
OK, so I’ll show you the back, yeah?
Shaun McKenna 06:39
Great. Cool, great, thank you.
Japan Times reporter Karin Kaneko has been covering the scandal surrounding Johnny and Associates for us since it began to heat up earlier this year. Karin, welcome to Deep Dive.
Karin Kaneko 06:58
Shaun McKenna 06:59
It’s your first time.
Karin Kaneko 07:00
I’ll do my best.
Shaun McKenna 07:03
Karin the allegations of sexual assault against Johnny Kitagawa, who died in 2019 have been around for decades. They were reported by some in the Japanese media from time to time, definitely by the international media, why has this year proved such a crucial tipping point for this issue and the victims?
Karin Kaneko 07:23
So it started in March with the airing of a documentary from the BBC. It’s titled “Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-pop.” And, yeah, like you said the allegations weren’t exactly secret. But it’s true that mainstream Japanese news outlets never talked about them.
Shaun McKenna 07:44
That documentary was by journalists, Mobeen Azhar and Megumi Inman — and props to them for their work. I gotta say, though, when I first saw the documentary, I didn’t think it would have as much of an impact as it did.
Karin Kaneko 07:57
Yeah, um, I also didn’t think so because it’s such a taboo topic, you know. But another thing that kind of like, pushed this issue forward, is a month after the documentary was released, a guy named Kauan Okamoto, he did a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, and he shared about the abuse that he went through.
Kauan’s translator 08:25
I received a lot of criticism for making such a statement in a public forum, including, for example, people saying that it was just a publicity stunt to promote myself. I learned a lot from this experience, which I went through about how the world reacts to such things. There were naturally times when I was hurt, and times when I felt that I could not take all of this on my own, and times where it was also psychologically extremely difficult.
Shaun McKenna 08:52
Who is Kauan Okamoto?
Karin Kaneko 08:54
So Kauan is a Japanese Brazilian singer, who used to be a part of Johnny and Associates as the Japanese Jr., it’s like a section of the company that acts like a pool for choosing new talents that would go on to be like pop stars.
Shaun McKenna 9:14
Right, and what happened to Kauan in his time in Johnny’s, Jr. Karin Kaneko 09:19
So at the press conference, he said that he was abused up to 20 times between 2012 and 2016 — when he was 15 years old, which is really young.
Shaun McKenna 09:31
Right, right. Between 2012 and 2016. That’s really recent.
Karin Kaneko 09:36
Yeah, so it was when Kitagawa was like 80-something. But as you know, the allegations actually goes all the way back to the 1950s.
Shaun McKenna 09:48
Speaking of that, you interviewed another victim, Jr. Here Amato, who is now in his late 50s and head of the Johnny sexual assault victims association is that new group?
Karin Kaneko 10:00
Yeah, it’s really recent, it’s created this year at the end of June. So he told us that some of the idols had tried to, in the late 1980s, to speak up about what happened. But no Japanese news outlets were interested, especially TV, and it just got dismissed as rumors.
Shaun McKenna 10:28
There is this allegation that Johnny and Associates had put its talents on the major TV programs at the time, which was a brilliant idea in terms of building a fan base. We talked about that legacy on a previous podcast that I can link to in the show notes. But that allowed Johnny’s to effectively hold the TV stations hostage if they wanted to. Meaning if Johnny’s received negative coverage, it could withdraw its talent and the TV ratings would plummet. Back to the present, though, we’re in 2023 and new survivors like Kauan Okamoto are speaking out and old survivors like Junya Hiramoto are speaking out.
Karin Kaneko 11:05
Yeah. And, you know, like the time right now, it’s really different, because there’s more awareness surrounding sexual abuse, after like the #MeToo movement, and there’s also the use of social media, which has increased since way before so there’s like less gatekeeping. So, yeah, even if like the major Japanese news, they aren’t reporting on something, that issue can still get out there. And it did. And people paid attention this time.
