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Japanese Music Mogul Johnny Kitagawa Dies at 87

Johnny Kitagawa, the iconic founder of Johnny and Associates and for many decades the most powerful man across Japan's music industry, has passed away at age 87.

TOKYO – Johnny Kitagawa, the iconic founder of Johnny and Associates and for many decades the most powerful man across Japan’s music industry, has passed away at age 87.

Kitagawa succumbed to a ruptured cerebral aneurysm at a Tokyo hospital.     

Kitagawa started what would become the dominant Japanese music management agency in 1962. Legend has it he was walking through Yoyogi Park in the center of Tokyo and heard a group of young men singing. He immediately recruited them and founded the agency.

Johnny and Associates only worked with male acts, from The Johnnies in the early 1960s to the Four Leaves later that decade, as well as mega-hit acts like SMAP in the late 1980s, Kitagawa’s firm was consistently at the forefront of Japan’s music industry.

He produced and managed numerous popular acts from the 1960s up until recently, including SMAP, Arashi, KAT-TUN, Kinki Kids, Say! Hey! Jump, Kanjani8, NEWS, and V6. 

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Kitagawa’s promotion strategy relied heavily on TV, featuring his stars on variety programs, talk shows and even TV dramas. Arguably his most successful act, SMAP, had its members on 5 TV shows at one time, including a cooking show.

But Kitagawa was notoriously anti-Internet, not allowing even photos of his acts online until 2018. The company finally launched a YouTube channel for its youth acts in the same year.

There were also allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at Kitagawa concerning the boys in his agency, but none were proven and Kitagawa was never charged. In fact, Kitagawa won a defamation judgment against a magazine which published some of the allegations.

Kitagawa holds three Guinness World Records, including the most No. 1 artists produced by an individual, the most No. 1 singles produced by an individual, and the most concerts produced by an individual.

When Billboard interviewed him in 2013, Kitagawa was typically modest. When asked how he maintained his vice grip on the Japanese music industry for 50 years he answered, “Just hard work, really.”