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By Mobeen Azhar
BBC News

The man in charge of compensating sexual abuse victims of Japan’s most famous pop Svengali says the scandal goes further than first thought.

Noriyuki Higashiyama told the BBC he believes there were two more perpetrators at Johnny Kitagawa’s agency Johnny & Associates.

He believes these individuals are still alive.

Since a 2023 BBC investigation, nearly 1,000 men have come forward to say they were abused by Kitagawa.

Higashiyama told the BBC that an internal investigation by the former company in August 2023 had concluded that two people at Johnny & Associates were believed to have sexually abused talent.

He revealed that, to date, he has not contacted the authorities.

“From a legal standpoint, I don’t think we have the authority to do that,” Higashiyama says. “But if those involved file a criminal complaint, I imagine we would co-operate as much as possible.”

He says that he does not know if the survivors of abuse by the two perpetrators want to pursue criminal proceedings.

“I don’t even know who they are,” he says.

BBC reporter Mobeen Azhar spoke to Smile-Up CEO Noriyuki Higashiyama

Johnny Kitagawa, creator of the Japanese boy band phenomenon, died in 2019. At the time, he was celebrated for his contribution to the country’s pop culture.

In the wake of the BBC documentary, an independent inquiry concluded that the music mogul had abused hundreds of boys and young men over a six-decade career.

Johnny & Associates was dissolved and replaced by a new talent agency called Starto Entertainment and Smile-Up, a company tasked with processing claims of abuse.

Smile-Up appointed three former judges to a victim relief committee to manage the compensation process.

Higashiyama, a former actor and Johnny & Associates talent, took on the job as Smile-Up’s CEO. He has himself faced allegations of bullying and sexual abuse, which he denies.

Survivors of Kitagawa’s abuse have criticised Smile-Up for having an opaque compensation process and for not acting quickly enough to engage with them. They say it seems to be an ad-hoc system with no defined timeline.

Akimasa Nihongi is a former Johnny & Associates talent and joined the agency as a 13-year-old with aspirations of becoming a pop star.

He went public with his own experience of abuse when he saw the story reported in 2023.

“I feel like there are still issues that are hidden,” he says.

There is little semblance of justice for victims like Akimasa Nihongi

For Akimasa and many more like him, there is little semblance of justice. A lawyer representing survivors of Kitagawa’s abuse described Smile-Up’s process as “a black-box situation”.

Smile-Up has itself cast doubt on some of the allegations. Days after being set up, the agency released a statement saying: “We have received information that there are cases in which people, who are most likely not victims, are telling false stories using the testimony of real victims.”

Some of the survivors who shared their experiences have faced condemnation and harassment from people online.

A woman who did not want to be identified says her husband faced death threats and harassment when he shared his story of being abused by Kitagawa.

“He wanted to reveal everything,” she says. “He didn’t want future children to be harmed in the same way.”

After he spoke out, his personal details were exposed online.

Eventually the woman received a text message from her husband telling her that he’d gone to the mountains. It was there that he ended his life.

“When I found him, it was too late,” she says.

Smile-Up CEO Noriyuki Higashiyama says that he is aware of this case.

“People have freedom of speech,” he says. “I’m not encouraging slander. If it’s possible, I would really like to eliminate online abuse.”

Our World: The Shadow of a Predator

After the BBC revealed that Johnny Kitagawa, the godfather of J-pop, spent a lifetime sexually abusing young boys in his talent agency, Mobeen Azhar investigates the aftermath of a predator.

Watch on BBC News at 03:30 on Saturday March 30 or afterwards on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)

Higashiyama says he has spoken personally to almost 200 people who have come forward with claims of abuse.

“I hope it will help to mend their hearts, even just a little. I consider that to be my role. My main focus is to meet with survivors.”

He admits that he has no formal training or experience in counselling or helping survivors of sexual abuse.

Smile-Up is organising and funding counselling for those who have come forward. “We are thinking of doing that indefinitely,” Higashiyama says.

Subsequent to revelations in the BBC investigation, Kitagawa’s place in Japanese pop culture has shifted in the public consciousness.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has faced increasing pressure to reform sexual abuse legislation.

The age of consent in Japan shifted from 13 to 16, after multiple rape acquittals in 2019 caused a national outcry.

And public discussion following last year’s investigation into Kitawaga has resulted in more men speaking publicly about the abuse they experienced.

However, some survivors of abuse feel that despite their testimonies, justice continues to be elusive.

Akimasa believes it is important that survivors are supported in reaching closure. In his view, this is something the new incarnation of Johnny & Associates has so far failed to deliver.

“I want them to take responsibility. I think this is the biggest post-war sexual assault case in Japan. We shouldn’t let it fade away as if it’s a temporary problem. It’s important to keep a record as part of Japanese history.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story you can visit BBC Action Line.

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