Konishi Hiroko: The Anime Voice Acting World is the Abode of Demons

Konishi Hiroko: The Anime Voice Acting World is the Abode of Demons

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Picture of a demon hall and a microphone
Picture: Various / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
A former anime voice actress discusses the sexual and power harassment she faced in the industry - and what needs to be done to fix it.

Editor’s note: The following article is a translation of an original article by voice actor Konishi Hiroki. It was originally published in Sankei Digital’s iRONNA magazine on February 2nd, 2019 and is also available on her own Web site. We are publishing this translation with the express written permission of Konishi’s agency., Office Squirrel.

Konishi Hiroko was born in 1975. She has worked for decades as an actress, voice actress, and singer-songwriter. She is known for her work as the title character of NHK’s Ojarumaru, as well as her roles in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, Jubei-chan, and Magic User’s Club.

Konishi published this account nearly four years ago. However, when we ran a story recently about the death threats Hirano Aya faced as an anime voice actor, we were surprised to discover how few people knew about what Konishi had also endured. When her office reached out and offered to let us present her story, we jumped at the chance.

What follows is Konishi in her own words. There are footnotes to explain offhand references to events in the article. I have otherwise attempted to keep the translation as true to the source as possible. I have also preserved Konishi’s formatting.

Any errors or mistakes are those of myself, the translator, and I welcome corrections.

In Water Margin, a legendary novel from China’s Ming Dynasty, there’s a shrine with a demon king sealed inside[1].

A red earthen wall surrounded the shrine. A signboard with the words “Fushima-den” written in gold letters was posted at the eaves. Several protective charms covered the door, and it had a lock made of copper. Inside the shrine was a huge monolith three meters square. Underneath was a deep, bottomless pit.


It’s famously said that in the old days of the Tang Dynasty, a Taoist monk, Dong Xuan Guo Shi, sealed the Demon King in this hole and erected the Fushima-den there.

Since it’s where the demon king was sealed, Fushimaden means “a hall where demons lurk”. It’s thus also come to mean “a place where conspiracies and evil deeds are constantly being plotted.” Former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and former Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro were known for their political statements based on these words. In recent years, some media outlets have compared Parent-Teacher Associations to a “fushimaden,” a place that drives people to hide in plain sight[2].

Incidentally, Water Margin begins with a scene in which a bureaucrat from the capital forcefully pries open this shrine and unleashes the Demon King upon the world. The 108 heroes who later gathered at the Liangshan Pavilion to overthrow the corrupt officials were also born from this scene. Today, the Demon King, who unleashes harm upon the world, is more widely known as a creature whom the world deserves to have leashed upon it.

You could also call it a symbol for the #MeToo movement, whose accusations of sexual harassment and assault have swept the world.

MeToo and Harassment in Japan are Seen as Political

The #MeToo movement hasn’t gained much traction in Japan[3], though I was recently brought up in an article about the #MeToo-adjacent Ojarumaru resignation scandal on NHK[4]. Nevertheless, compared to Europe and the U.S., I am often painfully aware of the difference in the degree of harassment against women in vulnerable positions in Japan.

My job is as a so-called “voice actor,” which involves voicing characters in animated films and other productions, as well as voiceover narration. I would say that my heyday as a voice actor was when I was around 20 years old. So this story is 20 years old now. But even in the voice acting industry, there were company drinking parties and consolation trips, and I often went on drinking parties and trips with program staff members and co-stars.

Believe it or not, I’m a rather soft-spoken person, poor at socializing. And yet, I’ve been an actor, a musician, and even a regular TV host and variety show host. Although readers may not get this, I’m not very good at public appearances. I’ve always felt my TV appearances were me pushing against my comfort zone.

Non-drinker. Bad at socializing. And I don’t pour men drinks[5]

20 years ago, I was almost the youngest person on any of the [work] sites. Despite this, when a production suddenly invited me to join the staff on a consolation trip, I thought to myself, “What am I supposed to do there?” I felt the atmosphere around me. Or, rather, an invisible pressure. So I decided to at least show up a few times to express my gratitude to the people who had taken care of me.

I don’t mess with drinking or smoking, and I suck at doling out sake or telling a witty drinking story. I envied those who, like in a scene from a drama, naturally went around pouring drinks and being the life of the party.

Trying my best to endure everyone’s suggestions

At one such get-together out of many, a veteran male voice actor stopped me. “Do you know why X (a famous voice actress] gets work? We actors are beggars on the riverbank[6].” He then told me something that’d surely go viral in today’s #MeToo world.

X, the head of my agency at the time, told me, “You have to do your own promotion.” An actress in the same agency told me, “You can’t just act and expect to get anywhere!” I heard other such mysterious whispers around the office. I’d started this work because I believed voice acting and acting were a world where your performance won the day. Needless to say, this became a deep source of concern.

