Former Teen Performers Seek Japan’s #MeToo Moment, Accusing Agent of Sexual Assault

by Andrew Wright
#MeToo movement in Japan

Kazuya Nakamura, who claims to have been sexually assaulted at the age of 15 by a renowned talent agent, hopes that his story will ignite Japan’s long-awaited #MeToo movement. Nakamura, a former member of a backup dancer troupe managed by the powerful figure in Japanese entertainment history, is one of at least a dozen men who have come forward this year with similar allegations against Johnny Kitagawa, the late boy band impresario. Despite the potential for a major reckoning, the response in Japan has been largely subdued.

While an opposition committee was established in parliament to conduct an investigation, Kitagawa’s talent agency, Johnny and Associates, offered a brief apology and pledged to investigate the matter. However, the news rarely garners prominent coverage in the media. Kitagawa had dismissed similar accusations over the years, with the national media largely disregarding the story, allowing his business to flourish. Even when a Tokyo appeals court found some accusers credible in a 2003 libel case, Kitagawa’s prominence remained intact, as evidenced by the grand funeral held in his honor upon his passing.

Nakamura fervently hopes that Japanese society will finally acknowledge the truth behind his experience: “I just want to speak the truth… It happened.” While it is uncommon for individuals who have experienced sexual assault to be identified publicly, Nakamura has chosen to reveal his identity through the media.

In 1999, an anonymous series of articles published by the Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun exposed Kitagawa’s coercion of boys into sexual activities. In response, Kitagawa filed a libel lawsuit against the magazine, leading to a four-year legal battle. The appeals court eventually ruled that “the sexual harassment was factual” and affirmed the credibility of the accusers’ testimonies. Although the story received little attention from mainstream Japanese media, the court did order the magazine to pay damages for falsely asserting that Kitagawa provided minors with cigarettes and alcohol.

The scarcity of media coverage and the enduring silence surrounding the issue can be attributed to the cozy relationship between corporate media and entertainment companies, according to Toshio Takeshita, a journalism professor at Meiji University in Tokyo. Fearful of jeopardizing access to stars, media companies are often reluctant to confront influential figures in the entertainment industry.

Nakamura recounts a disturbing incident in 2002 when, after a performance at the Tokyo Dome stadium, he spent the night at Kitagawa’s residence, where numerous boys were often invited to stay. Nakamura, then 15, claims that Kitagawa, aged 70 at the time, coerced him into sexual intercourse while he lay between two other Johnny’s Jr. members who either remained silent or pretended to be asleep. The following day, Kitagawa offered Nakamura money, which he initially refused but ultimately accepted. Despite performing again that evening, Nakamura recalls feeling detached from the joyous atmosphere of the Tokyo Dome stage. Subsequently, he discontinued his participation in dance lessons.

For years, Nakamura concealed his experience, sharing it only with a select few close friends and his mother. He decided to break his silence after Kauan Okamoto, another accuser, publicly came forward earlier this year, ending decades of anonymity surrounding Kitagawa’s victims. Regretful for not speaking up earlier, Nakamura granted an interview to Shukan Bunshun in June and participated in a parliamentary committee hearing later that month.

In May, Julie Keiko Fujishima, the new president of Johnny’s, released a YouTube video apologizing to fans in response to the mounting allegations and the initiation of a parliamentary investigation. Fujishima also hired former prosecutor Makoto Hayashi to lead a three-person investigation into the matter. While Hayashi stated that monetary compensation is not under consideration, the investigation proceeds with the presumption that the sexual assault occurred. Unfortunately, Nakamura faced difficulties reaching the investigators, encountering administrative hurdles that ultimately led to his abandonment of the process after two weeks of back-and-forth communication.

Nakamura intends to pursue a collective legal action, akin to a class action, with several other victims. The details of the case and its legal prospects remain uncertain, but Nakamura emphasizes that raising their voices is more important than winning or losing.

The accusers of Kitagawa and others hope that the renewed attention will prompt significant changes in Japanese society. The United Nations has criticized Japan for its insufficient efforts to protect children, as numerous reports have exposed cases of corporal punishment, neglect, and sexual abuse by adults, including parents and teachers. Only three years ago, Japan officially outlawed violence against children, and recently, the age of sexual consent was raised from 13 to 16.

Both Nakamura and Okamoto have testified before parliament, although the opposition, which is responsible for the investigation, possesses limited power to enact legislative changes due to the ruling coalition’s dominance. Okamoto collected over 40,000 signatures on a petition demanding stronger laws for the protection of children, which he submitted to parliament. Yoichi Kitamura, the lawyer who defended Shukan Bunshun in the libel lawsuit and is currently advising Nakamura and other victims, believes that this case could mark a turning point in Japanese society. However, given previous disappointments, he remains cautious. During the trial, Kitamura recalled feeling a sense of victory, only to find himself assisting Nakamura and others seeking resolution decades later.

According to Nakamura, Kitagawa’s accusers do not anticipate another opportunity like this in the future. Nakamura concludes, “We all feel that this is our last chance.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about #MeToo movement in Japan

What is the main focus of this article?

The main focus of this article is on former teen performers accusing a powerful Japanese agent, Johnny Kitagawa, of sexual assault and their hopes to ignite a #MeToo movement in Japan.

How did the Japanese media and society respond to the allegations?

The response from the Japanese media and society has been largely muted. While some opposition politicians established a committee in parliament to investigate the matter and Kitagawa’s talent agency promised an investigation and issued a brief apology, the news has not received prominent coverage in the media.

What was the history of allegations against Johnny Kitagawa?

In 1999, anonymous articles published by Shukan Bunshun magazine exposed Kitagawa’s coercion of boys into sexual activities. Kitagawa sued the magazine for libel, leading to a legal battle that ended with an appeals court affirming the credibility of the accusers’ testimonies regarding sexual harassment. However, the media largely ignored the story, and Kitagawa continued to maintain his popularity and influence.

What is the significance of Kazuya Nakamura’s story?

Kazuya Nakamura, a former teen performer, is one of the accusers who has come forward with allegations against Johnny Kitagawa. He hopes that by sharing his experience, Japanese society will finally acknowledge the truth behind the sexual assault he endured as a teenager.

What actions have been taken since the allegations resurfaced?

Following the recent allegations and a parliamentary investigation, the new head of Johnny’s talent agency issued an apology to fans through a YouTube video. The agency also hired a former prosecutor to lead an investigation into the matter. However, some of the accusers, including Nakamura, have faced challenges in communicating with the investigators.

What do the accusers hope to achieve?

The accusers, including Nakamura, hope that the renewed attention on their stories will lead to changes in Japanese society. They aim to raise awareness and demand stronger laws to protect children and prevent future incidents of sexual abuse.

More about #MeToo movement in Japan

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EmilyRose July 15, 2023 - 8:58 pm

Wow, it’s crazy how powerful people can get away with terrible things for so long! I really hope these survivors get the justice they deserve and that Japan learns from this. #timesup

Lily5678 July 16, 2023 - 12:03 am

my heart breaks for these victims. it’s so hard to speak up about something like this, especially in a society that doesn’t give it enough attention. thank you for sharing their stories!


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