Minori Chihara is a voice actress and singer who has gradually been spreading her wings across the world. I asked her about her thoughts regarding having a concert overseas. She also answered questions which were sent to us by you, the fans at MANGA.TOKYO!
I Haven’t Had a Solo Concert Abroad Yet. I Want to Make That a Reality
You have had many opportunities to sing abroad these last 10 years, haven’t you?
I’ve performed in North America, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Canton, China. Looking back, I’ve visited quite a lot of countries for my job.
We say that music doesn’t have any borders, but have you had any problems communicating with people in foreign countries because of the language barrier?
I actually love communicating with local people overseas. Although I can’t speak any languages other than Japanese, I think if you really want to express something, your feelings will reach the person even with body language. I feel foreign people are more extroverted than Japanese people in general, so it’s easier to have a casual talk. They’re usually happy to help me out when I’m in trouble. I never feel like I’m being rejected because of a language barrier.
Are you the kind of person who just keeps talking in Japanese?
I sometimes prepare greetings in the local language and write them down in Japanese using katakana [N.B. a Japanese script often used to show pronunciation]. I read it aloud on stage with the excuse, ‘I’ll read this as I can’t speak it’. [laugh] Other times, I just speak in Japanese.
There are quite a number of overseas anisong fans who understand Japanese, right?
There are. In fact, someone told me that they had been learning Japanese through Japanese anime and anisongs. I’m overjoyed when audiences sing along in Japanese at my concerts. Some of the audience members even ask me to speak in Japanese. Learning Japanese isn’t easy, so I admire anisong fans who try to understand Japanese in order to enjoy concerts. It demonstrates the power of anime as well.
I’ve heard that there were audiences from foreign countries at your concert during your Japanese tour which ended this May.
Each national tour I did, there were audience members from various countries, and this tour was the same. I’m really glad that I can go abroad and meet my fans this summer as one of the performers at the ‘Anisong World Matsuri at Anime Expo 2017’, instead of them having to come all the way to Japan.
Is it natural for you to think about working internationally?
I intend on working in foreign countries as often as I can. I haven’t had a solo concert abroad yet. I want to make that a reality.
Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya receives a lot of reaction from fans abroad, as well as Chiaki Minami from Minami-ke
Did your fans overseas come to know you as a voice actress or do they support you as an anisong singer?
I think most of them came to know me by watching anime. For instance, my fans overseas often tell me that they’re still fond of Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
I have a question for you. One of our overseas readers sent this message, “I love your voice when you voice my favorite character, Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Was it hard when you voiced this character? What were the problems you had to face?”
Yuki is a quiet person and talks indifferently. She is usually reticent but once she starts talking, she continues to ramble on for a while, which is equivalent to a couple of pages in a script. It was my first time playing a role like her, so when I found out that I was going to play her role, I was happy yet knew it would be difficult to play. In fact, I was often told by the producer of the anime to clearly enunciate while I was recording.
I had just started my career as a voice actress at that time, so I remember being always apprehensive and stressed out while working on the role. Additionally, Yuki was usually alone quietly while the SOS Brigade were having fun in the anime. I felt lonely as if I were excluded from them in real life while recording. [laugh]
Yuki Nagato and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are still quite popular overseas, aren’t they.
I’m happy to hear that, and in the meantime, I subconsciously brace myself whenever I hear the title of anime, remembering the stress and pressure while I was working on it.
Apart from Yuki Nagato, I’ve got a lot of questions regarding Miku Izayoi from Date a Live. One of the fans even told us, “I liked your voice, (especially your singing voice) when you voiced my favorite character Miku Izayoi (Date a Live).” What do you think of Miku Izayoi?
Miku is ‘the idol’ type cute character. It was an exciting experience for me, as I rarely play characters like Miku. Well, she is not only just cheerful but also has a dark side, in fact. [laugh] Anyway, it was quite fun to play such a lovely character. The series contained concerts scenes, so I sang as Miku. While singing as Miku, I felt empathy for her so many times, therefore I have a deep attachment to the role.
To which characters do you receive more reactions from overseas?
That’s most definitely Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Minami Chiaki from ‘Minami-ke’ also received many reactions as well. I’m really happy that characters I have voiced have a lot of fans overseas. I hope to voice more characters like them and meet more anime fans abroad.
