The British Broadcasting Corporation launched a documentary “Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop” in early March, exposing the sex scandal of Kitagawa, the founder of the Japanese idol agency Johnny & Associates.
In fact, much of the information used in the documentary came from the Japanese magazine “Weekly Bunshun” in 1999. After two lawsuits, the court finally supported the “Weekly Bunshun”‘s report on Kitagawa. But in the past 50 years, no mainstream Japanese media has reported on the scandal. After the broadcast of the BBC documentary, the Japanese public also reacted lukewarmly. Some media said that Kitagawa’s sex scandal is the “elephant in the room” of Japanese society.
Kitagawa’s sex scandal is not only a secret of Johnny & Associates, but also a secret of the entire Japanese society. Despite mounting evidence of the sex scandal and accusations from more and more victims, Japanese parents are still trying to send their children to Johnny’s. And a member of Johnny’s once said: “If I can be popular, I am willing to be sexually harassed.”
Japan is the birthplace of idol culture. Founded by Johnny Kitagawa in 1962, Johnny & Associates is known as the “Asian Boys’ DreamWorks”. It has launched dozens of the most popular male idol groups in Japan, including Takuya Kimura’s SMAP, Arashi, TOKIO, Guan 8, etc. .
The starting point of Kitagawa’s career was a group of teenagers playing baseball. In 1952, Kitagawa, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Japan, organized a junior baseball team. On a rainy day in 1962, Kitagawa took the boys from the baseball team to the cinema to watch the musical “West Side Story” and came up with the idea of forming an idol group, thus Johnny’s original idol group “Johnny’s” was born. Its members are From that junior baseball team.
Kitagawa, who is keen on stage art, paid great attention to the performance of artists in the theater from the very beginning. Johnny has broken through the mainstream singer training model, broken the traditional distinction between singers and dancers, and cultivated a new type of male idol who can sing and dance.
Stage performances have thus become the selling point of many Johnny’s idol groups. Among them, the most experienced is the “Youth Team” composed of Higashiyama Noriyuki, Uekusa Katsuhide and Nishikori Kazuki. “Youth Team” entered the US market before their debut, becoming the first idol group to step out of Japan.
Kitagawa introduced the concept of talent training and selection from the stage and showbiz circles from the United States, and created a unique “idol cultivation” model. Johnny’s & Associates selects qualified people from teenagers to receive systematic training and education until they have accumulated enough popularity before they debut and become full members of Johnny’s.
Johnny & Associates packaged idols as a career of “creating dreams”, attracting more than 100,000 people to submit resumes every year, but only 200-300 people qualified for interviews. After a round of free training, just over 100 people were selected to move on to the next stage. However, the screening of the whole process is largely based on Kitagawa’s personal likes and dislikes. Some people passed the selection, but were never contacted by the firm again, while some just submitted their resumes and were able to enter the free training.
Stills from the documentary “Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop”
According to Toshio Eki, a member of the “Clover Band”, Kitagawa’s criteria for recruiting young boys is that they have uncomplicated feelings and concentrate on pursuing their dreams. With just one look at their faces, Kitagawa can tell whether they have the star qualities of “The Little Prince.” So, in interacting with the boys, Kitagawa made sure that at no point “they lost their childlike innocence” and never “felt everything about the adult world” in his own teaching space.
Japanese sociologist Zhou Toumi pointed out that the core of Johnny’s & Associates is the so-called “Little Johnny’s” system, which continuously reproduces a series of “immature” and “childish” idols.
The success of Johnny’s & Associates obviously cannot be attributed to Johnny Kitagawa’s personal “pedophilia”. These idols, and the immaturity they display, also cater to Japanese families who watch TV. Kitagawa hopes that parents will see the Johnnies as healthy icons and that the band will attract the whole family to concerts. In other words, what Kitagawa wants to satisfy is not just a personal hobby, but also the desires of a middle-class family.
Television has been popularized in Japan since the 1970s, and Japanese families are used to watching programs and performances in the living room. Kitagawa also followed the trend, allowing Johnny’s idols to transform from stage performances to television performances. In 1969, Teruhiko Aoi starred in the TV series “Mito Yellow Gate”. “3 Years Group B Jinba Teacher” starring Tanokin Trio once created the highest ratings in 1979, marking Johnny’s entering a golden age.
The debut of SMAP opened up Johnny’s emphasis on the all-round development of idols in the field of variety shows and TV dramas. The members of SMAP were once the guarantee of the ratings of Japanese dramas. Among them, the criminal drama “HERO” starring Kimura Takuya has become the only TV drama in the history of Japanese dramas with an audience rating of more than 30% for each episode.
Takuya Kimura used to be a “Little Johnny”. However, due to his rebellious personality, Kimura Takuya and Kitagawa had a lot of friction. He once couldn’t bear the nickname given to him by the cross talk master and refused to train. He also violated the company’s regulations, dyed his hair yellow, and made Kitagawa so angry that he threw the phone. He even made a wish to the camera “down with Kitagawa” in the New Year’s live broadcast.