Shaun McKenna 11:41
Yeah. I mean, after the documentary aired, I saw a lot of fans on social media kind of requesting clips to be translated in Japanese. Eventually, it was translated in Japanese, but even people in China and Indonesia, they all kind of were looking for information on this. And it seems that behind the scenes things were happening, too, yeah?
Karin Kaneko 12:03
Yeah. So it turns out that after Kauan’s press conference, the president of the talent agency, Julie Keiko Fujishima,
Shaun McKenna 12:13
That’s Johnny Kitagawa’s niece.
Karin Kaneko 12:15
Yes, his niece, she met with Kauan and she apologized for the suffering he went through. And she was, like, really sincere about it and Kauan was really, like, I guess he feels validated as a victim. Yeah, and after the fans sent the signatures to Johnny and Associates, I think around like two days later, on May 14, Fujishima released a video and written statement on the company website. She apologized to the victims, fans and business partners. But she claimed that she was not aware of the abuse.
Shaun McKenna 12:55
Right. So on one hand, I think behind the scenes, Fujishima is kind of trying to fix the situation. However, she’s not kind of like going as far as some people would like.
Karin Kaneko 13:09
Yeah, I guess it didn’t sit well with lots of people that she didn’t know about the abuse. Because she has been there at the company for a while. Yeah, they’re like, there’s no way she wouldn’t know, you know? So in June, Johnny and Associates hired a team of three outside specialists to investigate the claims. They were made up of like specialists, including like a lawyer, who used to be like a high-ranking prosecutor, and two specialists in child trauma and sexual abuse. And the issue is also even like getting mentioned in the Japanese parliament, with politicians discussing laws to protect children. And even like, I guess, like outside, like from outside Japan. So in August, two members of the five-member U.N. Working Group on business and human rights, they visited Japan, and they also met with Johnny Kitagawa’s victims.
Shaun McKenna 14:16
Oh, so the U.N. even got involved.
Karin Kaneko 14:19
Yeah, it’s insane. And they came to the conclusion that the government has a responsibility to ensure a transparent investigation, and to make sure that victims receive remedies. Remedies can include an apology or financial compensation. So finally, the team of experts Johnny’s hired, delivered its report on Aug. 29, and it was really bad. Like, the content, it’s really bad, right. So basically, what the report says, and I quote, “Johnny and Associates did not take appropriate actions, such as investigtating whether the sexual abuse allegations against Johnny Kitagawa were true or not.” And the report also said, and I quote, “Johnny and Associates have a serious problem of lacking governance.” Another thing they said is that all these kinds of problems arise when you’re dealing with a family-run business. Because Johnny and Associates, it’s all like, family.
Shaun McKenna 15:27
It was him, his sister, and then her daughter — his niece.
Karin Kaneko 15:31
And the report suggested that family members won’t hold each other to account for bad behavior.
Shaun McKenna 15:38
Right. So this brings us to last Thursday, and there was a nearly four-hour press conference with Julie Fujishima and other high-ups in the company.
Karin Kaneko 15:47
First of all, that press conference was really long. Yeah, I was at the press conference and Julie, at some point, Julie Fujishima at some point, she had to take a bathroom break. But yeah, so the company laid out a plan of what it is going to do and the major news out of it was that Julie Fujishima, finally admitted that abuse happen. And she also apologized for her failure to take action while Johnny Kitagawa was still alive. She said that she was also stepped down as a president and that the victims will receive financial compensation.
Shaun McKenna 16:30
So is this issue any closer to being resolved now?
Karin Kaneko 16:34
No, it’s a challenge to resolve this, because these allegations, you know, this abuse, it’s just like, the damage, that it has, it’s really severe. But yeah, there’s a lot of issues at the press conference, Julie Fujishima, she has stepped down as a president, but she still like retains 100% of the company stocks. Yeah. And there’s also abuse accusations against the new president. He’s an actor and he’s a singer at Johnny and Associates, he’s like the most senior member at the agency. His name is Noriyuki Higashiyama.
Shaun McKenna 17:17
So how did these accusations come out?
Karin Kaneko 17:20
So a reporter asked a question, “Oh, you have, like allegations of like power harassment, and also like sexual abuse.” And his response, he responded by saying that he couldn’t remember. And maybe it’s was just a misunderstanding.
