Voice Actress Hiroko Konishi Shares Her #MeToo Story
posted on by Kim Morrissy
Voice actress Hiroko Konishi, who is best known for voicing Sae Sawanoguchi in Magic User's Club!, Sena Wakabayashi in You're Under Arrest, and Akane Kimidori in Dr. Slump, wrote an article on the Japanese online news website Ironna, sharing her thoughts on the #MeToo movement in Japan, as well as her own experiences with harassment from her superiors. The article is titled: "My Tell-All Story about the Demons Lurking in the Voice Acting Industry."
In the article, Konishi shares a story from when she was active in the industry 20 years ago about how she was coerced into going to a mixed bathing spring alone with her manager and and an anime director. She was told to go into the springs naked with the director in order to "thank" him for all the assistance he had given her. She was later told that the director would sometimes go on "pleasure trips", and that her manager brought her along to teach her about how the industry worked. However, because she refused to get in the bath with the director at the time, she was later shunned and denied voice acting roles.
Konishi previously shared an abridged version of this story on Twitter last year. Although the male anime director from the story is left unnamed in the article, her tweets identified him as Akitarō Daichi, director of Fruits Basket and the long-running children's anime Prince Mackaroo. Konishi was originally meant to voice a character from Jubei-Chan 2: The Counter Attack of Siberia Yagyu, another anime directed by Daichi, but was removed from the role. She said a character in Jubei-Chan The Ninja Girl - Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch was originally modeled after her, and her hometown of Kawagoe also inspired the work. When the sequel anime was being made, Konishi said that her role in developing the work was concealed.
In the same tweet thread, Konishi revealed that she quit her role as Ojarumaru from Prince Mackaroo after she found out that her voice was being used for Ojarumaru merchandise without her permission. When she complained to her agency about it, she was told that she was being "cheeky" and that she would not be able to work in the animation industry unless she kept quiet. The NHK denied Konishi's claim that they used her voice without permission.
In her tell-all article, Konishi not only provided more context to that incident but also spoke out about the problems of sexual harassment within Japan and the voice acting industry in more detail. "Japan has had its own lukewarm #MeToo movement. As such, there were articles written about why I quit my role as Ojarumaru in relation to the #MeToo issue. However, I've realized keenly that women in Japan face harassment on a different level compared to the West due to women being in a weaker position."
She said that when she was active in the industry, it was common for anime staff to go on trips and attend drinking parties together, and mentioned that there was social pressure on her to attend as well. There was a wide unspoken assumption that voice actors had to hustle themselves to get work. This was how she ended up going on the aforementioned trip to the mixed bathing hot springs with her manager and Daichi, despite feeling very uncomfortable throughout it.
"At the time, the head of the agency I was at even said things like, 'You have to sell yourself..." And the other female voice actors at the agency would whisper among themselves about how you can't get by with just being a good actor," Konishi explained.
Konishi initially thought that the hot springs visit was just a regular social gathering. She got a bad feeling during the car ride when her manager asked her if she had brought a swimsuit. She wondered why she had to wear a swimsuit when she thought she was going to bathe without any men around. Her manager told her threateningly that she needed to provide "service." Konishi told herself that the manager was just making a joke until they arrived at a mixed bathing open-air hot spring.
After getting into the water at the women's only bath, she realized that none of her fellow voice actresses were around, despite the fact that they should have been a group. Konishi realized that they had worn swimsuits and had gone to the mixed bath. After that realization, she bathed by herself with a feeling "close to guilt."
Later, she was asked by the staff why she didn't come to the mixed bath. When she responded that she didn't bring her swimsuit, they laughed and replied, "You didn't need to wear the swimsuit!"
"I'll never forget the way my manager laughed sardonically beside me," Konishi wrote.
Konishi was never invited to any similar pleasure trips again, and the incident took its toll on her career. She said that she was reminded of an incident last year when the head of NHK's Saga Prefecture branch intruded the women's bath area at a hot spring being used by the female staff. Although Konishi noted that her own story did not involve a man shamelessly intruding the women's bath, the hot springs were still a place where women were manipulated through power differences and group psychology. She stated that none of the women could truly consent to the actions they performed in that setting because they feared they would lose work if they did not comply.
"Voice acting is the kind of work where your voice is the product, and many believe that besides having the acting skills, they also need to plug themselves," Konishi explained. "Of course, you need the ability to promote yourself in any industry, but with voice acting there's no moderation. Harassment is rampant in this industry because voice actors take on work as freelance contractors. Even if you belong to an agency, you're led to think that you'll continue to get jobs only as long as you stay quiet."
Konishi remarked that these tendencies have been exacerbated when anime became a subculture "targeted at adults" rather than simply a past-time for children. "These days, there are more voice actors aiming for the popularity of an online idol. They do gravure shots in magazines, sell CDs, and do performances at anime and game events. Rather than aiming to be actors, they aim to be idols."
This shift has not come without consequences, Konishi warned. "Their success has hinged on the demons hidden within the industry."
She shared a personal story she heard from a friend in the industry, whose husband had been having adulterous affairs with numerous voice actresses at the time. This was such an open secret that one of the voice actresses involved in the affairs even told her, "This is how things work in the industry." Upon confronting her husband about the issue, the friend was physically abused. They divorced, and Konishi's friend now works and raises their child as a single mother.
Konishi also recounted another story where a manager physically struck one of the voice actors he worked with because he was angry at her for being late to a meeting. When the incident was reported to the head of the agency, the manager claimed that he acted within his means, and the head let him off without any punishment. Konishi felt uneasy about this resolution, and eventually quit the agency because of it.
"By saying that he 'acted within his means', that manager reduced the voice actor to a shameless hustler," Konishi wrote. She remarked that when actors are reduced to hustlers, then they become stereotyped as people who would do anything for attention, and whose acting skill is only secondary to their work. This distorts the relationship between managers and their talent, and makes voice actors feel obligated to appease the "demons."
Konishi concluded the article by stating that "there is a mountain of other stories I would like to unveil," but that these would have to be stories for next time. She stressed that it was important to share these stories, not just for the implications they have about the voice acting and entertainment businesses, but because they shed light on the inequalities within human relationships.
"I understand #MeToo to be a movement about ending unfair relations and making our society healthier. Of course, there are worries about human rights violations when an accuser comes forward, and that's why we need to exercise due diligence, but I don't want the #MeToo wave to stop. It is correcting these awful traditions which have gone on for too long, and it is changing society for the better.
"I don't mind if it simply becomes an experiment that worked somewhere. People may be able to use these public stories to drive away the demons in their own lives. Now then, who will be the next Demon Lord to get scattered to the winds?"
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history