If I must choose, I’d like new fans to listen to ‘Paradise Lost’ as well as ‘Freedom Dreamer’.
You are working as both a voice actress and a singer. Many our readers are wondering about the differences between working as a voice actress and as a singer. Could you tell us your view on the differences?
When I play a character in an anime, I become the character. On the other hand, I sing as myself when I sing. That’s the difference, I think. I also consider the aspect of the character I play and particular feelings which were embedded in anime when I sing theme songs of anime, as well as my original songs.
Each anisong contains different messages depending on the anime and its quality is superb. To be honest, I sometime struggle to sing through some songs, even my own songs.
Singing anisongs demands a lot of energy and a high standard of expressive power for just one song. I really admire you for singing 20 or more anisongs for three hours in your concert.
I’ve been trained during each concert I’ve done. [laugh] At first I thought it would be impossible, however, I overcame problems one by one and the experience made me grow mentally. I come across other problems and I tackle them head-on. I’ve grown slowly but surely in this way and have become who I am today. It would have been truly impossible for me to sing my setlist at a concert 10 years ago. [laugh]
There is another question asking, “How does it feel to sing in front a crowd that is not in Japan?”
Every time, I feel excited. In Japan, my fans cheer for me with choreographed gestures in unison. When I sing overseas, the audience seems to enjoy the show freely and energetically however they like, though some people cheer in a group for some parts. I feel good when I watch them from the stage, enjoying the show.
Enjoying themselves individually is something that sets the overseas concerts apart, isn’t it?
Exactly. Hearing audiences cheer in individual styles reminds me of when I’m on stage in a foreign country. Furthermore, I really love the fact that they are all super friendly.
Do you think more audiences begin to cheer in unison overseas, as more people come to Japan and watch concerts?
Compared to the past, I think so. It’s another way to enjoy concerts by teaming up with strangers to cheer and dance together.
There are more questions like, “Which song in your discography is your personal favorite?” and “How would you describe to new listeners or fans what sort of songs you sing?”
It’s difficult to choose, since I have so many favorite songs. Well, if I must choose, I would choose the anisong ‘Paradise Lost’ and my original song ‘Freedom Dreamer’. I want to create scenes of exciting live concerts in which audiences come together and cheer and jump to these songs.
A Piece of Advice Took Me to the Place I am Today
There are more questions from our readers. This one asks, ‘Your voice is really beautiful and I really love it! How did you train to become a singer and a voice actor?’
I studied singing and voice acting at a training school. I originally wanted to become a singer and took many auditions since I was a high school student. I also enrolled at a training school for singing.
However, I didn’t have the connections to debut as a singer. I had almost given up on my dream when the training school set up a new course for voice acting. I was advised, “You have a unique voice and cheerful character. It might be a good idea to learn voice acting to strengthen your singing career.” I started to study voice acting and eventually it took me to the place where I am today.
Another reader wants to know, “Can you share the secret to singing like you?”
I try remembering to drink a cup of plain hot water. It’s the best thing for my throat. I drink boiled water on stage during a tour to keep my throat warm. It makes me sweat more when I’m already sweating a lot on stage. [laugh] But it definitely keeps my throat in good condition.
We are all different and each of us have a drink which improves our condition. It’s hot water for me and a sports drink for others. I think it’s important to find a drink which is good for you.
Furthermore, I eat happily, smile a lot, and stay active. They are directly related to my singing and acting. I think it’s important to enjoy food to stay energetic every day.
What is your favourite food?
I absolutely love mutton barbecue and often go out to eat it. I frequently visit an all-you-can-eat mutton barbecue restaurant paying 3980 yen for 70 minutes. I just gobble it down for 70 minutes. [laugh] It’s so delicious!!
The next question is, “What brought you to a career in voice acting?”
As I mentioned earlier, a staff member at the training school I was attending for singing lessons told me, “voice actors nowadays have wide range of opportunities including hosting radio programs, singing and even modelling. Why don’t you try that out?” In hindsight, it provided me with a significant turning point. Before that, I was single-mindedly aiming to become a singer without any success. When I was told, “you have another choice. That is to become a voice actress because you have a unique voice”, I took the advice positively, thinking this person must see some possibility in me. I began to learn voice acting and have become who I am today. I can’t thank that staff member enough, as they changed my life entirely.
