AP Business

Asahi stops ads with stars represented by a Japanese talent agency tainted by sexual assault

TOKYO (AP) — Several major Japanese companies have decided to stop using stars who are represented by Johnny & Associates, an entertainment company at the center of a sexual assault scandal.

Beverage maker Asahi Group Holdings — known for its Super Dry beer — will no longer air its ads featuring Junichi Okada, Toma Ikuta and Sho Sakurai, the company said Tuesday, and there are no plans to sign singers, dancers or actors affiliated with Johnny’s. Other companies, including Japan’s flagship carrier Japan Airlines and major insurer Nippon Life Insurance Co., are following suit in distancing themselves from the scandal.

Johnny & Associates remains one of Japan’s most powerful entertainment companies even after an investigation confirmed its late founder Johnny Kitagawa sexually assaulted several hundred children and teens over decades while whispers of his wrongdoings were ignored. His niece resigned as chief executive last week but still owns the company that specializes in boy bands.

Critics say the mainstream news media kept silent because it didn’t want to lose access to Johnny’s stars for their programming. But public opinion has shifted dramatically in recent months, with the wave of companies dropping Johnny’s expected to grow.

It is unclear whether the dozens of artists signed with Johnny’s will defect in droves to other companies. Johnny’s operates as both agents for performers and content producers, as well as operating a school for future performers, meaning artists may have limited options if they wanted to leave.

Although speculation is rife that TV shows may drop Johnny’s stars from their programming, such shifts may be gradual. In the past, critics say Johnny’s had the power to penalize program producers if their stars were passed over for rivals.

Suntory Holdings said it will stop using Johnny’s personnel in its ads and has formally demanded improved corporate governance. The beverage maker, known for Hibiki whisky, previously featured Hokuto Matsumura of SixTONES in its ads.

In a recent interview with the local Asahi newspaper, which is not related to the beverage maker, Asahi Group CEO Atsushi Katsuki said he was shocked when Johnny’s publicly acknowledged the history of sexual assaults really happened.

“If we continue with our contracts, it would be as though we are condoning human rights violations,” he said.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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