Shaun McKenna 17:39
Oh, he said it was a misunderstanding.
Karin Kaneko 17:41
Yeah, he’s like, I can’t remember. But it may happen or may not happen. But if it happened, maybe it’s just like a joke being misunderstood or something.
Shaun McKenna 17:51
Right, that’s not a good sign, OK. What has happened since the press conference last week?
Karin Kaneko 17:56
So after a press conference, a few of Johnny’s’ corporate sponsors, they began announcing that they will no longer be using the agency’s performers in their commercials. And, also, the agriculture ministry said that they will halt its relationship with Shigeru Joshima. He’s from the band Tokio. He’s kind of an ambassador for the ministry.
Shaun McKenna 18:21
Just for some context, Tokio was a huge band in the 1990s, and Joshima is 52 years old. He’s like an established presence in the Japanese entertainment world.
Karin Kaneko 18:32
Yeah. And on Wednesday, and this is the really big news, Johnny and Associates announced that they will no longer receive management fees from the TV appearances, commercials and it will all go directly to the talents themselves for a year, they won’t be taking a cut at all. Yeah. So in an official statement on its website, they said and I’ll read it here. “The root causes of the issues that have caused everyone inconvenience lie in the late Johnny Kitagawa — the perpetrator — in our company system. Um, Johnny’s also announced it has established a Victim Relief Committee, and it will set up an online compensation application portal. It’s in line with the recommendations made by the third party investigation committee I mentioned earlier. And the statement also outlines how the victims can apply for compensation. And finally, the company said that with the establishment of a new management team on Oct. 2, the firm will also appoint a chief compliance officer from outside the company. It’s to strengthen governance and prevent similar incidents from taking place in the future.
Shaun McKenna 19:53
Well Karin, thanks very much for getting us all up to date on this whole thing.
Karin Kaneko 19:56
Yeah. Thanks for having me, Sean.
Shaun McKenna 20:06
We’re back with Japan Times culture editor Alyssa I. Smith and culture writer Patrick St. Michel. Thanks to both of you for coming back on Deep Dive.
Patrick St. Michel 20:14
Thanks for having us.
Alyssa Smith 20:15
It’s always good to see you, Shaun.
Shaun McKenna 20:18
I guess we should start with the latest news. So after last week’s press conference, the one where Johnny and Associates President Julie Keiko Fujishima stepped down but retained ownership of the company. At that press conference, she apologized to the victims, the fans and the company’s business partners. She may have been aware of how this scandal might play out with the business partners. Alyssa, can you catch us up on the news involving corporate partnerships with the talent agency?
Alyssa Smith 20:45
Sure. So The Japan Times most recently reported that Suntory Holdings, McDonald’s Japan and Nissan have announced that they wouldn’t use Johnny’s talent for new commercials. They join a growing number of companies that are severing ties. Some of the others are. Let’s see … Tokio Marine and Nichido Fire Insurance, Japan Airlines, Asahi Group Holdings and Kirin Holdings. These announcements have been released ever since last Thursday’s press conference. Any Johnny’s talent with ad deals just now though, like Takuya Kimura, also known as “Kimi Taku,” he’s currently in an ad campaign for McDonald’s, they’re not going to cancel those. They just want to stop new contracts.
Shaun McKenna 21:24
Yeah, they’re not going to get rid of Kimu Taku, right? He’s the guy who’s often referred to as Japan’s Brad Pitt.
Alyssa Smith 21:29
Right. So there’s this interesting push for accountability by these firms, which puts them on what many would see as the right side of the argument. For example, Suntory’s announcement came with a push for Johnny’s to outline specific plans for reparation to the victims as well as prevention measures, including strengthening of the agency’s governance. So interestingly, one company said that they’ll keep their sponsorship going, that was Kenei Pharmaceutical, and they have a deal with Shunske Michieda, who is a member of the pop group Naniwa Danshi. Kenei’s reasoning is that supposing Michieda was a victim, although there’s no indication that he was, but supposing he was, then taking away the contract from him is unfairly punishing him.
