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Voice acting in Japan

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Voice acting in Japan

Voice acting in Japan is acting as a narrator, or as an actor in radio plays, or as a character actor in anime and video games. It also involves performing voice-overs for non-Japanese movies and television programs. Because Japan's large animation industry produces 60% of the animated series in the world, voice acting in Japan has a far greater prominence than voice acting in most other countries.


Some voice actors—especially certain voice actresses—often have devoted international fan-clubs. Some fans may watch a show merely to hear a particular voice actor. Some Japanese voice actors have capitalized on their fame to become singers, and many others have become live movie or television actors.

There are around 130 voice-acting schools in Japan. Broadcast companies and talent agencies often have their own troupes of vocal actors. Magazines focusing specifically on voice acting are published in Japan, with Voice Animage being the longest running.

The English term character voice (or CV), has been commonly used since the 1980s by such Japanese anime magazines as Animec and Newtype to describe a voice actor associated with a particular anime or game character. Conversely, the Japanese term seiyū is commonly used among English-speaking anime and game fans for Japanese voice actors.

Actors and seiyū

Initially, dubbing and doing voice-overs was a performance of an actor who used only his voice. When doing this job, they were called "voice actors" (声の俳優, koe no haiyū). For convenience, the term was shortened to a new compound consisting of the first and last kanji to make seiyū (声優). It was only after the voice acting booms, however, that this word became widespread. For this reason, elderly voice actors resent being called seiyū, because, during their time, the term had a different (and minimizing) connotation. The renowned Chikao Ohtsuka, who dubbed Charles Bronson among others, was quoted in a special issue of Animage saying "We are actors. Even if a performance only requires the use of our voice, we still remain actors, and it is therefore incorrect to refer to us as just voice actors, isn't it?". He was opposed to the new trend of separating actors and voice actors, even in the face of emerging voice actors like Genzō Wakayama, who learned how to act using their voice and never set foot in a theater.

There are three main factors that set voice actors and actors apart.

  • Their professional upbringing by the Tokyo Broadcasting Drama Troupe (東京放送劇団, Tōkyō Hōsō Gekidan), formed by NHK and other private networks during the golden age of radio dramas.
  • Due to the lack of Japan-made movies and dramas, TV networks were forced to air foreign shows, and that raised demand for voice actors.
  • The boom in the anime world market, which produced a wave of young talents who wanted to become voice actors rather than actors.
  • History

    Voice acting has existed in Japan since the advent of radio. It was only in the 1970s that the term seiyū entered popular usage because of the anime Space Battleship Yamato. According to a newspaper interview with a voice talent manager, "Since the Yamato boom, the word 'seiyū' has become instantly recognized, before that actors and actresses who introduced themselves as seiyū were often asked, 'You mean you work for Seiyu supermarket?'"

    Radio drama era

    In 1925, the Tokyo Broadcasting Company (predecessor to the NHK, Japan's public broadcasting system) started radio broadcasts. In that same year, twelve students who were specializing in voice-only performances became the first voice actors in Japan when a performance of a radio drama was broadcast. They referred to themselves as "seiyū", but in those days the term "radio actor" (ラジオ役者, radio yakusha) was used by newspapers to refer to the profession.

    In 1941, NHK opened a training program to the public to prepare actors to specialize in radio dramas.This was called the "Tokyo Central Broadcasting Channel Actor Training Agency" (東京中央放送局専属劇団俳優養成所, Tōkyō Chūō Hōsō Kyoku Senzoku Gekidan Haiyū Yōsei Sho). Then in 1942, the Tokyo Broadcasting Drama Troupe debuted its first performance. This was the second time that the term "seiyū" was used to refer to voice actors.

    There are several theories as to how the term "seiyū" was coined. One theory is that Oyhashi Tokusaburo, a reporter for the Yomiuri Newspaper, coined the term. Another theory is that Tatsu Ooka, an entertainment programming managing producer for the NHK came up with the term.

