#28 – Kuwashima Houko Pt.1

Name: Kuwashima Houko
DoB: 12 December 1975
Hometown: Kanegaseki, Iwate
Agency: Aoni Production
Representative Roles: Misumaru Yurika in Nadesico, Sango in Inuyasha, Hinata Fuyuki in Keroro, Yumura Kirika in Noir, Flay Allster in Gundam SEED, Stella Loussier in Gundam SEED Destiny, Clare in Claymore, Sakagami Tomoyo in Clannad, Kagura in Azumanga Daioh, Kou Shurei in Saiunkoku Monogatari, Yukimura Chizuru in Hakuoki

Today is Houko’s birthday!

It’s crazy to think that Hou-chan will be turning 40 next year (2015), which will also mark her 20th year anniversary as a seiyuu. She is just someone who I really admire for her talent and versatility; pretty much she can do any type of role and do it well. I’d say she ranks among my top 5 list of all-time super duper favourites.

This lengthy 5-part interview is a blast from the past – 2005 in fact, when Houko was 30. I will be splitting it into two parts for easier reading.

Part1 (I, II)

I’d like to be in a movie

Q: When did you start getting interested in voice acting as a job?
A: I first became aware of ‘seiyuu’ when I was in elementary school, maybe in fourth or fifth grade. My uncle had Future Boy Conan videos in his house that I’d watch, and I found it really fun.. I do vaguely remember bits of the show but when I watch it back now I find myself getting addicted to it all over again.

At the time VHS wasn’t widely in use so even the tapes themselves were quite expensive but somehow, my uncle had a complete set of the Future Boy Conan series (lol). He might’ve bought the tapes, but they eventually became part of my personal collection (lol).

Sometime later I got to watch two Miyazaki Hayao movies, Nausicaa and Laputa, in quick succession… they really left a great impact on an innocent kid like me. It might have been a fleeting thought at the time, but it did instill the feeling within me that ‘I want to appear in a Miyazaki production someday’.

I learned of seiyuu from seeing their names rolling in the end credits. That was when I first thought that I would like to become a seiyuu.

Q: Did you continue to feel that way after that?
A: Yes. My feelings never changed.

Q: What clubs did you join in school?
A: Even though I didn’t think I was particularly suited towards it, I joined the kendo club when I was in junior high. I didn’t even last a year.

After that I kept thinking that I really did want to take up acting.. but my school didn’t have a drama club so I asked for advice from a teacher about setting one up. He told me “You’ll need to find 5 members to fulfil club requirements plus there are student council rules to abide by, but if you really want to do it I can serve as the Club Adviser”.

Q: So did you manage to gather enough members to form the club?
A: After talking to friends and others who weren’t happy in their own clubs, I easily gathered 5 people. The club was established in the spring semester of my 2nd year of junior high and with a lot of freshman 1st years opting to join, we had around 24 members when we started. Maybe because we were a new club, but there was a sense of anticipation and novelty surrounding us. Most members were girls.

Since I had been the one to get things rolling, I naturally ended up as the Club President. We worked pretty hard at things like articulation etc so that we could put on performances at cultural festivals and events. Still, it was a tough job to coordinate (all members) since not everybody is the self-motivated type. Maybe it’s because everyone had “ulterior motives” in joining the drama club (lol). The percentage of members who were truly “motivated” was fairly low. I gave my absolute best on my part but at times, it felt like…I was just going round and round in circles.

Acting is about self-expression

Q: So did you have much acting experience up until then?
A: I’d really wanted to try out acting since I was in elementary school as you know, I am from the countryside in Iwate prefecture so there weren’t such places for me. When I was in kindergarten I really wanted to act in Peter Pan so when I got to my 2nd year of elementary school I cooked up a plan to put on a performance of Peter Pan with the rest of my classmates.

It goes without saying that I was the one who wrote the script and played the role of Peter Pan (lol). I’m normally really quiet and obedient and the type who doesn’t stand out in the class at all so our homeroom teacher found it interesting, the fact that the quietest kid in class wanted to do something like this. Our teacher felt that putting on a play would be an enriching experience for us so he/she decided to support our efforts. Maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that it ended up being a “one-man show”, but it did feel a bit like that for me.

Q: So you were a child who loved to act.
A: I was the kind of child who wasn’t very good at expressing herself normally, but it was totally different when it came to acting. Maybe that was just my way of letting my feelings out (lol). Anyway I really wanted to perform since I was young, so being able to “act” was something truly enjoyable to me.

At the time, TV stations like NHK broadcast theatrical programmes and I loved watching things like Gekidan Shiki’s musicals for children. Those shows had a significant impact on me. It was an era where video had yet to exist, so I frantically tried to memorize the phrases and lyrics of the songs in the musical. Rather than depending on trying to learn the lines based on watching them on TV, it was more fun to recall and learn them while acting (lol).

Also, there was a Noda Hideki-produced show that was airing around that time – I never missed it. When we finally got a video player at home I’d tape the shows and watch them repeatedly to the point where I’d memorized all of the lines. I remember it being just around the time when Noda Hideki-san abolished Yume no Yuminsha, the troupe he was president of.

Apart from that, Takarazuka was something I’d record off TV and watch when I was in junior high. I guess you could say that I was a bit of a strange child when compared to my peers. Obviously I had it in mind to become a seiyuu but I think basically, I intended to act for a living.

Q: What did your parents think of that?
A: I think my parents were a little weird too, freely allowing their kids to take control of their own lives and respecting their choices (lol). They never imposed any particular rules or restrictions and I was allowed to be whatever I wanted to be, as long as I didn’t get in their way.

