The new boss of J-pop agency Noriyuki Higashiyama has also been charged with sexually assaulting young boys, in addition to the agency’s late founder Johnny Kitagawa’s major sexual abuse scandal.
Noriyuki Higashiyama said he was unable to recall the alleged activities, which he claimed could or might not have taken place.
After Kitagawa’s niece resigned as CEO of Johnny and Associates on Thursday, he was designated the new leader of the company.
He will oversee the organization’s attempts to make atonement and pay victims.
He was, however, questioned about his own alleged abuse on Thursday during a press conference announcing Julie Fujishima’s resignation and his appointment.
Journalists asked him if allegations published in a book saying he massaged the crotches of boys, exposed his genitals and told them to “eat my sausage” were true.
He replied: “I don’t remember clearly. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. I have trouble remembering.”
The 56-year-old made reference to allegations that he had bullied younger artists and said it was conceivable he had been tougher with them. He also said he could have done things as a teenager or in his 20s that he would not do today.
One of the first individuals Johnny and Associates hired was Higashiyama, a well-known figure in Japan. Numerous people have opposed his hiring online, pointing out his lengthy tenure with the business.
“It will take time to win back trust, and I am putting my life on the line for this effort,” he said.
He continued by saying that while he was aware of the stories, he had never personally experienced Kitagawa’s abuse.
“I couldn’t, and didn’t, do anything about it,” he admitted to the news conference.
Many have also questioned Higashiyama’s ability to transform the business and, more importantly, safeguard its talent in light of his long-standing connections to the Johnny and Associates brand.
One of Johnny’s victims who came forward on Friday, Kauan Okamoto, sobbed in front of the reporters and stated his mother is the one who is grieving the most.
“She has to live through it over and over and hear things that were done to me. There are things I can’t even say to her. I don’t want her to have to go through this ever again,” he said.
He also said he “respects” Higashiyama and considers him “brave for taking this job that nobody wants”.
While Okamoto said he hated Kitagawa for what he did, he is still “grateful to Johnny” for introducing him to the world of music.
“I know some would say this is grooming but this is how I feel,” he added.
Perhaps the most significant and powerful person in Japan’s entertainment sector was Kitagawa. His agency has long been associated with J-pop and served as many young men’s ticket to popularity.
However, Johnny and Associates is now known as a sexual predator.
When asked if there were any intentions to alter the company’s name at the press conference on Thursday, Higashiyama said that there weren’t any.
On social media, a user questioned how he would be able to “rebuild the agency when everyone will be looking at you with coloured lenses?”
“Is this the end for the company?” the user added.
The music entrepreneur was found to have mistreated hundreds of boys and young men over the course of six decades, including while running the boyband agency, according to a report released last week.
He never faced accusations and always denied wrongdoing until passing away at age 87 in 2019. Kitagawa’s passing was a national tragedy, and even the prime minister of the time sent condolences.
Although rumours of his abuse were widely known in the profession, for many years the mainstream Japanese media ignored the claims.
However, this year’s Kitagawa and J-pop industry-focused BBC programme generated a national debate and encouraged additional victims to come forward. It prompted the independent inquiry that resulted in last week’s resignation recommendation for the head of the agency.
On Thursday, outgoing CEO Fujishima recognised Kitagawa’s mistreatment for the first time.
She said that the pop mogul had such influence that many people at the agency, including herself, chose to remain silent.