The Johnny's Jimusho talent agency, which was established by Johnny Kitagawa back in the early 1960's, has dominated
the boy-band market in the four decades since. All the top male groups on Japanese TV
today are members of his stable: SMAP, Tokio, Kinki Kids
and V6, while Arashi and KAT-TUN are among the up-and-coming younger generation.
- or Johnny and Associates as it is officially called in English - started in 1963 when
Kitagawa launched his first group, not surprisingly named Johnnies. They were followed by the hugely
successful foursome, the Four Leaves (who recently announced a comeback some 23 years after they broke up in 1978).
Kitagawa built on the success of this "idol" quartet and churned
out one group after another over the decades. The Golden Age of the idols was in the 1980's, and Johnny's
created the biggest
of all the stars: the Tanokin Trio, Ninja, Shibugakitai and Hikaru Genji. Two members of
the Tanokin Trio, Kondo Masahiko (later a racing car driver who has driven in the 24-hour race at
Le Mans) and Tahara Toshihiko went on to hugely successful solo singing careers with over a
dozen No.1 hits each, while Motoki Masahiro (usually known as Mokkun, left) of Shibugakitai has become a respected actor.
Hikaru Genji became the first group to start off their career
with eight straight No.1's and in 1988, they had the three top-selling
singles of the year, a rare feat. Their roller-skating theatrics
was a crowd-pleasing idea that Kitagawa said was inspired by the
stage shows of Alice Cooper.
The 1990's saw former
Hikaru Genji's backing skateboarders SMAP reach the very summit of the Japanese entertainment world. As
the idol boom had faded, they had struggled to achieve real success
as just a singing group. So Johnny's turned them into multimedia
talents. Within a couple of years, they were quite simply everywhere.
Their own regular TV and radio shows (reminiscent of the Monkees), commercials, best-selling albums, dramatic roles, magazine
covers and more kept them in the spotlight and at the top of the
popularity rankings. Kimura Takuya (left) became the dream boy for a whole generation of schoolgirls
and continues to be voted Japan's Sexiest Man. His marriage to
Kudo Shizuka, herself a former idol, was one of the biggest stories of 2000.
Ironically there was talk of SMAP breaking away from Johnny's
until member Inagaki Goro got himself arrested for turning a simple parking violation into
an attempted hit and run in August 2001.
While SMAP have long been the crown princes of Japanese entertainment,
other groups in their stable have built up huge followings, too.
Tokio and V6 are in the SMAP mould and the same age bracket. Tokio
member Nagase Tomoya (left) achieved new heights of fame when he was dicovered to
be the love interest of pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi. Kinki Kids, made up of Domoto Tsuyoshi and
Domoto Koichi (they're not related), started out as comedians but have become
a best-selling singing duo who have an amazing run of over 20 No.1 singles in a row. Arashi is a splinter group from the
sprawling membership of Johnny's Junior. All of the groups have
their own regular TV shows and sell out arenas across the country.
But why the Johnny's focus
only on male groups? Well, the man himself once claimed that they're just easier to handle. But the
exact meaning of "handle" has been the subject of great speculation
over the years. In 1988 Kita Koji, a member of the Four Leaves, wrote a tell-all diary in which
he described being molested by Kitagawa and other idols. Similar
claims were made in another book published in 1996. One story
has Inagaki Goro hardly able to do his dance routines after enduring
the romantic advances of Kitagawa. Though they're widely believed
to be true, the squeaky clean image of pretty boy-next-door groups
has hardly been dented by these accusations. This is perhaps associated
with the fact that many young Japanese women are also fans of
bishonen manga, comic books in which pretty young boys have romantic encounters.
Also Johnny's Jimusho has been so hugely powerful for the last
couple of decades that the media dares not kill this goose that
has laid so many golden eggs.