Shaun McKenna 22:11
Patrick, you’ve been writing about Japan’s music for about 15 years, how will the suspension of sponsorships affect the actual pop stars?
Patrick St. Michel 22:20
I think a lot of people see Johnny and Associates as this giant entertainment powerhouse. And they are, but they aren’t the only player in all of this, for the talent. When it comes to music, it’s actually the labels and various music companies that each group or talent is signed to that’s kind of like determining how much money they’ll get from music sales, CD sales, things of that nature. What Johnny’s does that’s really important for the talent themselves is help land them commercial endorsements, drama appearances on TV, variety show spots — anything that’s kind of outside the realm of pure music — that’s where a lot of these talents money really comes from, is the ability to have a sponsorship with McDonald’s or Japan Airlines, that’s where they make a lot of money, just for themselves. You know, Johnny’s itself will get a cut as well, and they’ll also provide sort of a monthly stipend, if you will, to the talent. But, if you’re a really in demand talent, you’re going to make more money, as it is in a lot of places in the world. Because of all of this, the talents now are going to, at least in the short term, see reduced profit from the worlds of ads and potentially TV appearances on music shows, all these other extracurricular entertainment activities that have helped make them very profitable as performers.
Shaun McKenna 23:49
If this suspension of contracts is seen as harming these, like beloved pop stars, do you think fans might push some kind of backlash? Like, it seems the fans have had a big say in how the scandals unfolded so far with their like, online petition, and I think they were the ones who demanded Julie Fujishima bow at the press conference, not that she wouldn’t have but like that was something they wanted to see.
Patrick St. Michel 24:12
Yeah, that was definitely one of their like: “we need to see this. You made SMAP bow years before. Now it’s your turn.” You know, I do think there will be a bit of a sort of backlash against the corporate backlash to Johnny’s talents, because fans of these performers who are tied with this agency have such a tight relationship, as fan and entertainer, to these performers. As we’ve seen from things like the petitions online and just various outspoken fans talking about how the corporate structure of the company needs to change and people need to take responsibility, at the same time they’re very much like, “The performers didn’t really do anything right? They shouldn’t be affected by this financially or have their reputation impacted as a result?” Because of this fan love for the performers, I’m curious to see how long this corporate boycott actually goes? Is it just kind of like an immediate, “Hey, let’s back away from Johnny’s talent for a few months. Let the situation cool down.” And then “Kimu Taku, you can talk about Big Macs, all you want again.” I think a bellwether for this is going to come in November when NHK announces the lineup for their annual “Kōhaku Uta Gassen” year-end extravaganza. Traditionally, that’s a show that is loaded with Johnny’s talent to the point where sometimes those very talent hosts the show. Yes, it is Arashi, and members of other groups sometimes get involved as well. So when they make that announcement, it’ll be interesting to see if NHK actually is with all these other companies where it’s like, “Well, maybe we should hold off this year?” Or if that’s the moment it signals are returned to “normal.”
Alyssa Smith 26:09
Well, NHK made a statement on Sept. 7, saying that it takes the news about Johnny’s very seriously and the company is reflecting on its lack of reporting on the issue in the past — despite it being covered by other outlets. It pointed out in the statement that part of the third party report says that Johnny’s was able to operate with little criticism from mass media, and this contributed to the abuse taking place for so long. So NHK is saying it didn’t fulfill its role as a member of the media, and it will be more committed to delving deeper into the truth from now on. In light of that, the company wants Johnny’s to provide a detailed explanation as to how it will help the victims and prevent abuses from happening again. It also said it will consider selecting performers based on the company’s commitment to respecting human rights. So overall, it sounds like NHK is taking a tough stance on its dealings with Johnny’s, and there has been speculation that “Kōhaku” won’t feature any of the agency acts.
Patrick St. Michel 27:09
I mean, good NHK. They seem to be the only broadcaster at the moment really doing soul searching about their role in all of this. I mean, when you look at these other statements, it’s very just like, “yes, we do respect human rights,” and then it’s like, “don’t ask us anything else.” So yeah, I mean, like, bravo NHK — at least taking that step.
