When Johnny Kitagawa told one of the boys staying at his luxury house to go to bed early, everyone knew “it was your turn.”
That was among the recollections shared Wednesday by musician Kauan Okamoto, then 15, about allegedly being sexually assaulted by Kitagawa, a powerful figure in the Japanese entertainment world. The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of alleged sexual assault, but Okamoto has chosen to identify himself in the media.
Okamoto was part of the backup boys’ group Johnny’s Jr., which also worked as a talent pool for Johnny & Associates, a talent agency managing male idol actors and singers.
He remembered the sound of Kitagawa’s slippers pitter-pattering down the hallway. He turned over in bed, feigning sleep. Sometimes Kitagawa handed him a 10,000-yen ($100) bill the morning after when no one was looking, like in the elevator, according to Okamoto.
That continued for four years, starting in 2012 and lasting until Okamoto left Johnny & Associates.
Okamoto’s encounters with Kitagawa started when he had a modeling agency send a video of him singing Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ to a manager at Kitagawa’s office. He got invited to a concert in Tokyo, and then to Kitagawa’s home.
“I hope everyone will come forward because it is an outrageous number of victims,” he told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Tokyo.
Okamoto, 26, estimated dozens of people were selected by Kitagawa as his “favorites” — the ones he saw as talented — to come stay at his home where the alleged abuse occurred. The scandal surfaced after a BBC documentary ‘Predator’, in which several victims came forward, aired worldwide in March.
Kitagawa died in 2019 and was never charged.
Shukan Bunshun, a Japanese news magazine, first reported the scandal in 1999. Over the years, the reaction from much of mainstream Japanese society has been muted. Johnny’s, which still exists as a company, is behind some of Japan’s biggest stars, including SMAP, KinKi Kids and Arashi.
Okamoto said he had not considered legal action. He just hoped his story will get acknowledged.
“These are facts. Instead of denying these facts, I hope people will respect and support us,” he told reporters.
The Foreign Correspondents Club invited Johnny’s to come speak and address the allegations but received no response. Johnny’s also did not respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment.
Being liked by Kitagawa was a must if one hoped to succeed in Japanese entertainment, and many young performers wanted to be invited to his penthouse in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo, Okamoto said.
Okamoto said he owed a lot to Kitagawa, whom he called ‘Johnny-san’, always adding the honorific. Like many of the other victims, he didn’t tell his parents, nor blatantly reject Kitagawa.
“We were kids. We just laughed about it,” said Okamoto.