Fans of idols belonging to Johnny & Associates Inc., one of Japan's most powerful talent agencies, said Thursday they have submitted a petition with around 16,000 signatures demanding that the firm investigate allegations of sexual abuse by its late founder Johnny Kitagawa.
The supporters, who spoke at a press conference in Tokyo, launched in April a group called Penlight to protest the agency's handling of such allegations after Kauan Okamoto, a 26-year-old Japanese-Brazilian singer and songwriter, claimed Kitagawa sexually abused him on multiple occasions as a young teen.
Kitagawa was one of the most revered figures in Japan's entertainment industry, propelling numerous groups such as SMAP, Arashi and Hey! Say! JUMP to stardom before his death in 2019.
He was also the subject of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, with the Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun publishing in 1999 a series detailing accusations of child abuse and sexual exploitation by several boys he had taken under his wing.
The petition requests that Johnny & Associates establish a third-party committee to investigate the veracity of sexual abuse claims and apologize to the victims, among other actions.
The agency has said it will forward the petition to its board of directors, according to the group.
At Thursday's press conference, a founder of Penlight said she felt torn between wanting to support the agency and feeling unease about its lack of action.
"It scares me that nothing will change in society when people speak out about sexual violence," she said.
Okamoto was a part of Johnny's Jr., a talent pool of male idols in training who have yet to debut in a unit or solo act.
Following his allegations, a spokesperson for Johnny & Associates responded that the agency would "make concerted efforts to ensure thorough compliance moving forward."
The firm has also sent a letter to its business partners indicating an intention to establish a contact point for former talent to consult with external experts.
Video: Ex-J-pop hopeful alleges sexual abuse by late music mogul