    At first, voice actors, like those at the Tokyo Radio Drama Troupe and similar companies specialized in radio dramas; with the advent of television, the term took on the additional meaning of one who does dubbing for animation. Television broadcasting aside, when radio was the leading mass medium, actors who played in radio dramas were not without their fans; for example, actors in the Nagoya Radio Drama troupe who played the lead love interest roles often received many fan letters.


    In 1961, during the early days of commercial television broadcasting, the Five-Company Agreement (Gosha Agreement) caused the supply of Japanese movies that were available to Japanese television stations to dry up. As a result, in the 1960s many foreign dramas and other foreign programming was imported and dubbed into Japanese language for television broadcast.

    At first, the NHK subtitled most foreign shows; however, shows dubbed in the Japanese language soon became the standard. At the center of the first voice acting boom were actors like Nachi Nozawa, who dubbed the same foreign actors, in Nozawa's case Alain Delon, Robert Redford, and Giuliano Gemma. Because of problems with pay guarantees arising from the Gosha Agreement, cinema actors were prevented from dubbing foreign movies for television. Television actors were also prevented from dubbing because of a similar agreement. This caused studios to turn to actors from the radio age and actors from the Shingeki style of acting. Around this time dubbing of foreign animation was done by Rakugo story tellers, Asakusa comedians, and the like, and voice actors were called "dubbing talents" if they specialized in dubbing, while those giving voice to a character went under the name of "ateshi". It is during this golden age for dubbing that the Tokyo Actor's Consumer's Cooperative Society was founded. Later, Haikyo voice acting managers left and opened their own management agencies. Voice actors in Japan also voiced anime.

    The first dubbed show broadcast in Japan was an episode of the American cartoon Superman, on October 9, 1955, on KRT (today TBS), and the first non-animated dubbed show broadcast was Cowboy G-Men, again by KRT, in 1956. Both were dubbed live; the first show to be broadcast with pre-recorded dubbing was The Adventures of Television Boy (テレビ坊やの冒険, Terebi Bōya no Bōken) on April 8, 1956.


    During the late 1970s, Akira Kamiya, Tōru Furuya and Toshio Furukawa were the first to unite into a band, Slapstick, and perform live. Many other voice actors released their own albums. At around 1979 the first anime magazines began to be published. The then editor-in-chief of Animage, Hideo Ogata, was the first to publish editorials on the ongoing transformation of voice actors into idols. Following his lead, the other magazines created "seiyū corners" with information and gossip about voice actors; this was one of the main causes of young anime fans yearning to become voice actors. This led to a sudden increase in the number of students in voice acting schools. For the first time, anime voice actors were young people who grew up dreaming to become that, as opposed to being members of drama troupes or theatre actors who performed as a hobby. This boom lasted until the first half of the 1980s.


    In 1989, the voice actors of the five main stars of the animated television show Ronin Warriors (Nozomu Sasaki, Takeshi Kusao, Hiroshi Takemura, Tomohiro Nishimura and Daiki Nakamura) formed an all-male singing group called "NG5". The group was featured as the subject of a special documentary program on MBS.

    During this period, voice acting production companies also began to provide specialized courses at on-site training schools specifically for training in animation dubbing.


    The 1960s and 1970s booms were centered on media, such as the TV. In the 1990s, a new boom centered on more personal ways of communication, such as radio shows, Original Video Animation, television quizzes, public events and the Internet, gave way to the publication of the first dedicated voice acting magazines, Seiyū Grand Prix and Voice Animage. Voice actors acquired many new fans thanks to the radio, and their CD sale figures increased. Concerts began to be held in the bigger halls. While the second boom also saw the voice actors become DJs, this time the recording houses backed the voice actor radio shows as sponsors, and large sums of money began to circulate. Megumi Hayashibara, Hekiru Shiina and Mariko Kōda are the first examples of this new trend. Recording companies and voice acting schools began to devise new ways to raise young voice actors.

    When voice acting was introduced in television games, the same voice actors would perform in a series of events related to the television game world, making appearances and participating in radio programs based on the television games to attract the fanbase.

