Saturday, June 02, 2007


The Pretty Boy Factory


So, where do all the pretty Japanese boys come from?

Well, Japan of course. Duh. No, but seriously. How are they annointed? One very serious contender for the source of manufacturing these pretty images is Johnny's Entertainment otherwise known as Johnny's Jimusho.

Johnny is Johnny Kitagawa. His westernized first name is no fluke, as he was born in Los Angeles, came to Japan with the military, stayed and founded Johnny's Entertainment with his sister, Mary. Johnny's runs a stablehouse of young talents, all boys as young as 10, who are auditioned every year by parents hoping their children have what it takes to be stars (modern Memoirs of a Geisha, anyone?)

The company is run somewhat like the old studio system of Hollywood; young kids are coached in singing, dancing and acting classes. The younger members, Johnny Juniors, form groups and often dance backup to senior performers, who make up "boy bands." These individual, senior members not only sing and dance, but dominate the young, male acting roles in Japan's dorama world, which, for those who don't know, are seasonal shows, akin to the telenovels of South America. The most successful "talentos" go on to endorse products, appear in side gigs and films, as is the case with SMAP, one of Johnny's most successful groups.

The genius of Johnny Kitagawa, says American composer Joey Carbone who has penned many a J-Pop hit, is his vision and ability to spot and groom a future star.

Carbone says Kitagawa’s genius lies in finding someone at a young age, and imagining what they might look like a few years later. “As a businessman, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Johnny because, in a sense, he’s more creative than his artists. His creativity is to put these acts together . . .

Could you have seen the "star potential" in this young boy? (And please note that his blood type is "A," the most desirable kind.)

Dig a little deeper, though, and the story gets somewhat, er, interesting. Maybe even messy. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for trouble. Either way, here's the scoop. Johnny's boys--and they are referred to as "Johnnys" or "a Johnny" are very tightly controlled by their manager. It is said that one phonecall from Johnny boycotting a network should said station try to use another talent agency is enough to squash the competition. Mr. Johnny, in other words, has a total monopoly.

Most other management jimusho are smart enough to avoid such a conflict. But some get cocky, like Amuro Namie and Speed's company Rising Production (now Vision Factory), who attempted to break into Johnny's turf with Okinawan-staffed dance acts, Da Pump, w-inds, and Flame. How many times have these been on Terebi Asahi's Music Station total? Two times: just Da Pump twice in 1997. Johnny's Jimusho artist appearances from 1997 to 2004? 405.

Johnny Rivals

This all started in the early 60s, with a group known as "The Four Leaves" generally considered to be Johnny Kitagawa's first real hit. As one article puts it:

Kitagawa's model wasn't rock'n'roll but Broadway musicals like West Side Story. His genius was to turn youth music into a mass-marketable commodity by mixing it with slick dance routines. He was certainly the first impresario in Japan to form an all-male vocal pop group and possibly influenced the way Western boy bands would be formed and marketed. His first real success came in 1968 with Four Leaves, a group of teenagers on the cusp of manhood whose breezy look and sound caught the public imagination and set the tone for Johnny's bands to follow.


And on we go to bands like SMAP, TOKIO and the younger set like Arashi and KAT-TUN.


Look, for example at "heart-throb" Hideaki Takizawa, who started as a Johnny Junior, performed in Tackey and Tsubasa, then went on to portray Yoshitsune in the NHK taiga drama of the same name.


The boys' images are almost never used unless permission is given.

No Jun

Note, for example, that in some of the material for Hana Yori Dango, Johnny's member Matsumoto Jun's portrait is missing. His character is represented by a manga sketch (in red), instead of a photo. Johnny hadn't given his permission to use the photo. Woe betide the casual photographer wanting to snap a candid of a Johnny. In fact, you can't even easily find a photo of Johnny himself!

And lest you think that these guys are raking it in, think again. Johnnys are paid a salary by their agency; the bulk of their profits to go the impressario himself. Woe betide the Johnny who tries to strike out on his own, with Tahara Toshihiko and Motoki Masahiro rare successful exceptions.


Rumors circulated that SMAP was considering leaving the Johnny world along with their legendary manager, Michi Iijima, who put the band on the map when other managers had failed. SMAP is actually popular and powerful enough to succeed, unlike other former Johnny's who simply faded once they bolted from their benefactor. But so far, SMAP has essentially stayed put under the Johnny umbrella, with Iijima given her own "sub-company" to run, called "J-Dream."

What's with all the secrecy and control freakishness? Well, partly it has to do with money, of course. The boys make Johnny wealthy, and are therefore protected. Johnny invests heavily in his talents. Groups may go years without a hit, and then suddenly break through. And who do they have to thank when this happens? Johnny, of course, for sticking by them.

But then there's this. In 1988, a former member of The Four Leaves published an article in which he claimed to have been molested by Mr. Kitagawa.

In it, he alleged to have been raped and coerced into a long-term sexual relationship with Kitagawa. The boy band boss was said to operate a system of patronage, promoting the careers of idols in return for sexual favours.

A similar claim was made in a 1996 book by Hiramoto Junya, a former Johnny's Junior member. In 2001, Shukan Bunshun, a weekly newspaper, salaciously accused Mr. Kitagawa of various lewd acts of a sexual nature. Nothing was ever proven, however, and in 2002, Kitawaga successfully sued Shukan Bunshun for defamation. Johnny's Entertainment continues to operate and remain dominant. Can you imagine something similar going on in the US? Or the UK? Er, don't think so. It will be interesting to see how this changes, in light of the growing awareness of and campaigns against all forms of abuse in Japan.

Interestingly enough, the images of the boys are very tightly controlled to appear as smutless as possible.