Alyssa Smith 27:30
Yeah. Well, they are a public broadcaster. So maybe they have more of a duty to be transparent as they’re funded by public fees.
Patrick St. Michel 27:37
Good point, I paid the NHK man, you better be transparent.
Shaun McKenna 27:42
Good for you, Patrick.
Patrick St. Michel 27:44
I was just tired of the knocking, you know. But I do think that does, for all of this soul searching and like, “what does it all mean, “art versus ethics,” “Kōhaku,” the year-end show, is ultimately a showcase of the years defining music. And like when you look at the charts in Japan, it’s like all Johnny’s, despite all of this playing out for the first time, publicly, in a way we haven’t seen over the past few decades. It’s like every other week is just a different Johnny’s group on top of the Oricon charts or even like Billboard’s kind of more diverse charts, let’s say. Like, for example, the week this whole press conference happened and became this huge flashpoint for Japanese media, Johnny’s current biggest group Snowman, kind of a new generation group aimed towards younger fans, hey sold over 869,000 copies of their latest single, which is like — considering most other artists sell like 60,000 at most — is pretty bananas. And it just really underlines it like, despite all of this fans do love the performers and are going to come out to support them when they have new music or new albums or even new concerts on the horizon.
Shaun McKenna 29:08
And on top of that, I mean, the kind of narrative in the past few years is that “Kōhaku” has been worried about declining ratings.
Patrick St. Michel 29:15
Oh yeah. So like, you still want to have the biggest groups there so you get those eyes in. If you take away a Snow Man or a SixTONES or a Naniwa Danshi, you will lose a ton of viewers, potential viewers, who will watch every TV show that their favorite appears on.
Shaun McKenna 29:35
Well, let’s talk about the fandom a little Patrick. Who are Johnny’s fans?
Patrick St. Michel 29:39
Generally speaking, Johnny’s fans are women. I would say a lot of older women, especially ones who probably grew up in the ’90s. So that’s kind of like SMAP era, KinKi Kids, V6, like these are kind of the early J-pop superstars coming out of Johnny’s, and they’ve stuck with the company ever since.
Shaun McKenna 30:01
So these are women who would have been teenagers in the ’90s?
Patrick St. Michel 30:05
Yeah, I would say so. Maybe early 20-something. Young adults, let’s say.
Shaun McKenna 30:11
I mean older women in Japan kind of means a lot, you know? Japanese people live quite long.
Alyssa Smith 30:13
I was starting to do the math like, “Am I an older woman?”
Patrick St. Michel 30:16
But, but, the main thing to take away from it is it’s mostly women. It’s women consumers who have always pushed this talent to the top of the charts and entertainment world and Japan. And that is important, because it’s not always the case where that demographic is being served what they want, and being given sort of the pop images that they need in this country. Whereas like men have, like, dozens and dozens of idol groups still sort of like fallen over. You know, it’s complicated, but it’s mostly women who are behind them and supporting them.
Shaun McKenna 30:53
And Johnny’s bands tend to have kind of a wholesome image, don’t they?
Patrick St. Michel 30:58
Oh, squeaky clean. Just over the course of their history, and something the media has alleged Johnny’s does, is whenever one of their talents get in a scandal: let’s say they are seen smoking a cigarette but they’re not of legal age, or there’s famous cases of certain performers just showing up naked in a park, Johnny’s will do everything they can to sort of get that story, if not like erased, at least kind of like, make it less visible. Because yeah, this image of you know, a pure, perfect pop boy that you can project your hopes and dreams onto is really important, which is true of all pop music and the 2020 is to be honest,
Shaun McKenna 31:41
And a scandal would also sully you that image.
Patrick St. Michel 31:43
Exactly, yeah. Even if it says insignificant is like they went on a date with somebody, right, like that will kind of puncture the fantasy that some fans might have. And you can’t have that.
Alyssa Smith 31:56
So how have the fans reacted to the scandal?
