Ichiro Suzuki Talent agency founded by American-born Johnny Kitagawa has been going through upheavals since early summer. With its boys band specialty, Johnny & Associates recruits mid-teen boys, and sends them into the world of entertainment as groups. Some of the successful men move on as a solo singer and/ or an actor well into their fifties. These men are in aggregate called Johnnys. With immensely popular boys and men under its wing, Johnny & Associates has been dominating Japan’s entertainment world since the 1980s. Producers of network televisions’ entertainment division can’t do their job without Johnny & Associates. The agency, however, had one big problem. Founder Johnny Kitagawa, who was homo-sexual, had a habit of molesting underage boys. The Johnnys scandal this summer has brought to light the dark side in the Japanese society in general. To begin with, an act of molesting men and boys has not been taken as a serious human rights issue. It has been taken a great deal more lightly than the same conduct to women and girls. To female victims, un uproar would have erupted among feminists, activists, left-leaning media and politicians, female MPs in particular, then spreading into the media in general. To male victims, no one took the matter seriously, and everyone, the media in particular, pretended not to see it. As is often the case with things that brought down the status quo in Japan, this scandal was brought to light by foreigners. In March, the BBC reported what went on with Johnny Kitagawa, who died in 2019, and his boys. After the revelation, however, it still took another few months before Johnny Kitagawa’s conduct began to crowd media headlines. Up to this point, the Japanese media has exercised their ‘divine’ right to choose what to report. They tend to be unwilling to report something that put themselves into an awkward position. Johnny & Associates has been the king of the entertainment world in Japan, and television networks have been coddling Johnnys management for decades for the appearances of its boys and men in their shows. Newspapers showed little appetite for reporting it, being in the same camp because of their ownership of television networks. The media for decades has pretended that they were unaware of the scandal though Johnny Kitagawa’s conduct was reportedly an open secret in the entertainment world. An ex-Johnnys man tried to bring the matter to light by confessing in a book, while another man brought it to the court and won in the Supreme Court. Successful lawsuits still moved no one, neither Johnny & Associates nor the media. For the media, this case was tantamount to full blown hypocrisy. While they try to make a living by preaching justice and human rights to their viewers, often hysterically, they chose not to say anything on an issue that would be sure to affect their business and plainly make them look bad. Network televisions effectively colluded in burying what had been simmering for decades. Then, there are sponsors to Johnnys men’s shows. Since the mid summer, there is a wave of announcements that they are withdrawing from sponsorship to shows Johnnys men are in. Having to be responsible to the public, they are no longer in a position to sponsor those shows, they say. That sounds sensible. However, have they not heard of the rumors that surrounded Johnny Kitagawa for a long, long time? They were more than rumors, with confessions and court verdicts in place. Sponsors also chose not to see the scandal until the eruption of public uproars. They are in the same camp with the media. They pretended not to be aware of it as long as Johnnys men contributed to greater sales of their goods and services. Now they are dumping Johnnys men since they hurt the images of the company. Only Nestle Japan is entitled not to be labeled as hypocrite since they boasts of having never run ads with Johnnys men. Some network televisions CEOs have expressed deep regrets on the way they were associated with the Johnnys scandal. Such regrets are hardly enough. It remains to be seen how big a change the scandal brings to the world of media. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down, as an old Japanese saying goes. Japan’s bureaucratic organizations hold their people under strong pressure to read between the lines and act ‘properly’. Most likely, the scandal is going to bring some, not wholesale, changes. The culture of burying truth has much to do with Japan’s employment system, where people stick with an organization for a very long time, often life time, This creates a strong incentive to limit disruption within an organization. Overhauled compliance guidelines make Japanese organizations move forward only so far.
About the author: Mr. Suzuki is a retired banking executive based in Tokyo, Japan.