Q: So what material did you choose to do in your junior high drama club?
A: We’d choose titles from the high school drama script collections and so on. Somewhere along the way our club adviser was changed to another teacher who taught home economics; she was good at making puppets so we actually considered putting on puppet plays using fairy tales such as “Hansel and Gretel” or Hans Christian Andersen stories. We actually visited kindergartens as well.

Honestly, we were allowed to do whatever we liked. It’s just that whatever the activities were, whether on a personal level or as part of the club, I wasn’t really able to produce anything of real substance as our adviser had no previous acting experience. It was probably less of a club and more of a gathering. In the end, though I went through so much trouble to start a drama club, there weren’t enough members and within 2 years of my graduation, the club was abolished (lol).

Entering a high school with a drama club

Q: How did you choose which high school to go to?
A: When I was in my third year of junior high, the Tohoku regional high school drama tournament was held in Iwate. It was my first time watching it and I was really touched. “This is what youth is all about~” was what I thought, and I resolved to participate in it myself someday. That is why I decided that I needed to enter a high school that had an active drama club, and I spent some time researching. Boarding schools were probably not right for me, so I looked for a school with a historically strong drama club that was within commuting range from my family home. Eventually I found one that although outside my school district, was actually in a neighbouring town; I took the admission exams and managed to get in.

Q: So how was the drama club there?
A: I was really frustrated at first; there was a huge gap between my expectations and the reality. Let’s not talk about the Tohoku regional tournament – we couldn’t even get to the prefectural tournament. Every performance I was involved in – all I got out of them were disappointments to reflect upon, and I started getting really down about the whole thing. Those feelings might have stemmed from the fact that I was too used to being the king of the castle and having my own way back when I was in junior high. When I reflect upon those high school days now, I feel really ashamed. Whenever things went wrong I’d smugly blame the teaching adviser or everyone else around me. I had such a narrow-minded point of view back then…I hadn’t even considered what I would do about college after graduating high school, I had been so intent on choosing a high school that had a drama club – it all came as a shock to me.

Most of the students were so focused on getting into college that they were always in “study mode”, and I was unable to adapt to that kind of atmosphere.

Before I noticed, I had come to hate being part of the drama club and even in classes I’d wonder why on earth I was learning to solve all these difficult equations… I was caught in a deep dilemma and losing sight of the reason I had entered this school in the first place. By my second year, I was no longer attending classes.

Beyond the Dark Era

Q: It must’ve been a really difficult period for you.
A: Definitely. My parents were really sad and my mother even ended up attending support group meetings for parents of truant children… My father was a civil servant and also served as the regional head of the Boy Scouts at the time, so I think that disappointed them even more – he was such a good father who was passionate about children, yet his own daughter refused to go to school. It was also bad for his reputation and he was really troubled by the whole affair. I was such a burden to my parents.

This was a dark period for me. Since I hadn’t attended most of my classes during my 2nd year, it was impossible for me to move on to 3rd year. My school informed me that there was a credit-system based high school in Morioka that would allow me to be admitted as a 3rd year and asked if I would like to transfer there?

Anyhow I just took the admission test and after passing, I transferred to the credit-system school. I spent my final year of high school there in order to obtain my leavers’ certificate.

Q: So when you were in your 3rd year of high school I’m sure you had to think about your future again. How did you to come to a decision?
A: I discussed my future at length with my teacher. There were people in my year who attended the school with specific career aims, ie. I had a classmate who wanted to be a flamenco dancer, so I learned that my situation wasn’t a special case.

I spent much of that 1 year watching films and reading, plus I also had plenty of personal time that allowed me to think. It was a really meaningful time for me.

I thought a lot about my future career. Entering Gekidan Shiki had been a personal wish from early on, but I lacked the ballet and vocal training background for that. I considered entering a theatre troupe’s training school, but I realized there was no particular theatre troupe I wanted to go to. There was little information available in the countryside… so while researching theatre schools, I looked up voice acting schools at the same time.

I felt uneasy thinking about whether I’d be able to cope with big cities that I wasn’t used to, or whether I was ready to uproot and live in Tokyo on my own. To be honest, at the time I had thought that voice acting school was a “softer” option. At that time anyway (lol). So instead of running into the hard wall of theatre school, I decided to go to voice acting training school.

Q: Why did you choose to go to Aoni Juku?
A: What drew me in was the fact that Aoni Juku promised results within a year. Many other training schools appeared to have curriculums that lasted 2-3 years and offered no career guarantees beyond that.

There were Japanese and modern dance lessons and I could also learn the basics of stage acting there – during the one year I spent in voice acting training school I planned to do a lot of research on the theatre troupe I would like to enter so I could eventually take up the challenge if I wished to.

Since I lacked confidence, I decided that this 1 year would be a good opportunity for me to get accustomed to both urban environments and the acting world.

In the end, I only applied to enter Aoni Juku – I had never thought about what would happen if I had failed to get in (lol). My parents were really worried but they were supportive of my decision since it was much more positive compared to just sitting at home doing nothing.

Q: What was Aoni Juku’s admission exam like?
A: I don’t remember it to well, but I think it involved hand-miming and a recital. I had travelled to Tokyo with my father, staying at a business hotel when I went for the exam. I was definitely nervous. When I was passed the exam I was glad since I had only applied for the one school; if I had failed I’d have had nothing to fall back on. Looking back at it now, it was such a reckless thing to do (lol).

(end part 1)

You wouldn’t have thought that Houko was such a lazy tearaway in her teenage years would you?

Some notes here: The high school that Houko hated and quit was Kurosawajiri Kita High School. The credit-system school Houko attended was Toryo High School

Part 2 will come…in a bit. I have other translations that are ready to go first >_>


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