Japan Times' summary of first oral arguments for Matsumoto's lawsuit against Shukan Bunshun

A defamation trial over popular comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto’s sex abuse allegations, first published in weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, kicked off on Thursday.

Matsumoto, who was absent from the hearing at the Tokyo District Court, is seeking ¥550 million ($3.6 million) for defamation against Bungei Shunju, the magazine’s publisher, over its report alleging that he had forced two women into having sex.

Bungei Shunju said it will fight the case and requested the case to be dismissed.

On Thursday morning, 691 people lined up for the 19 seats available to the public in the courtroom — a reflection of Matsumoto’s popularity in Japan.

During the hearing, the comedian’s lawyer told the court that they cannot confirm or deny the allegations since they do not know the identity of the accusers, referred to anonymously as A and B in Shukan Bunshun’s articles.

In a news conference after the trial, Bungei Shunju’s lawyer Yoichi Kitamura said that the plaintiff had asked the publisher to reveal the identities of the two women, including their names, addresses, birth dates, cell phone numbers, as well as their Line messaging app accounts and pictures.

Kitamura said that disclosing such personal details would put the two women in danger.

“The article reports on the plaintiff, who has a strong influence on society, doing and saying things that disregard the dignity and human rights of women,” Bungei Shunju argued in a court document. “It is in the public interest” to report on it, according to Jiji news.

The next trial session is set to take place on June 5.

The article, published online and in the physical magazine in late December, detailed sexual assault allegations brought forward by two women who claimed they were forced into engaging in sexual acts with Matsumoto at private parties hosted in luxury hotels in 2015.

On Monday, Matsumoto posted a statement on social media platform X saying that he wanted to return to comedy, which received widespread support among his fans. At the time of writing, the post had more than 100 million views and 870,000 likes.

“I have aspired to make people laugh. A lot of people were not able to laugh because of my case, and my juniors who didn’t do anything wrong suffered the fallout from it,” Matsumoto said in the post. “I am simply bewildered, frustrated, and saddened that my claim has been drowned out and rejected. I want the truth to be told to the world, and I want to do comedy as soon as possible.”

Matsumoto has suspended all his professional activities since early January to “focus on the lawsuit,” impacting several TV shows where he appears regularly.

On Wednesday, Shukan Bunshun published a statement by one of Matsumoto’s alleged victims, urging the comedian to come clean.

“I have spent many sleepless nights and been harassed by people calling me a gold digger, liar, and suggesting that they will come after me to identify me. But now that I have finally made the truth public, I will not be defeated,” she said. “I will be on the witness stand again and again. Please tell the truth, Matsumoto-san.”