An external probe set up by Johnny & Associates Inc. on Tuesday concluded its deceased founder sexually abused minors aspiring to become pop singers for decades and urged the head of Japan's top male talent agency to step down to bolster governance under new leadership.

The investigative team said in a report that the company's culture of concealment had allowed the decades-long cover-up of Johnny Kitagawa's behavior. The talent agency should also apologize to the victims and immediately establish a system for providing them with appropriate redress, it said.

The probe called on the late music mogul's niece Julie Keiko Fujishima to quit as chief to address the issues presented by family management of the company and to ensure the organization's "total reform."

An external investigative team set up by Johnny & Associates Inc. holds a press conference in Tokyo on Aug. 29, 2023, to present the findings of its probe into sexual abuse allegations against the company's late founder Johnny Kitagawa. (Kyodo) 

Having family-oriented management of the company created "overwhelming power. That fostered an organization where governance was not effective," Makoto Hayashi, the head of the probe team, said at a press conference.

In addition to former Prosecutor General Hayashi, the team, which was tasked with reviewing claims that Kitagawa had repeatedly sexually assaulted young boys in his care, was also comprised of psychiatrist Nozomu Asukai and practicing clinical psychologist Azusa Saito.

Johnny & Associates said the same day after the press conference that it takes the investigative report and comments by the team members "seriously." It plans to hold a press conference at a later date.

The probe recognized that from the early 1970s until the mid-2010s, Kitagawa repeatedly and widely committed sexual offenses against many members of the company's Johnny's Jr. division, which focuses on training young talent.

The team heard from 41 individuals in its investigation, which ran from late May to Tuesday. Interviewees included former talent agency members who claim to have been abused, as well as senior staff at the company.

The investigative report pointed not just to Kitagawa's actions but also to those of his sister Mary Yasuko Fujishima, who it said was very likely to have been aware of his behavior by the early 1960s.

It is possible that Mary, who was actively involved in the company's operations from its founding and was its honorary chairperson when she died in 2021, "concealed and did not actively investigate the reality of Kitagawa's sexual abuse to protect the talent agency," the report says.

The probe team proposed establishing a specialized expert panel to review claimants' applications for compensation while maintaining their privacy, and addressing complaints with its conclusions.

With many allegations stretching back many years, individuals for whom the statute of limitations has passed would be eligible to apply. The probe added that because Kitagawa is already dead, the panel "should not seek rigorous proof as defined by the law regarding victims' evidence of abuse."

In its report, the investigative team detailed numerous accounts of sexual abuse it heard, with some dating to the 1950s. Among the testimonies, one victim, who was a second-grade junior high schooler at the time, said he was molested while sleeping in a dormitory and that Kitagawa promised he would let him debut as a solo artist.

Others described being forced to engage in sex acts with Kitagawa, with one victim saying he was abused 15 to 20 times at the talent agency boss's home and in hotels as a third-grade middle schooler. Many said they received money from him after the acts.

File photo taken on Aug. 29, 2023, shows the office of Johnny & Associates Inc. in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

Junya Hiramoto, a representative for a group of alleged former victims of Kitagawa, hailed the report, saying that "we can see plainly that our painful testimony was reflected in it."

To Johnny & Associates, he called on the company to "acknowledge its sins, create a system for redress for victims and consider using groundbreaking methods and means for us victims and affected people yet unseen."

The probe revealed that other than Kitagawa, sexual abuse also appears to have been committed by company employees, according to its interview findings, although it refrained from commenting further on those specific cases.

Outside the talent agency itself, silence from Japan's media industry was pointed to as a contributing factor that allowed Kitagawa to continue abusing victims for decades.

"The media didn't go to the places it should have gone to," Hayashi said, stressing that while not directly responsible, the media's unwillingness to confront Kitagawa's behavior may have allowed it to continue.

Kitagawa was one of the Japanese entertainment industry's most influential figures before his death in 2019. Sexual abuse allegations against him have received renewed attention in Japan after a BBC documentary aired in March featured interviews with multiple people making claims against the pop mogul.

The latest report came after a U.N. human rights delegation conducted interviews in Japan with alleged victims of Kitagawa from late July to early August and found "deeply alarming allegations" that several hundreds of the agency's talents were sexually exploited and abused.

Acts managed by his company include some of the biggest boy bands in the history of Japanese pop music, including SMAP, Arashi and Hey! Say! JUMP.

Related coverage:

U.N. experts say there are hundreds of victims in Johnny's case

Japan to open hotline for male sex victims amid Johnny's abuse claims

Ex-J-pop hopeful alleges sexual abuse by late music mogul Kitagawa