However, even though I wasn’t good at socializing, I still received a fair amount of job offers. With my busy work schedule, I could rarely attend parties. So one day, anime director A invited me on a consolation trip.

I had to work until the evening that day. As soon as I finished, my then-manager, B, drove me to our lodging. In the car, B asked me, “By the way, did you bring your swimsuit?” I remembered that we had discussed something in the office meetings about bringing swimsuits to use in the open-air baths [at the onsen where the party would be held].

Tricked into attending a “consolation party”, I ended up in a mixed bath

“That’s a joke, right?” A bad feeling raced through my mind. But when I asked, “Why do I need to bring a swimsuit?”, he said, “You can probably go without one, but…”

B then went all in for the kill: “He’s been good to you, you owe him a little something, right? He’s been so good to you. Just get in with him for a bit!”

I wondered how long we’d been tossed about in the car. I don’t remember the details, but when we finally arrived at the inn, the first thing that jumped out at me was the sign that read “Mixed Bathing Open-Air Baths”. My awful premonition became reality. “Have I been had?” I thought in the back of my mind, while realizing I couldn’t back out of it now. Someone showed me to a twin room.

I was somewhat relieved to find a female voice actress who’d arrived earlier waiting alone in the room. Apparently, the group ahead of us had already left for the hot springs. They’d told her to wait for my arrival. She led the way, and we went to the bathhouse together.

The quiet spa, the rowdiness from the back

Picture: よっちゃん必撮仕事人 / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

When we entered the women’s section of the baths, she said, “Huh? No one’s here”. The inner baths were quiet. I could hear running water. From the open-air mixed bath in the darkness, I heard the familiar voices of a man and woman chatting and laughing.

“I didn’t bring my bathing suit,” I confided to her. “I see,” she replied curtly. Then, without saying a word, she proceeded to the back as if she were being sucked in and disappeared into the open-air bath.

“Seriously? You’re all going in?” I sunk into the baths with a feeling close to guilt. Once I’d warmed up enough to endure the chill that had suddenly assaulted me, I returned to my room.

A staff member asked me at the after-party, “Why didn’t you come in?” “I didn’t have my bathing suit with me.” “You can come in without a bathing suit, hahahaha.” I still remember my manager, B, serving drinks, a wry smile on his face.

A customary party seemingly intended to acquaint you with industry “etiquette”

Another staff member told me that A, the anime director, often held these events. B, the enthusiastic sales manager, had “taken me there to learn the etiquette of the industry.” I can just picture B bowing his head after the party, saying, “I should never have invited Konishi.

Looking back on this, I sincerely regret going somewhere I didn’t fit in and ruining the mood. Needless to say, they didn’t invite me to any such events after that.

I say onsen, baths, mixed bathing, you say…NHK?

The words “hot spring,” “bath,” and “mixed bathing” popped up in the news last year. The head of NHK’s Saga Broadcasting Bureau – who became famous for his so-called “Helping Hands” performance, or offering a document from behind former NHK Chairman Momoi Katsuhito during a Diet speech[7] – broke into a women’s bath[8].

My experience above isn’t a shameful episode of a man entering a bath. Rather, it’s one where they intentionally created a setting in a facility known for its mixed baths and attempted to take advantage of group psychology and our weak position as subcontractors to almost force us to bathe together.

There’s no direct employment relationship between the production side, including the director, and the actors, like me. However, the consolation trip brought together people in similar circumstances. The organizer may claim that “participation is free” and “mixed bathing is not compulsory.” But if you refuse, you may endure some kind of unfavorable treatment, such as losing work or being despised. Some people are concerned that the production will treat them unfavorably if they refuse to take part in the event. Actually, it may be more likely that they feel so cornered that they can’t even reject the proposal.

No harm no foul – if you don’t wanna, just say no!

In the voice-over industry, because “one’s voice is a commodity,” many believe that, in addition to your ability (acting), you need to sell yourself. And sure, no matter the field, there’s an art in promoting and positioning yourself. However, the reason this is so extreme in the voice-over industry, and why we see harassment that deviates so much from the work’s original aim or purpose, is closely related to the way voice actors take on freelance work.

Just belonging to an agency won’t get you work. That’s why it’s hard to say “no” to things like mixed bathing – or even question the harassment inherent in the setting itself.

In the voice-over industry these days, it seems more and more actors are losing the ability to express themselves and cultivate their receptivity. They’re neglecting the effort required for their original duty, which is to perform well. In other words, the tendency for voice actors to focus solely on appealing to the audience has gone beyond the point of being undignified. The voice-over world feels like an underground industry in a foreign country.

One reason for this is that anime and manga, which used to be children’s entertainment, have become subcultures targeting adults. Voice actors have become what we now call “net-idol-like” in popularity, with cheesecake photo shoots in voice actor magazines, music CD releases, and performances at anime and game events. More and more people seem to be applying to become idols rather than aspiring actors.

