Bringing Music and Characters Alive! An Interview with Minori Chihara

In today’s Japanese entertainment industry, juggling both a voice acting and music career no longer raises eyebrows as it used to. Being successful at both, however, remains more challenging than ever. Only a handful of artistes manage to stand out amongst the rest for their extraordinary talent both as a popular and critically-acclaimed seiyuu, and as a prolific musician and live performer.

Minori Chihara ticks all of the above boxes. Since her debut both in music and voice acting in 2004, she has risen substantially to become one of the biggest names in the anime and anisong industry, and continues to be one of the most active performers around: fans can look forward to her upcoming live tour next year!

Not only that; she actively maintains a blog and even has an official fan club to connect to her many fans around the world! In Southeast Asia alone, Chihara has performed in Kuala Lumpur in 2009 for DaiCon, and more recently in Singapore in 2015 for Lantis Festival! Our reporters at J-Network had the opportunity to interview her on the occasion of Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2016, where she was invited to perform as part of a star-studded I Love Anisong lineup!

In this interview, we bring you a wide-ranging session where Minori Chihara spoke to us about her experiences in Singapore, how she feels about her voicing some of her characters, and the thoughts that go into creating many of her signature songs.

On her experiences in Singapore

Q: You have a lot of dedicated fans in Singapore and Southeast Asia who were very excited when they heard you were coming for Lantis Festival last year, and are looking forward to meeting you for AFA this year. Are you interested in performing again in Singapore in the future?

A: I am very happy to be back here, and it is one of my dreams to be able to come back to Singapore and do like a solo live, and hopefully that opportunity will one day come.

Q: Having been to Singapore before, what would you like to do this time that you have not tried before?

A: Maybe swim in the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool?

Q: In your previous album “Innocent Age”, you have taken a few photographs at various places in Singapore such as the Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, and even Bedok Reservoir! Which other parts of Singapore would you like to visit if you had the chance to, in particular outside the city area?

A: Are there any recommendations that you guys have because I want to go to a lot of places!

Our reporter suggested Punggol Waterway and the Sembawang Hot Springs – the latter is quite different from the onsen (literally “hot spring”) public baths in Japan, but it’s still an interesting experience nevertheless!

A: Even though it’s so hot, you guys have an onsen? Next time, I’ll go there!

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On voice acting and characters

Q: You are known to be a very bubbly person, yet you are also known for being able to voice emotionless characters due to your portrayal of Yuki Nagato. How do you feel about the contrast between your characters and the perception that people have of your voice-acting persona?

A: I do feel a very big gap between myself and the character, but I feel that Yuki is like a super-girl, always helping everybody out and all that, and so every time I have any hardships in life, I feel as though like Yuki is constantly watching over me and almost as though like my guardian angel in a sense, and so even though I am the one that gave life to that character, I feel as though I am getting something back in return from the character, so it’s a very beautiful relationship that I have that I still feel very close to that character.

Q: Lately there are many new anime series that tell stories about the facts and hardships in the anime and seiyuu industry. Do you have any tips for beginner seiyuus to be successful like you?

A: Compared to when I debuted and now, for all the newer voice actresses and actors, it’s very different because now, it’s considered normal for you to be able to sing, to be able to act, and to be able to be out in the industry, not just being behind a character. So it’s very difficult for me to say what kind of advice I can have, but having that love and that passion for becoming a voice actor and actress is very important, so as long as you have that passion, you will be able to pursue or do anything, so never forget that passion inside.

Q: You have voiced many characters. Where do you get the inspiration to make the characters’ voices?

A: If it’s a series that has a manga behind it then I’ll first read that and then after that I’ll think of what her character would be like, after that I’d go to the recording and ask the producers and everybody would start telling you “this is what we want you to act like, like maybe do it like this” then I’ll take everything into consideration and then create the character’s voice.

Q: For instance, Nagato Yuki’s voice is really different from your real voice. Was it very hard for you to pull it off?

A: It was quite difficult for me because it was a character that I have never tried before, and it’s not really like something that I usually do, and so while I was having difficulties in creating the voice of that character, the creator actually gave me very good advice, where like actually imagine like Ayanami Rei from Evangelion, like kind of similar, and then I was like “okay”, then I incorporated that to my view on what the character is like, and that’s how the character’s voice came along.

Q: What kind of characters are you looking forward to voice?

A: I’m always looking forward to new characters, but if I have to name one character that has opened up a new door for me, I’d say Minami Chiaki. Being a primary school student and having a slightly lower, mature voice for a child; it was a pretty new and interesting experience for me, and I look forward to opening up new possibilities and doors for me as a voice actress.

