By: Rodrigo Villegas
Predator: The Secret Scandal Of J-Pop, a new BBC documentary, premiered earlier this week describing the sexual exploitation of young boys by businessman and entrepreneur, Johnny Kitagawa. The documentary observes BBC journalist Mobeen Azhar as he researches the stories of sexual misconduct by Kitagawa through talks with former trainees.
John Hiromu Kitagawa—known professionally as Johnny Kitagawa—was the founder and president of Johnny & Associates, a male-only talent agency. He launched the company in 1962 and established the pop-idol culture in Japan. The company trains young boys to become singers, dancers, and actors.
With Johnny & Associates, Kitagawa held the world record for the most number-one artists, the most number-one singles, and the most concerts produced by one person. However, Kitagawa faced multiple accusations of sexual abuse against the trainees.
The accusations were publicized, with some deemed true, yet he remained a respected individual. After his death in 2019, the Japanese public continued to respect him. A tribute concert held at the Tokyo Dome included performances from over 150 of his artists and a message of condolence by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
For decades, several former members of Johnny & Associates accused Kitagawa of sexual misconduct. They recounted stories of witnessing or experiencing sexual abuse by Kitagawa. While many of the reports were considered accurate, Japanese media did not cover them extensively, nor were any actions taken by Japanese authorities.
Azhar attributed the lack of coverage and legal actions to the culture of politeness and prejudice concerning sexuality within Japanese society. He told Rolling Stone UK, “There’s a massive amount of prejudice about any sexual orientation that veers from heteronormative or cisgender. As a result of that, there’s this idea that whether you’re gay or you experienced sex with an older man who abused you, that’s seen as very similar territory…”
Even with the accusations, Kitagawa remained the president of Johnny & Associates until his death in 2019 when Julie Fujishima—Kitagawa’s niece—took up the role. Should Johnny Kitagawa be respected? No. I do not think he deserves the admiration he receives to this day.
Considering the allegations were deemed to be true, I find it awful to ignore the experiences of his victims and praise Kitagawa instead. I think it is fine to enjoy the music created by him, but he should not be revered. However, I agree with the points Azhar mentioned as the reasons why the allegations were not taken seriously. The bigger issue lies with Japan’s culture of politeness and prejudice concerning sexuality.
Courtesy is of utmost importance in Japanese culture, so to be impolite is not tolerated because it inconveniences others. Azhar argues this attitude can develop an environment where speaking up about sexual abuse becomes a hardship for others.
Then, prejudice around sexuality creates an environment where people refuse to accept anything outside of heteronormative. Ryutaro Nakamura—a reporter for Shūkan Bunshun—told Azhar, “In Japan, love affairs or sexual relations between men – it’s like people don’t believe it.” As a result, the Japanese public dismisses men’s experiences of sexual abuse, so many do not publicly share their stories.
Japan’s emphasis on courtesy should not negate the accounts of victims of sexual abuse. Dismissing their stories means the victims cannot heal from their tragic experiences and abusers can continue to exploit others since they know no legal actions will be taken against them. Though the documentary has just aired, according to Rolling Stone UK, it has already initiated a discussion regarding Kitagawa and his sexual exploitation.