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Japanese music mogul Johnny Kitagawa dies

By | Published on Thursday 11 July 2019

Johnny & Associates

Japanese music mogul Johnny Kitagawa has died, aged 87, following a stroke last month. The controversial figure had spent decades as one of the country’s dominant artist managers, working exclusively with male artists in a genre where management tends to be in control.

Kitagawa founded his company – Johnny & Associates – in 1962 with his first boy band, Johnnys. However, his first successful group was Four Leaves, who emerged closer to the end of that decade, after Johnnys had disbanded. After that, Kitagawa’s business went on to control many – if not most – of Japan’s most successful boy bands, including SMAP, Arashi, Kat-Tun and Hey! Say! Jump.

Remaining the head of the company until his death, Kitagawa was known as a controlling figure with significant influence across the whole Japanese music industry. At times he pushed that industry in new directions, although in recent years he was better known as a long-term hold out from digital music services, both downloads and later streaming.

There were also allegations of harassment and sexual assault, including against some of his acts. In 1999, Shukan Bunshun magazine published various accusations against him. He successfully sued for libel, although the judgement was partially overturned on appeal. There were other allegations too, although he was never charged with any crime.

Johnny & Associates last made international headlines in 2016 when the company’s most successful group, SMAP, split after 25 years together. The split came after a rumoured dispute with the company, after their direct manager was forced to resign.

Kitagawa died in hospital in Tokyo on Tuesday where he had been since 18 Jun. He was reportedly surrounded by senior staff and trainees. What his death means for the future of Johnny & Associates is currently unclear.