Johnny Kitagawa, king of Japan’s boy bands, dead at 87


Johnny Kitagawa, a kingpin of Japan’s entertainment industry for more than half a century who produced famous boy bands including Arashi, Tokio and SMAP, has died. He was 87.

Kitagawa, better known as Johnny-san, died from a subarachnoid hemorrhage Tuesday at a Tokyo hospital, where he was being treated after falling unconscious on June 18, according to his office, Johnny & Associates.

Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 23, 1931, Kitagawa spent his early childhood in Japan before and during World War II. He later grew up in the U.S. before returning to Japan after the Korean War.


Kitagawa established his office in 1962, producing a four-man group called the Johnnys and spearheading Japan’s entertainment scene. He sent many artists to fame, not only in Japan but in recent years across Asia.

Creating boy bands was a challenge to cultural norms in Japan back then, but his talent agency grew to dominate the country’s entertainment market.

The artists he produced set the standards for Japanese male idols, and “Johnnys” became code for attractive men.

Kitagawa called the artists and trainees his “children,” and was affectionately known as Johnny-san, though he hardly appeared in public.

His agency became so powerful that it virtually dominated Japan’s entertainment industry. He also faced rumors of alleged harassment and sexual abuse.

The death of the entertainment tycoon topped headlines in Japanese media on Wednesday, and even a government spokesman extended a message of condolences.

“Mr. Johnny Kitagawa has trained many idols over many years and left behind huge achievements in the Japanese entertainment industry. I wish to offer my sincere prayers for him,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami said at a regular news conference.

While Kitagawa was in the hospital, scores of artists he trained came to visit him even though he was unconscious, sharing his favorite foods and recounting fond memories of him, while listening to old and new songs he produced, his office said in a statement.

Taichi Kokubun, a member of the popular male band Tokio, said he learned a lot from Kitagawa since joining his agency 31 years ago at age 13.

“Johnny-san taught me the wonderful things about entertainment, but also the challenges,” he said, crying. “I still can’t sort out my feelings and Johnny-san would surely scold me if he saw me crying while on TV.”

“Bringing happiness to the people all over the world through entertainment” was his slogan for his business, Kitagawa wrote last year in a message posted on his office’s website.