    In the second half of the 1990s, the boom in the animation world led to the increase of anime shown in the Tokyo area. With the Internet, gathering information on their favourite voice actors became easy for fans, and voice actors began to appear in Internet-based radio shows.

    From 1994 (1994) to 2000 (2000), the world's first digital satellite radio broadcaster, St.GIGA, transmitted episodic video games with voice acted overdubs in a separate and continually streaming vocal track (a technique called SoundLink), to be played in Japan on Nintendo's Super Famicom video game console with its Satellaview peripheral. BS Zelda no Densetsu was identified by Nintendo as the world's first integrated radio-game.

    Five common ways to become a voice actor

    By looking at some of today's voice actors' careers, the majority of them became famous treading one of the following five paths:

    From broadcasting drama troupe member

    Trained by broadcasting drama troupes, they specialized in roles requiring voice acting other than announcing, particularly radio drama acting.

    Former members of the Tokyo Broadcasting Drama Troupe include Ryō Kurosawa, Kazue Takahashi, Masato Yamanouchi, Hisashi Katsuta, Akira Nagoya and Kiyoshi Kawakubo.

    Examples of voice actors coming from privately funded drama troupes are Tōru Ōhira and Tadashi Nakamura from the Tokyo Radio Broadcasting Drama Troupe (ラジオ東京放送劇団, Rajio Tōkyō Hōsō Gekidan), Junpei Takiguchi, Nobuo Tanaka, Mariko Mukai.

    Local broadcasting stations also helped many voice actors in the early stages of their careers, before the television age and the advent of foreign drama series concentrated most of the voice acting business in the Tokyo area. Some examples include the aforementioned Genzō Wakayama from NHK's Sapporo Broadcasting Drama Troupe (札幌放送劇団, Sapporo Hōsō Gekidan), Kenji Utsumi from NHK's Kyūshū Broadcasting Drama Troupe (九州放送劇団, Kyūshū Hōsō Gekidan) and Jōji Yanami from RKB's Mainichi Broadcasting Drama Troupe (毎日放送劇団, Mainichi Hōsō Gekidan).

    From child actor

    Some voice actors are middle-school children who joined youth theatrical companies (Himawari Company, Komadori Group) and honed their acting skills with them, then took up a career as full-time voice actors after graduating from high school.

    The first to follow this path include Ryūsei Nakao, Tōru Furuya, Shūichi Ikeda, Yoku Shioya, Hiromi Tsuru, Miina Tominaga and Katsumi Toriumi (the first two debuting while still in middle-school but continuing only after graduating).

    More recent voice actors include Daisuke Namikawa, Maaya Sakamoto, Mayumi Iizuka, Akeno Watanabe, Saeko Chiba, Yūka Nanri, Kaori Nazuka.

    There have been cases of young people who started appearing in voice acting roles while still in middle-school. Miyu Irino, Eri Sendai, Ayaka Saitō, Aya Hirano, Subaru Kimura and Miyū Tsuzurahara are a few examples.

    From theatre actor

    Sometimes theatre actors, whether they be in high school, specialized schools, university or having just graduated, are scouted by people in the anime industry to become voice actors. This happens to actors affiliated with the major Shingeki theatre companies, which include the Bungaku Company, the Seinen Company, the Troupe Pleiades, the Theatrical Group EN and Theatre Echo. Actors performing in minor theatres may sometimes be spotted by the theatre's sound production staff or by managers affiliated with voice acting management agencies. It is also common for actors affiliated with voice acting-led theatre companies, such as Nachi Nozawa's Rose Company or Kaneta Kimotsuki's 21st Century Fox Company, to become voice actors themselves. Some Voice actors such as, Yoshimasa Hosoya were member of theatre club during their high school years before becoming a voice actor

    Some actors such as Mayo Suzukaze, Yoshiko Ota are from Takarazuka Revue, the highly regarded Japanese all-female musical theater troupe.

    To name a few, Romi Park, spotted by animation creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, Fumiko Orikasa, graduated from the Super Eccentric Theatre, and talents discovered in local college theatre groups by Kazuya Tatekabe: Sanae Kobayashi Gō Aoba, Tetsu Shiratori, Akino Murata and Rieko Takahashi.