I Have Become Who I Am Now Because I Didn’t Give up And Kept on Trying. I Still Never Give up and Continue Challenging What I Want to Do.
Could you answer this question, “As you do both voice acting and singing, what are some of the more rewarding and more difficult parts of each?”
Even though there are many difficulties, this job gives me happiness and joy. When I feel happy, I tend to forget the struggles and difficulties instantly.
I still struggle while preparing for a live concert. There are problems I have to conquer and overcome by myself however hard it is. But I know that when I get through the difficulties, I feel a sense of accomplishment. That helps me to keep going every time.
You grow mentally by overcoming problems one after another.
Exactly so. The national tour I did this spring, I challenged myself to play the piano while singing. At first, I was so nervous that my fingers trembled. However, I overcame my nerves and was satisfied with my performance by the end of the tour. I felt that I’ve grown stronger through this experience.
Among the questions from readers, someone want to know, “If you didn’t have such a wonderful voice, what do you think you would have become?”
Let me think… I wouldn’t have given up on becoming a manga artist.
What? Did you want to be manga artist?
I did. I liked to draw pictures and manga in elementary school. I once won a prize for my sketch and I used to draw manga with my friend. We made a story and drew manga in turn to create a long story. I saved up my pocket money and bought drawing tools and materials for manga, and then began to draw manga seriously when I was 5th and 6th grade. I drew manga while I was in middle school. At parents evening, my teacher asked me which high school I was aiming to enter, and my answer was, “I won’t go to high school because I’ll become a manga artist after graduating middle school.” I actually drew a manga that I was hoping to be my debut work. I sent it to a manga magazine publisher, with which I’d decided I wanted to start my career, and I awaited their reply expecting an invitation like ‘let’s work together’. Unfortunately I never received a reply from them. It was towards the end of my last year in middle school, so I had to take entrance exams for high schools in a hurry and enrol at one for which I passed the exams.
I gave up on becoming a manga artist at that point. When I was in my 3rd year at high school, I won a karaoke contest at a school festival. This made me think about becoming a singer. I started my singing training and told my teacher that I won’t go on to higher education and become a singer instead. My teacher was shocked by my decision.
I became a singer in real life. [laugh] I’m a person who never gives up and keeps on trying. I believe the saying, “if you don’t give up, you can’t fail.” I’ve become who I am now, because I didn’t give up and I kept on trying. I still never give up and continue going at what I want to do.
You never give up?
I like cooking and when a dish doesn’t taste nice, I try to improve the taste by adding more ingredients and seasonings. It usually ends up tasting horribly wrong. [laugh] In that case, I have to say, “resignation is the first lesson of life.”
My Dream is to Go on A Solo World Tour as Minori Chihara. I Will Do My Best to Make the Dream Come True!!
’Anisong World Matsuri at Anime Expo 2017’ will take place soon. I presume many anime fans are eagerly waiting to meet anisong singers such as yourself.
I will put all my ‘anisong soul’ into singing on the stage, as it’s a rare opportunity to sing in front of many anisong fans abroad. I hope to have a great time with them. Some people will be listening to my songs for the first time, therefore I’ll try performing my best to make them want to listen my songs again. Let’s create an unforgettable day together.
Are you planning to have more concerts abroad in the feature?
My goal at the moment is to have concerts abroad with my band someday, and I’ll continue to make every effort to reach that goal.
Nowadays, people overseas can listen to your songs via iTunes US, can’t they?
Please check them out before the concert. I’d be truly delighted if we can sing together again.
Which country do you want to visit again?
I’d love to revisit every country I’ve been to, because I have lovely memories of each visit. One of my most unforgettable moments is in Singapore where I encountered a wild iguana, and then we chased each other. I want to come across it again. [laugh] I haven’t been to South America and Europe for a concert yet, so I’d like to visit there as well. My dream is to go on a solo world tour as Minori Chihara. My mind has already been set. [laugh] I will do my best to make the dream come true!!
Photo: Motoi Onishi
Text: Tomonori Nagasawa
Minori Chihara iTunes Store (US)
Anisong World Matsuri at Anime Expo 2017