The niece of Johnny Kitagawa said Thursday she has stepped down as president of Johnny & Associates Inc., Japan's top male talent agency founded by her late uncle, after acknowledging he sexually abused aspiring teenage pop singers for decades.

In the first press conference held by the agency since the allegations were widely reported by the media earlier this year, Julie Keiko Fujishima apologized to the victims and said she would remain as a representative director "to fulfill my responsibility of providing redress for the victims."

Noriyuki Higashiyama, 56, a veteran TV personality long represented by the agency, widely known as Johnny's, said he had taken over as president after Fujishima's resignation on Tuesday.

"It may take a long time to regain the trust lost due to the deep mental and physical wounds Mr. Kitagawa inflicted on his victims, but I am willing to dedicate the rest of my life to addressing this issue," Higashiyama said, adding he would quit showbiz by the end of this year.

Kitagawa was one of the Japanese entertainment industry's most powerful figures, propelling numerous groups such as SMAP and Arashi to stardom before his death in 2019.

Julie Keiko Fujishima (R), who has stepped down as president of Johnny & Associates Inc., and new president Noriyuki Higashiyama hold a press conference in Tokyo on Sept. 7, 2023. (Kyodo) 

But he was able to sidestep allegations of abuse for decades, raising suspicions of organized complicity and cover-ups within the agency.

Mainstream Japanese media refrained from reporting the allegations, apparently due to the long-standing relationships that many outlets have with the agency. Performers represented by the agency are widely used on television shows and by advertisers.

Higashiyama admitted to "poor communication" within the agency in the past and laid out plans to establish a committee to oversee redress for victims and put in place external compliance officers.

The acknowledgment of Kitagawa's actions by Fujishima and Higashiyama comes just over a week after an external probe set up by the agency concluded it had concealed the late founder's sexual abuse that occurred from the early 1970s through to the mid-2010s.

The probe's report into operations at the company recommended Fujishima stand down over concerns her family ties would compromise organizational attempts to reform in the scandal's wake.

Fujishima's late mother Mary Yasuko Fujishima, Kitagawa's older sister, was cited in the report as a major factor in the long-term cover-up of sexual abuse at the firm.

Fujishima, who currently holds 100 percent of the company's shares, acknowledged the drawbacks of family-run management and expressed her intention to discuss her ownership stake with the new management.

But Higashiyama said there were currently no plans to change the firm's name, arguing that rather than representing the late founder, it "more importantly expresses the energy and pride that talents have cultivated over the years."

Shimon Ishimaru, a former agency member who currently serves as deputy head of an association of Kitagawa's alleged victims, said "It is gratifying to see the sexual abuse acknowledged, and the path to apology and redress opened."

But some other victims were less optimistic, with Yasunobu Shiga, a former member of the idol group Ninja, criticizing organizational changes as "superficial."

"The name 'Johnny's' should not even exist given the extent of sexual abuse that occurred," he said.

Allegations against Kitagawa came under renewed scrutiny in Japan after the BBC aired a documentary in March featuring interviews with multiple people claiming to have been abused by him.

Several former members of the agency have since come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by Kitagawa when they were teens, and a U.N. human rights delegation in early August issued its own conclusions regarding the company following interviews in Japan with multiple alleged victims.

Guinness World Records said Wednesday it had removed from its website records held by the pop mogul for the most No. 1 artists, the most No. 1 singles and the most concerts produced by an individual, saying it did "not feel appropriate to leave them published" after recent revelations.

Johnny & Associates' full press conference

Related coverage:

Johnny's talent agency to meet press Sept. 7 over sex abuse findings

Probe finds Johnny's talent agency founder abused minors for decades

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

Photo taken in August 2023 shows the office building of Johnny & Associates Inc. in Tokyo. (Kyodo)