    Worthy of note is Hitomi Nabatame's career. Shortly after entering the Dorikan Club, a group of voice actors in the making, part of the aniradio program Something Dreams Multimedia Countdown (SOMETHING DREAMS マルチメディアカウントダウン, shortened to ドリカン Dorikan) on radio station Nippon Cultural Broadcasting, she showed so much potential that she earned herself a role in Maburaho right after graduating from the voice acting school she was attending, while also performing as a theatre actress.

    From voice acting school student

    Many voice actors attempt to debut after attending voice acting schools for several years after graduating from high school, specialized schools or university, or even just between school terms, or learned the trade by observation. This is the path most young people who watch anime and aspire to become voice actors take. This is probably the easiest path at its beginning, but breakthrough chances are very slim. For example, each school affiliated with the Yoyogi Animation Academy has a voice acting talent department with hundreds of new students each year, but only a very small minority of them manage to become a voice actor after graduating. Many who do not make it enter a different voice acting school and try again. Many also take on acting roles in non-anime productions to attempt to perfect their abilities.

    People who made it in the past include Megumi Hayashibara, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Megumi Ogata, Kaneto Shiozawa, Kōichi Yamadera, Kikuko Inoue, Kotono Mitsuishi and Toshiyuki Morikawa. More recent examples are Ai Shimizu, Rie Tanaka, Yukari Tamura, Mai Nakahara and Kenichi Suzumura.

    Some young talents became voice actors after winning nationwide contests held by magazines or production companies (although they still usually had to attend voice acting schools after winning the contest to learn the trade). Winners include Asami Sanada, Masumi Asano, Yui Horie, Miyuki Sawashiro and Sakura Nogawa.

    From different roles in the entertainment world

    Junko Iwao and Noriko Hidaka are examples of idols who later took up voice acting roles (the latter having some experience as a child actress). Former "gravure idols" (bikini models) who made a breakthrough as voice actresses include Marina Ōno, Ryōka Yuzuki and Chiemi Chiba. Yumi Kakazu and Yuki Matsuoka are two former reporters turned voice actor. Retired owarai comedians sometimes made a comeback as voice actors, like Yūko Saitō. Yūichi Nagashima was an actor in the role of "Chō", the main character in NHK Educational TV's Exploring My Town (たんけんぼくのまち, Tanken Boku no Machi). Masakazu Morita and Mayuko Aoki, both debuted as the lead characters of Final Fantasy X, are motion actors for video games turned voice actor. Mamoru Miyano was one of the cast in The Prince of Tennis live musicals who chose to branch out and become a voice actor. Tokusatsu actors/actresses also took voice acting roles before or after their careers in Tokusatsu. Examples are the late Machiko Soga, Naoya Uchida, Tsutomu Isobe, Jōji Nakata, Rikiya Koyama, Reiko Chiba, Hiroshi Tsuchida, Yūji Kishi, Masaya Matsukaze, Takeru Shibaki, Mika Kikuchi, Yuka Hirata and Mao Ichimichi . In Tokusatsu shows such as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai series after actors finish filming an episode,movies etc. They often go to the voice acting studio to re-dub their lines


    Apart from other performances related to the characters they play, such as press conferences, anime news programmes or interviews, voice actors are also hired for company-internal training videos, supermarket announcements, bus route information broadcasts, ring announcers for professional wrestling and other fighting disciplines, and even railway station route announcements - tasks usually performed by professional announcers, even though the voice actors' employment or name are not always made public.

    Voice-over and dubbing

    This is the core of the voice actor's job: speaking a role and recording it.


    A voice actor's role in anime consists of reading the lines before the production is finished. In Japan, the lines are usually performed before the anime has completed. The artist then draws in every expression to the key of the voice actors reading it off. This is the most common way of prerecording in Japan. Young voice actors are used in both the anime and OVAs. However, in fan-oriented productions and products they use voice actors because voice actors are often used as a selling point.