Q: Which one is your memorable character role as a seiyuu and why?

A: Nagato Yuki is probably the biggest because through her, that’s how I got into music in a sense, and also I got more positions and more roles in all the animes and sometimes even till now, there’ll be people saying like “can you kind of sound like Nagato Yuki“, so that character has been a very strong existence in my life.

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On music and performing live

Q: You have sung many songs before, so which song is the most challenging for you?

A: One song that I had to rap in is actually called “Harmonized Chaos” and so that was something new to me, and that was probably one of my difficult songs. That’s the one song that I haven’t performed live yet. In Japan a lot of my fans were just like “are you ever going to sing that live?” so hopefully I can one day.

Q: What messages do you wish to convey to your listeners in your songs? How do you inject these themes or ideas into your songs?

A: There are a lot of songs and each one will have different themes, so it’s very hard for me to say that there’s a specific theme for each song, but the core of everything is that I want my listeners to be happy, to have like a very positive vibe when you listen to my music, so hopefully that’s the message that everybody’s been getting through my music.

Q: Is there any song that can make you cry?

A: A lot of songs touch me. There are so many but I have to say I love Ishikawa Chiaki-san’s songs! Even though we worked together, when I actually did perform, I actually felt like my eyes were starting to water.

Q: Has anyone inspired your music? If so, what elements of their work draw your attention and how do you incorporate them into your own music?

A: There are a lot of artistes and if I do need to name a few, you know B’z? They are like a rock group in Japan, so they are one of them, and also Yutaka-san who’s also another rock kind of person, so these are some of the people that I have gotten influence from. Their music style is very different from mine, but I think that it might have influenced the way I convey the message in my heart when writing the lyrics and producing the songs.  Back then, when I was still doing performances on the streets, when I was performing with guitars, I actually went to go and buy Ozaki Yutaka-san’s chord book to learn how to play the guitar!

Q: You have performed in Singapore last year as part of Lantis Festival, so how would you describe the experience performing overseas as compared to holding a live concert in Japan? What are the differences in the concert atmosphere, considering you’ve also performed before in Kuala Lumpur a few years back?

A: In terms of the audience, in Japan most of the people are very uniform, like they’d all be doing the same thing, but I notice that overseas everybody is really enjoying it like sometimes as a group or as an individual they are really enjoying the concert, and so that’s something. But in terms of the passion from the audience is the same, I can’t say who is better or who is worse, like everybody is very supportive wherever I go. I really enjoy coming overseas but the only pressure I feel is that I need to speak English. But I don’t really have a lot of opportunity to come overseas, so even though the pressure is there, I’m very excited at the same time. So that’s the only difference.

Q: Which music genres or styles do you enjoy working with the most? How do you incorporate these genres into your discography?

A: The genre of the songs that I like is folk songs, so the 70’s and 80’s is something that I really like. If there’s something that I get to personally work on, then of course you might see an influence from it, and maybe in the future there might be something else.

Q: Your music career has seen you write, perform, and occasionally even compose some of your songs. How would you describe your approach to creating music? As a seasoned live performer, what are the challenges you face in bringing your work to a live setting as compared to producing it in the studio?

A: It’s two different things, so it’s very hard for me to say the difference, because they’re already different things. But sometimes when I do the recording and create the music, I feel like I’m cramped up in a shell, and whenever I actually get to perform it, I get to free everything so I really enjoy freeing it and sharing everything with my fans. So if I need to choose, I’d say I really like performing. The freeing part is that I can do my best whenever I’m in the recording and creating the music, so it’s a very good kind of process for me.

On blogging

Q: What motivates you to post on your blog daily?

A: It’s almost been like twelve years since I’ve been doing this, so for me, it’s considered like a daily routine and I can’t go to sleep unless I post on my blog. It’s also something that I promised my fans that I want to continue doing, and sometimes there are days that I really have nothing to post, but I try to find something, like, it’s a new day, there’s definitely something new or different to post about. So my blog is also a way that I get to connect with my fans, and I really enjoy it. My father, who doesn’t live together with me, always reads my blog every day, so sometimes when I’m a little bit slow in posting, he’ll start calling me and being like “is everything okay? are you okay? what happened?” So it’s a good way for me to stay connected with my family too.

Minori Chihara remains one of Japan’s most prolific seiyuus, musicians and live performers by far, and with an ever-growing base of fans internationally, there will definitely be something to look forward to in her future activities, especially with her intention to embark on overseas solo live concerts in the near future! We at J-Network celebrate her successful career over the past 12 years and would like to extend our best wishes for her upcoming live tour next year.

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