Immediately after the press conference earlier this morning, Arashi member Sakurai Sho talked with news zero caster Udo Yumiko regarding the Johnny’s scandal, how he felt about the changes, and the company going forward.
Udo: The company has stated that they recognized and agree that the abuse happened. How do you feel about this announcement?
Sakurai: These past couple of months were incredibly stressful for me, and I watched the press conference with great trepidation. However, towards the end I felt a sense of relief and a firm conviction that the agency was going to truly start afresh.
Udo: And were you told about the change in management in advance? How did you feel about these changes?
Sakurai: We (talents) were told several days ago that he would become the next president. I felt a great sense of shock and confusion at first. To me, Higashiyama was a senior talent that I looked up to and respected on stage, so I felt a sense of loss that I wouldn’t be able to see that side of him again going forward. However, his words today imparted on me a conviction that he would lead the charge to truly change the company in the ways as suggested by the third party investigatory report, particularly when talking about protecting the rights of the talents going forward as well as ensuring proper compliance and governance of the company.
Udo: There has been considerable criticism that former president Julie Fujishima would remain as representative director despite Higashiyama becoming the new president, and that this change in management does not match the recommendations per the third party investigatory team. What are your thoughts about this?
Sakurai: The conference today truly felt like a spiritual break with the reign of former president Johnny Kitagawa for me. There was a firm rejection of the ways in which the former president valued things, and an affirmation that this new regime would be completely different from the past. While it is true that former president Julie Fujishima will remain, my own focus remains firmly fixed on the company facing the victims properly — not just those who have spoken up until now, but those who may come forward in the future as well.
Udo: And what was your experience with regards to the abuse?
Sakurai: It is still a bit hard for me to comprehend. As mentioned by both Inohara Yoshihiko and Higashiyama at the conference, I had only ever heard rumors that such abuse was going on. Because I was so young at the time (during his time as a Junior), it was difficult for me to gauge just how real those rumors were. In addition, having met with many friends including former Jr. members over the past couple of months, there were some who had not even heard the rumors at all. It also occurred to me that it was entirely possible that some of those friends may have heard such rumors and just did not comprehend what was going on because they were so young.
For me, I have thought deeply about how I could personally get involved in fixing the current environment (within the company). The press conference is only one part of ensuring that we turn the recommendations from the report into reality. For us to continue to look after the Juniors, there must be adults that they can trust, consult in and confide in with full confidence — part of me wonders if this problem was not caused in part due to the lack of such adults around the victims in the past. As such, it falls on adults like myself to create an environment full of those adults such children can turn towards for help.
In addition, this company is in charge of so many children who are full of hopes and dreams. I want to be able to convey to them in an age appropriate manner what exactly harassment, particularly sexual harassment, is. It is critical to me that we both teach what harassment is, and what to do should that happen to them — to create an environment where children feel like they will be heard if they speak out.
Udo: You yourself are also a talent of the company. What are your requests or demands going forward?
Sakurai: Ultimately, I hope that we as a company are able to face the victims properly and that their voices are heard, and to foster an environment where such abuse can never happen again. In addition, instead of forcing victims to come forward, I would like to foster an environment where everyone feels safe to come forward on their own terms. It is vital to me as a celebrity and talent within this company to create an environment where people don’t feel suffocated and be free to continue in this industry.
I would love to restart completely anew, but its also important to continue to keep the wishes of the victims in mind and to fix the problems here. To that end, I will try to the best of my ability and what I am capable of doing.
Udo: We’ve talked much about the difficult situation for Johnny’s, but what are your thoughts as an individual celebrity going forward?
Sakurai: For me personally, I want to continue giving it my all within the company. I think many fans were deeply hurt by everything that transpired, and I would not blame anyone for not being able to continue to support us as talents because of this scandal. As such, I want to create an environment where fans can cheer us on freely, we can continue to make them smile, and deliver the best we as talents can deliver.
In addition, I think its important to remember those who came after me. The hard working Juniors and those who also want to pursue similar dreams as celebrities really do look up to me and the other talents within the company. I myself looked at the talents who came before me and thought to myself about how much I wanted to become like them.
And so for those fans and for those precious kouhai, I would like to continue giving it my all here as a Johnny‘s talent.
Udo: That might take some time, and it’s quite likely that you will receive some backlash for doing so, but it looks as though you have factored that into your decision.
Sakurai: As I understood yet again watching the conference, but we as a company have decided to commit to changing both the organization and the values that we hold to start afresh in an appropriate manner. To that end I would like to give it my all.