The ideal Johnny's boy does everything with a posse of other cute available Johnny's boys or all by himself. Johnny’s boys at one time could not wear their hair long or change their hair color in any way. They could not have their ears pierced as well. They were supposed to be the ideal boys, appealing to their peers as well as to their parents. They were just the type of boys your mom would love and they would never be the ones plucked from school assembly for wearing their uniform shirt untucked or having hair that was suspiciously tea colored. Times have changed, as anyone who has ever trawled the net can attest. Nowadays Johnny’s boys have multiple piercings in their ears, wear jewelry and clothing styled after rap stars and rockers, are tanned and show it, and have hair ranging in color from gold to black and worn in styles anywhere between short and spiky to shoulder length locks. However, their daily life is subject to much scrutiny by their managers and a host of other Johnny’s insiders (doubtless because it will be scrutinized more thoroughly by the press and their fans - these are boys who have their room plans printed up in magazines monthly).

Girlfriends, while allowed, are allegedly discouraged. This is all to ensure that the boys appear "available." And on the occasion that a boy does misbehave, Johnny goes to great lengths to try to "fix" the situation.

Akanishi Jin

Recently, for example, fans were stunned to learn that Akinishi Jin of KAT-TUN was going abroad to study English. And off he went, leaving his band behind. Why? Well, allegedly he managed to knock up two teenagers (and someone else in the States; you can follow the link if you need names), and as punishment was sent off to the US. I guess this means that going to LA is the new rehab for Japanese celebrities.

Why does no one break this monopoly? Well, partly because Johnny Kitagawa is uncannily good at finding talent, good at, ahem, nurturing it, and good at finding young men to fill all those drama roles. Which means that essentially it is all about money. And fantasy. And dreams. And if you were a sensitive young guy, and you knew that were going to hate high school, and yet someone came along and offered you a chance to live a completely different life, wouldn't you consider taking it? Entertainment is always filled with people who aren't quite "normal," and need a creative outlet.

The Johnny's have their detractors; people say that all those Arashi/SMAP/V-6 groups are all essentially the same thing.

As is the case with many highly successful boy bands, Johnny’s groups also have their detractors. A common criticism is that the members do not have to be particularly good singers, dancers or actors to be seen on TV in heavy rotation, and that they are merely famous for being famous.

But the monopoly doesn't show signs of slowing down for a while yet. The SMAPsters are in the 30s, and still going strong--some have even managed to marry and maintain their careers. The new boy bands are successful, and younger ones are waiting in the ranks. Johnny's have a frighteningly accurate success rate, in no small part because of Johnny's ability to spot emerging trends and capitalize on them. Jun Matsumoto of Arashi was a hit in the drama Hana Yori Dango; his band performed the theme songs for both seasons. And Arashi member Kazunari Ninomiya just had a spellbinding role in Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima. There's much, much more to milk there.

The pretty boy factory will be in operation for a while.

There, there. I know you were worried!

First posted on Japundit where you can read the comments.

Hikaru Genji.
You know, the thing is, I think I remember these guys.
Johnny's RULES!! Seriously, most of them are relly talented..Some of them are really good dancers, while other are better singers.. and then some makes up for it with their acting skills or bigger than life personalities.. XD

And not to mention, they are so cute!!! so pretty... XD <3 them!
Johnny's RULES!! Seriously, most of them are relly talented..Some of them are really good dancers, while other are better singers.. and then some makes up for it with their acting skills or bigger than life personalities.. XD

And not to mention, they are so cute!!! so pretty... XD <3 them!
Interesting article. I was trying to find out why Matsumoto Jun's photos are non-existent on the Hana Yori Dango official website.

Frankly, I don't understand what's the big deal of controlling the usage of Johnny's artistes' photos. A quick image search on Google, and their photos are everywhere... Wakaranai...
Good God! It's so horrifying that Johnny's sexual abuse of minors is reported everywhere, even in the UK's Guardian and the New York Times, and yet he's allowed to continue.

...I'm starting to think that entertainment itself is a horrifying thing!
I'm sorry but I don't think Kazunari Ninomiya being chosen for Clint Eastwoods film has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with him being a Johnny. Isn't he the first johnny to do so anyway?
Sorry this is on such an old post. Blame google. The YouTube video is gone, but from the preview image it looked like you might have had the original video Matsumoto Jun sent with his application?
If that's so, could you tell me if it had a title, or any clue I could use to help me search for it? I've seen it called a "CV" but I don't know what that stands for.

Sorry to bother you.
Hi Amanda. I did have a Youtube of what looked like an early Jun tape. But it does seem to be gone. There are some clips of him when he was much younger in Arashi floating around. But the old vid is gone, which is too bad.
*chokes on laughter*
Jin got sent to the US because he knocked up two girls xDDD
im not sure if I believe this, but it made for a good laugh, thanks!

Johnny is pretty much a god figure :]

hopefully he's gotten over his... sexual abuse issues, if that even ever happened. first i was also bothered by this JE boys thingy.....but then again i got hooked on them(since they appear everywhere) and got to know that theres so much more to arashi for instance, watch thir variety shows and u'll understand how perfectly talented,creative and 'healthy' guys they for those fan service..i think it is what it is..and it seems like it's part of Japanese culture..close relationship with others(just read one of their histories(hikaru genji,yoshitsune), manga, etc).
your post provided me all the necessary info i was looking thank you very much.
this thing about JE is really suspicious.
I don't understand the fact what kind of parents are those people.
I would have never left my kid in the hands of a stranger.
and why all those people accept so litle when they can have it all..
who in the sound mind would have stayed in JE when they can make money on their own...
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