Artists are quitting J-pop institution Johnny & Associates – is the talent agency going downhill?

Johnny & Associates, a Japanese talent agency, is well-known for producing male entertainers, specifically idol groups. Before the Korean wave, when J-pop was still the “in” thing, most of the idol groups you may have heard of, such as SMAP, V6, KinKi Kids and Arashi, all originated from “Johnny’s”.

However, in recent years, we have seen the disbanding of SMAP, and even Arashi is going on hiatus next year. Members from various groups were also gradually quitting the agency, something that seems to be increasing in frequency after the death of Johnny’s founder Johnny Kitagawa in 2019.

Here are the artists who have left Johnny’s recently or will soon leave the J-pop institution:

CANNES, FRANCE - OCTOBER 15: Tomohisa Yamashita attends ' The head ' photocall during day two of the MIPCOM 2019 on October 15, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images)
Tomohisa Yamashita starred in HBO drama The Head. (Photo: Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images)

Tomohisa Yamashita

Yamashita, more commonly known by his nickname Yamapi, started off from idol group NEWS, and subsequently shifted his focus to solo projects as an actor and soloist in 2011. On 10 November 2020, Johnny’s announced that Yamapi had left the agency on 31 October.

Yamapi thanked his former agency on Instagram, writing: “Johnny & Associates is my birthplace and it’s where I was raised. I learned so much from everyone who supported me there, including all of you. It’s time to take a new step towards my childhood dreams.”

Johnny’s explained that Yamapi had expressed a strong desire to build his career overseas. In order to participate in overseas productions which Yamapi was offered roles in, he had submitted his resignation before his contract expired. Johnny’s clarified that they respected his decision and both parties ended the contract on good terms. It is also a point to note that Yamapi seems to have the potential to do well overseas, having starred in HBO Asia’s The Head as the only Asian cast member.

Tomoya Nagase from Tokio

The latest case is Nagase, who announced his decision to quit Johnny’s in July 2020. He will be leaving the agency in March 2021. Regarding his future plans, Nagase explained, “I will not be jumping ship to another agency. Instead, I will be starting from scratch, working behind the scene.” Nagase has been with Johnny’s for about 30 years and is the lead vocalist and guitarist in Tokio.

Yuya Tegoshi from NEWS

Unlike most of the people who left Johnny & Associates, Tegoshi’s departure in June 2020 was sudden and immediate. However, he has a history of controversy, from partying with underage talents to badmouthing his senpai or senior band Arashi, to the incident before his quitting — violating COVID-19 restrictions to party outdoors. Despite his reputation, he is actually doing well on his YouTube channel with at least 1.4 million views for each of his uploads.

Masahiro Nakai from the disbanded SMAP

Nakai was one of the two — the other being Takuya Kimura — from the five-man SMAP who remained in Johnny & Associates. He left the agency in March 2020, citing that he had been having difficulty pushing himself to take up new projects after SMAP broke up in 2016. He has since become his own boss and established his own office.

TAIPEI, CHINA - APRIL 27:  Japanese actor Ryo Nishikido attends the press conference of film 'The Scythian Lamb' on April 27, 2018 in Taipei, Taiwan of China.  (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images)
Japanese actor Ryo Nishikido is one of several artists who have left J-pop institution Johnny's agency in the past year. (Photo: Visual China Group via Getty Images)

Ryo Nishikido from Kanjani Eight

Nishikido was originally a part of both NEWS and Kanjani Eight. He subsequently left NEWS in 2011 due to schedule conflicts. However, his time in Kanjani Eight did not last long either, having quit Johnny & Associates in September 2019. He has since released a solo album titled Nomad and held his concert tour of the same name in Japan.

Although the people who left Johnny & Associates seemed to have moved on to pursue varying interests within the entertainment industry, one cannot help but wonder what is happening to the strong and powerful talent agency? On a side note, can the relatively new groups like King & Prince, SixTones and Snow Man uphold the glory of their seniors? Especially after Johnny & Associates’ founder Johnny Kitagawa passed away, several talented artistes have quit. Is it a mere coincidence or has this anything to do with the management? Only time will tell.