Patrick St. Michel 31:59
Generally speaking, I mean, I would say most fans just want to support the talent that they like, you know? In general, you’ve seen a lot of fans react negatively to the Johnny’s corporate structure and the people involved in it, both because of the obvious, horrible assault at the center of all this, but also because there’s always been a long-simmering kind of frustration with Johnny’s, and specifically Julie, just about how the company has been run in recent years. And like, things like SMAP having to break up in the mid 2010s, or more recently, the younger Johnny’s group, King and Prince, they saw three of their members leave the company, leaving the group as only a duo, which really left a lot of fans sour about like, “Why did this happen? Why did you allow this?” So there’s a little bit of fan vindictiveness towards the company, like, “You took away my King and Prince boys? This is what you get.” But I don’t think that’s the majority. I do think most people are aware of the human rights issue at the center.
Shaun McKenna 33:07
Are they blaming the media at all?
Patrick St. Michel 33:08
Oh, you better believe they’re blaming the media. A lot of fans of Johnny’s have kind of kept an eye on how the media has been treating this post-press conference, because many have kind of, accurately in my opinion, pointed out that a lot of publications and broadcasters who kind of ignored this issue for decades, kind of took a victory lap over this, kind of just being like “We got ‘em. We got ‘em finally.” But fans have been correct to point out, “You’re just as guilty as the company in terms of keeping this hush hush.” And they’re just happy to call that out and be like, “Don’t pretend, like, you weren’t the BBC here, Fuji TV. You were just happy to have Kanjani Eight on your variety show and not saying anything.”
Alyssa Smith 34:02
Actually. We’re calling them Johnny’s fans, and Patrick, you wrote a piece last weekend titled, “What’s in a name? A lot of baggage and trauma, unfortunately.” Do we think Johnny’s is going to change its name?
Shaun McKenna 34:14
Well, I will say at the hair salon we went to at the top of this show, people seem to say that they didn’t associate the Johnny’s name with the scandal. They kind of compartmentalize what they associate with Johnny’s and Johnny Kitagawa. And then at the press conference, too, wasn’t there a big deal being made about the new president calling him like the formal Kitagawa-shi as opposed to the more friendly, like, Johnny-san?
Patrick St. Michel 34:37
Yeah, that definitely was the thing that popped up. There’s kind of this dance they’re doing to try to figure out how to distance themselves while still trying to maintain this brand identity. And as that press conference demonstrated, there’s still kind of an indecision about all this. Initially, the new president was like, “Well no, we’re gonna keep the name. I talked with all the other groups. This is a mark of our pride in history.” Something like that. But by the end of the press conference, they were more like, “Well, no, actually, we could change it,” like almost turned during the four hour press conference. I guess when you have that much time, you’re going to turn it over your head a lot. And, personally, I think you have to change the name, right? Like, it’s just too wild now that you’ve admitted that the person the company is named after did all of these heinous things in the past four decades unchecked, and your company that was named after him didn’t address it sooner? It’s just not a good look whatsoever, especially when you have a developmental area that Johnny Kitagawa preyed on directly called Johnny’s Jr. Like, that’s not … you can’t, no. Even from a pure cynical branding perspective is like, no, it’s not gonna look good. That’s always gonna get called out. Especially as a company like Johnny’s, who has developed more global ambitions in recent years, like, foreign media is gonna be way more likely to call that out. So it’s kind of like, you know, this is your chance to restart. And ultimately, as we’ve talked about, like, I think fans are able to kind of separate the Johnny’s, as a term, from Johnny Kitagawa the person. But at the same time, they’re ultimately here for the artists.
Shaun McKenna 36:28
So they’re not going to care what it’s called, right? And if you have these people who do care what it’s called, they’re just going to not be involved whatsoever. So if you change the name, you’re kind of making them happy. And the fans are going to come along because they want to support the person.
Patrick St. Michel 36:45
Yeah. All they want is, like, “We want to see Naniwa Danshi do well. We want to see their dreams come true. We don’t care what they’re called, as long as they’re Naniwa Danshi. Save for the group Johnny’s West, which is one they really should have thought over when they named them.