Even after making his debut and becoming famous, Takuya Kimura did his own thing. In 2000, Takuya Kimura announced his marriage to Shizuka Kudo, once again challenging the bottom line of Johnny & Associates. Johnny once blocked Takuya Kimura. Others work 5 days a week and take 2 days off. Kimura works 2 days a week and takes 5 days off. Kitagawa also warned other artists not to imitate Kimura. The general public even sided with Johnny & Associates, regarding Kimura and Kudo as one of the “most hated idol couples”.
Behind the “dislike” is the “love” of taking idols as his own. This almost pathological “love” is very similar to Kitagawa’s emperor-like control over the company’s artists. Johnny’s & Associates has formulated a lot of regulations, such as not being able to take photos with fans, not being able to sign fans, not being allowed to accept gifts from fans, not being allowed to open SNS accounts, underage smoking and drinking will be expelled, and so on. Photos of artists can only be purchased from official channels and cannot be used without authorization. In newspapers and magazines back then, only the shadows of artists were often seen.
Not all “Little Johnny” are as rebellious as Takuya Kimura. Under such strict management, the “Little Johnnies” can sacrifice everything for the dream that Kitagawa promised them. Their parents, too, indulge in such dreams, sending their children to a “star-making factory.”
The price of an idol dream
In 2019, Kitagawa passed away due to illness. According to Japanese media reports, Kitagawa’s funeral chose a “family funeral” vigil and farewell ceremony. “Family” includes Johnny & Associates entertainers and Johnny Jr. Seventy Johnny’s artists sent eulogies to commemorate their “Grandpa Xi”, including Takuya Kimura and Tomohisa Yamashita. The then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also sent a message of condolences. At the funeral, nearly 150 entertainers took a group photo in front of Kitagawa’s portrait, and the scene was spectacular. Many people said that his death marked the end of an era.
The BBC released a documentary titled “Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop” on March 7 this year. One of the parties claimed that Kitagawa had a “sexual assault dormitory” where many people were victimized. Parents are in the next room when someone is being forced to have sex. The British media described Kitagawa as a spider, “occupied at the center of an increasingly larger and more unbreakable web, influencing the media and psychology throughout Japan, and capturing young prey.”
Although Kitagawa’s sex scandal is new to many people abroad, similar revelations have gradually emerged as early as the 1980s. In 1988, Bei Gongji, a member of the “Clover Band”, published the book “Zhi Guang GENJI”, disclosing his experience of being violated by Kitagawa that year. Since then, it has been out of control, and more and more artist autobiographies have accused Kitagawa of sexual assault, including “Johnny’s Counterattack” by Ryo Nakatani, “Johnny’s All Teenage Love” by Junya Hiramoto, and “Johnny’s All Teenage Love” by Toyokawa Ken. Traveling Alone”, Kigawa Shogo’s “To SMAP—and All Johnny Artists”.
Nearly 150 entertainers attended Kitagawa’s funeral
Former Johnny & Associates entertainer Tomohisa Yamashita
Johnny & Associates once sued Weekly Bunshun magazine, which reported the Kitagawa sex scandal. The court’s second-instance judgment found that “the president used the trainee’s mentality of ‘you can’t debut if you don’t obey’ to carry out power harassment, and the victim’s experience was specific and detailed, and the defense (Kitagawa) did not explicitly deny it. Therefore, the part about sexual harassment in the article It is true and does not constitute an act of defamation.” However, Japan’s mainstream media chose to remain silent, and Kitagawa himself was not subjected to a criminal trial because of this, and continued to be in charge of Johnny & Associates.
The Japanese mainstream media’s choice of silence may be attributed to Johnny & Associates’ power in the Japanese entertainment industry, but this cannot explain the fact that many people know about Kitagawa’s sex scandal, and still love and worship him. A reporter from “Weekly Bunshun” mentioned that when some victims were asked what retribution they hoped for Kitagawa, some said, “I hope he lives a long life,” while others said, “I still love him to this day.” I am afraid that this kind of ambivalence is not simply a matter of making a major event smaller or smaller.
In the documentary, the victim who goes by the pseudonym Hayashi recalls that many people in Johnny’s told him that “if you want to succeed, you have to endure.” Enduring sexual assault seems to be the only way to realize idol dreams. This isn’t exactly a stretch, as many, many Johnny Jr.’s have actually lived out their dreams, which in turn reinforces their belief that it was “worth it” for them to put up with it.
Kitagawa has a pair of eyes to discern innocence, but behind these eyes is not pure desire. When thousands of fans are fascinated by Kitagawa’s carefully selected teenage idols, how can fans know whose desire is attached to the idol halo?