This transition in the animation industry led to the proliferation of voice actor production companies, training schools, and vocational schools. The now adult-oriented animation and voice actor industry became a successful subculture business. However, the cornerstone of this success is hidden in the “big underworld” I mentioned above.

The Fushima-den behind the business

I once got personal advice from the wife of an acquaintance. Her husband, a businessman, was having an affair with a popular female voice actress. The actress told him flat out, “This sort of thing (behind-the-scenes wining & dining, whether or not you call it “adultery”) is common practice in this industry.”

She later discovered that her husband was having affairs with several other female voice actors. That, together with his history of domestic violence, led to a court divorce. She’s now alone and raising her kids while working.

Covering for violence. Voice-over agency: “Actors get the treatment they deserve”

Back to my story, I want to touch upon voice actors and their agencies. I once met up with C, my office manager, at a train station for a meeting to discuss a game voice-over job. It was still rare then for people to have cell phones. I kept in touch with him through the office desk using a pager.

However, when C didn’t show up on time, I called the office from a pay phone. A staff member told me he should be waiting for me at the outside exit up the stairs, not at the ticket gate.

When I got there, C scolded me. “You’re late!” He paid no heed when I said, “I was waiting at the ticket gate…” He suddenly hit me on the head with his cell phone in front of a group of junior female voice actors.

The next day, I told all this to X, the office president, and asked C to explain himself for hitting me in public. C, however, went on the defensive, saying, “It’s called ‘getting the treatment you deserve’.” X ran away as if he had nothing to do with the matter, saying, “I have somewhere to go.” In the end, it was left in the wind until the end. I subsequently left the firm.

C’s comment about “the treatment you deserve” is tantamount to suggesting that voice actors are “beggars on the banks of a river”. Actors are called “beggars on the riverbanks” because, as mentioned above, they’re like court jesters with a begging mentality who’ll win by hook or by crook, who will work for even a single yen, who lust for fame.

Moreover, they stand ready to make a deal with the proprietress of the Fushimaden who stands to take advantage of their plight.

I have many more stories to air. I’ll save them for the next time I have an opportunity to write about them somewhere else.

“The treatment you deserve”. This may be prevalent outside of the voice acting industry too. But in my experience, the voice acting world is one of the most isolated in the entertainment industry.

Stop unfair practices and create a healthy society. My #MeToo remonstrance

Picture: yatta / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

From Hollywood to the music scene, “#MeToo”‘s accusations have come from various quarters. These aren’t limited to harassment in the entertainment industry. I understand its aim is to eliminate unfair treatment, end unfair business practices, and create a healthy society across all sorts of human relationships.

Of course, when making accusations, there’s the potential for human rights violations. We have to take the utmost care. But I don’t want the #MeToo wave to stop as it seeks to correct long-standing poor practices and change society.

We can all share our experiences, even if it is just “when and where did you experience this?” By doing so, you have the chance to cast off your demons – the Demon King of your underworld.

Who will be the next Demon King unleashed upon our world? (Tune in next week)

* Someday I’ll write about the time when I was a kid and forced to star in a late-night TV program!

“Night in the American Village” Gives the Women of Okinawa a Voice


[1] Water Margin, ca. 14th century China, is one of the first Chinese novels written in the Mandarin vernacular.

[2] An article in Asahi Shimbun’s Aera from 2014 uses this analogy:

“For example, the monthly meeting ends with each board member presenting a brief report on the previous month’s activities and plans for the next month. There is no feedback or minutes of the meeting for parents other than the board members. The meeting is called “Fushimaden,” and the activities of the committee members are not known to anyone other than the board members.”

[3] Keep in mind that Konishi wrote her piece around the same time that Ito Shiori was pursuing justice in her rape case. #MeToo has become a more prevalent topic of discussion since then. For more, read our review of Ito Shiori’s book Black Box.

[4] In 2018, Konishi says she was forced to resign from the NHK anime Ojarumaru 18 years prior (2000). Konishi and her office say that Konishi was brought into the studio to record some tracks for the title character Ojarumaru that she believed were to be used in the show. She later found out they were used in toys sold by NHK. When her office objected, they say an NHK producer responded, “Little brat! Do as you’re told or you’ll never work in anime again!”

NHK denied the charge. Konishi’s agency replied that NHK was full of shit.

[5] Women have generally been expected in Japanese business and society to perform menial tasks, such as pouring sake for men. This expectation is changing, particularly among the young, but still lingers in many quarters.

[6] The Japanese phrase here is 河原乞食 (kawara gojiki) and is derived from the Kabuki play Kawaramono. Kawara thus has the dual meaning of “beggar” or “actor”. Actors use it to make light of their own profession.

[7] Here’s a photo. It’s even funnier than it sounds.

[8] This was Wakikawa Takafumi, who left his post in 2018 after the incident came to light.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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