    Dubbing into Japanese

    In the case of foreign dramas, movies, cartoons, news and documentaries, the localization voice-over requires more exact timing in relation to what appears on the screen. In order to perform voice-overs, the volume of the original language voice track is lowered, leaving only a faint sound remaining or, in some cases, no sound at all except for the music-and-effects tracks. Voice-over work is primarily performed for news and original foreign dramas. Auditions are held in order to determine who will take on the roles.

    Video games

    Unlike in anime or dubbing roles, in a video game the voice tracks are often recorded separately due to the way individual voice tracks are selected and played depending on a player's progress. Typically a voice actor uses a script with only a single part's lines and matches it to the timing of the recording. Because of this, many collaborating voice actors in a production may never see each other in person. Popularity rankings may play a role in video game casting, but it is also possible to negotiate fees when a client requests a particular cast.

    Radio drama or CD drama

    With a radio drama or CD drama there is more freedom given in voicing because there is no need to match a dub to the original actors, or to match an animated character. Because of this a voice actor's particular interpretation of an act or acting ability are considered. If the drama is based on an anime or manga then the voice actor from the anime are used. However, original drama or works based on literature rarely employ typical voice actors or younger voice actors. Auditions are rarely employed, and the cast is directly selected by the production staff.

    Puppet and kigurumi shows

    In puppet shows, the voice actor must time the voice-over in relation to the puppet movements. While timing is of the essence in kigurumi shows as well, in this case the voice actor's voice acting is recorded beforehand, and it is left to the kigurumi entertainer to move and act based on the spoken lines.


    Voice actors are also commonly employed as narrators in radio and television commercials, radio and television programs, press release videos and other kinds of media that require the voice actor to read text that clarifies what the program is about from a script. Even though the narration role falls within a voice actor's area of expertise, it is not uncommon for regular actors, young talents or announcers to be chosen instead. The fee is proportional to the popularity of the person employed, and veterans are usually preferred for this role due to the high acting ability it requires. Candidates are required to send a short sample recording as a demonstration, and these samples play a large part in the selection process.

    Theatre acting

    It is not uncommon for Shingeki actors and actors performing in small theatres to take a voice acting course in specialized schools and become voice actors, considering the small difference between actor and voice actor. Those who successfully become voice actors sometimes take stage acting roles of their own choosing, and the voice actor's agency takes no part unless the theatre management requires it.


    Some voice actors branch into music, releasing albums, holding their concert in their own name and becoming full-time singers.

    However, it has become common for voice actors to sing the opening or closing themes of shows in which their character stars, or participate in non-animated side projects such as audio dramas (involving the same characters in new storylines) or image songs (songs sung in character that are not included in the anime but further develop the character), releasing CDs in the character's name rather than their own. Sometimes the singing style of an anime character is quite different from that of the voice actor, and tracks sung using the style of the character are often included in CDs the voice actors release in their own name. This made singing a central activity for many voice actors, especially those who do voice-overs for anime characters.

    The limitations imposed on singer voice actors by their recording companies are also less strict than the ones imposed on regular singers. This allows voice actors to release CDs in their character's name with different companies.

    Radio personality

    Radio talk shows are also called aniradio. Initially the vast majority was aired by local broadcast stations only, but after the communication boom of the 1990s the metropolitan radio stations began to also employ them. Some such programs aired for over ten years. This was the result of fans who regard radio talks as a way to get to know the voice actors as human beings rather than just voices for the characters they play.

    Due to lower costs and the increase in the number of listeners, more and more of these radio talks are hosted on the Internet.

    Agencies and management

    Relations between voice actors and music, movie and anime companies in Japan are regulated by voice acting management agencies, each with its specialization. In exchange for a fee from the voice actor, they take care of the business affairs and sales promotions. These agencies can also act as a bridge between entertainment companies and private agencies the voice actors may be affiliated with. Sometimes the producers leave it to the agencies to recruit voice actors for minor roles, or handle their schedule.

    Voice actors for child roles are sometimes selected from renowned youth theatrical companies, such as the Troupe Himawari. In most cases, adult female voice actors play child roles.


    Voice acting in Japan Wikipedia