Idol group Johnny’s West announced on Wednesday that they have changed their name to “WEST.” (with a period), removing the “Johnny’s” from their name in the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding the group’s Smile Up (formerly Johnny & Associates) talent agency.
The agency’s stable of young trainee idol groups known as Johnny’s Jr. is now similarly known simply as “Jr.” Oricon previously reported that the KANJANI 8 group also planned to change their name, but the name is still currently listed as “KANJANI EIGHT” on Smile Up’s website.
As Johnny’s West, the seven-man idol group performed theme songs for such anime as , , the 2018 anime, and .
Smile Up president Noriyuki Higashiyama had previously stated last month when the agency publicly admitted for the first time that Johnny & Associates’ late founder Johnny Kitagawa did sexually abuse a large number of aspiring pop star teenagers from the 1970s to 2010s that the company would not change its name. However, the agency announced its new name Smile Up on October 2, which took effect on Tuesday, as part of the company’s “vision” to earn back fans’ trust.
Smile Up will be responsible for handling the compensation measures for sexual abuse victims of Kitagawa, and will start that process in November. The company will shut down after the compensation measures are completed. The agency will establish a separate new entity to oversee talent management operations, and will announce that name at a later date. Members of the Johnny’s fan club will decide on the name.
At the press conference last month, then-president Julie Keiko Fujishima stated she was retiring as president, but will remain the representative director and owner of the company. The agency stated it is taking measures to compensate for the damage caused and prevent reoccurrences.
March BBC Report Leads to External Probe
On March 7, the BBC released an hour-long documentary titled Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-Pop, which detailed “a long history of allegations of sexual abuse, made by boys in [Kitagawa’s] agency” and why “the Japanese media remained largely silent.”
On April 12, Kauan Okamoto, a Japanese-Brazilian singer and songwriter, held a press conference and claimed Kitagawa abused him about 15 to 20 times between 2012-2016 when he was still a member of the agency, and said he knew at least three other people who had also been abused.
After Okamoto’s press conference, a group of fans and idols held a press conference on May 11 stating they had sent a petition to Johnny & Associates calling on the company to apologize and launch an investigation.
An external probe set up in late May to investigate Kitagawa concluded in August that Kitagawa sexually abused members of the agency for decades, and that the agency had covered up Kitagawa’s behavior. Kitagawa’s family members had allegedly known what he was doing and did not do anything to stop him.
Kitagawa’s Death and Past Allegations
Kitagawa passed away at 87 in July 2019 due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage (a form of stroke). Fujishima then became president in September 2019.
Kitagawa founded Johnny & Associates in 1962 after establishing the male idol group Johnnys. Johnny & Associates went on to establish and manage many male idol groups such as SMAP, Arashi, Tokio, KinKi Kids, V6, KAT-TUN, and Hey! Say! JUMP. The members of idol groups under the management of Johnny & Associates are collectively known as “Johnny’s.”
Kitagawa previously faced allegations of sexual misconduct during his career. The Shukan Bunshun magazine published 14-week expose in 1999 detailing accusations of child abuse and sexual exploitation. However, the accusations never resulted in formal criminal charges. Kitagawa and Johnny & Associates sued the magazine, and the magazine lost the first trial in March 2002. However, the magazine effectively won its Tokyo High Court appeal in July 2003. The High Court’s decision stated the alleged victims’ testimonies were “generally consistent” and “specific, frank, and detailed.” The decision also stated Kitagawa had “no concrete counterargument or rebuttal evidence.”
Sources: Oricon, Smile Up via Hachima Kikō