Shaun McKenna 37:00
Let’s call them Jimmy’s West.
Patrick St. Michel 37:01
Jimmy? Oh, Jimmy Savile? Yeah, good call. Shaun’s not hired on the crisis team.
Shaun McKenna 37:09
Well, how do you think this scandal is going to affect the greater music industry? I guess that will be the last question for both of you.
Patrick St. Michel 37:17
I think it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I think in the immediate future, there’s going to be a lot of in terms of like the more granular elements of the Japanese music industry, you’re gonna see like songwriters and producers who were very eager to work with Johnny’s in the past from all levels of the industry, from like, super mainstream agencies to like underground artists who are getting this shock to work with them. I think they’re going to be more questioning if they should do that in the immediate future, at least in the same way that advertisers might be slow to come around to having talent back on, they’re going to want to see that there’s a real commitment and change. I think beyond that, what I would keep an eye on moving forward is given Johnny’s position right now being slightly, like, wounded, let’s say, you know, they’re still strong, their artists are still selling a ton, but they’re in a position where they’re not nearly as strong as they once were. The rise of social media and just a more fragmented music scene in Japan has just led to more chances for artists who aren’t part of Johnny’s to emerge and get attention. And you’re seeing a lot more new agencies pop up, who are kind of offering an alternative to Johnny’s. It used to be, like, if you want it to be a male superstar in Japan, Johnny’s was the end game, right? But now you’re seeing new efforts from people like Sky’high, a notable Japanese rapper, he started Be Myself Music Group, and they’ve started a bunch of kind of Johnny’s competitors, Be:First and a bunch of other groups. And that’s offering a new platform. You can go to Korea now and just join one of their agencies. There’s more options out there now, and, Johnny’s will always be present in the entertainment sphere, but I think this will help change the ecosystem where there’s more options available for performers.
Alyssa Smith 39:18
Well, my thinking is how is this going to affect journalism? So I think this is the time for outlets and reporters to reflect on their role in the entertainment industry and how overlooking such a serious issue because of fear of retaliation or whatever reason, meant allowing an abuser to continue without consequences. Patrick, you mentioned earlier that a lot of outlets treated this post-press conference period as like, kind of a victory lap. But the truth is, you know, the public kind of knew about this for decades, and it wasn’t really spoken about. And I think it’s worth noting that you know, this news is coming out after, years after Kitagawa’s death, and so a lot of his victims, you know, they may not get the closure that they could have gotten if this had all come out before he passed. So he’s never going to face the consequences of his actions.
Shaun McKenna 40:12
And I think that maybe the reason for this kind of so-called victory lap as well is like, a lot of these people would have heard the rumors and wanted to investigate. But you know, something was stopping these individual journalists from doing that. And that’s a system. And, I think that maybe there was glee in the fact that they could finally report something that they had wanted to report, you know, over a long time. Well, anyway, this will continue to be, I guess, an ongoing story. And thanks very much for coming on Deep Dive to discuss it, Patrick and Alyssa.
Alyssa Smith 40:49
Patrick St. Michel 40:50
Yeah, thanks for having us.
Shaun McKenna 40:56
Thank you to all my guests for coming on this week’s episode of Deep Dive. There’ll be a lot of extra content in the show notes, so please check that out. And if you’re enjoying these episodes of Deep Dive, we would like to ask that you leave us a comment or rating on the podcasting platform you heard us on. That helps give us a boost in terms of awareness from other users. Elsewhere in The Japan Times, Sept. 12, marked the 20th anniversary of the Sofia Coppola film “Lost in Translation,” and our film critic James Hadfield spoke to members of the Japanese cast and crew to get their takes on how the shoot went down, the movie’s legacy, what it did for Tokyo and some of the more problematic scenes. Deep Dive from The Japan Times is produced by Dave Cortez. Our outgoing music is by Oscar Boyd and the theme tune is by Japanese musician LLLL. I’m Shaun McKenna, podtsukaresama.