U.N. group urges ‘transparency’ from Japan on Johnny’s abuse claims
TOKYO — A United Nations working group on Friday called on Japan’s government to ensure transparency in the handling of multiple claims of child sexual abuse against the late Johnny Kitagawa, founder of the country’s largest talent agency, Johnny and Associates.
“The perceived inaction by the government and [the company] among victims … highlights the need for the government, as the primary duty bearer, to ensure transparent investigations” into the case, Pichamon Yeophantong, a political scientist and member of the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights, told reporters in Tokyo.
The working group’s closing statement, which calls the allegations against Kitagawa “deeply alarming,” marks the end of its first visit to Japan, which began on July 24. During the two-week trip, Yeophantong, along with the group’s chairperson, Damilola Olawuyi, held discussions with business leaders, government officials and civil society groups about the state of human rights in Japan’s workplaces.
Their visit included talks with alleged victims of Kitagawa and representatives of Johnny and Associates, also known as Johnny’s. The agency, founded in 1962, has propelled popular J-Pop boy bands such as SMAP and King & Prince to stardom. Since the BBC released a documentary on Kitagawa in March, a swathe of sexual abuse allegations against the mogul have emerged from former Johnny’s idols and trainees.
The working group’s final report on Japan, including concrete recommendations to the government and businesses, will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2024.
The U.N. group believes Kitagawa’s victims to be in the hundreds, Olawuyi told reporters. Some alleged victims say they were assaulted over 40 times during their time at Johnny’s, and the youngest victims were in elementary school at the time of the alleged abuse. The working group called on the Japanese government to improve its child abuse prevention laws in response to the scandal.
Shimon Ishimaru, a 55-year-old alleged victim of Kitagawa who was among those interviewed by the working group, told reporters on Friday that he and fellow victims had “received courage” from the U.N. investigation and were grateful that the group had taken their grievances seriously. “[The group] did not doubt us at all, and we are very happy about that,” he said.
Anonymous allegations of sexual assault by Kitagawa were first reported by the Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun in the 1990s, but the issue remained largely unreported by mainstream media until this year.
The working group’s Yeophantong believes media companies in Japan were “implicated in covering up the scandal for decades” and that the country’s media and entertainment industry fosters “a culture of impunity” surrounding sexual harassment and abuse. The working group appealed to all corporations involved — including television stations, newspapers and sponsors — to conduct “due diligence” surrounding human rights.
The working group expressed concerns about the “transparency and legitimacy” of Johnny and Associates’ internal probe into the allegations and implored the company to provide “clear and predictable timeframes” for the investigation. The agency issued an apology in May but is yet to hold any media conferences on the issue.
Yeophantong told reporters that although Johnny’s should take action to provide an appropriate “grievance mechanism” for human rights abuses, it is the Japanese government that has “primary duty to protect human rights,” and should lead by example.
The government’s agency for children and families has been holding meetings on child sex abuse measures since June in response to the Kitagawa scandal. In late July, children’s policy minister Masanobu Ogura announced a plan to establish a hotline for male sex abuse victims.
The working group also noted a “general lack of awareness” of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights amongst Japanese businesses, particularly regarding vulnerable groups such as women, LGBTQ individuals, migrant workers, disabled persons and Ainu people (an indigenous group who live mostly on Japan’s Hokkaido island), chair Olawuyi said.