[Serialization] Monthly TV Guide 2021/4 Edition – Saito Soma no “Tsukurikata”. 02

(no scans because it’s still a recent release)

Released: 2021/2/24

Saito Soma
Nakao Ryusei

※Part 2 of the discussion with Nakao Ryusei.

Part 1: https://saitosoma.kouhi.me/2021/01/22/serialization-monthly-tv-guide-2021-3-edition-saito-soma-no-tsukurikata-01/

Saito Soma and his respected former teacher discuss “Voice Actor Training School” (Part 2)

—Why did Nakao-san start teaching at a training school?

Nakao: I actually didn’t want to be a teacher *laughs*. At first, it was a study group. They told me to “look after the youngsters” and I thought, “I’m not old enough to be doing that!” I was just under 30 at the time.

Saito: I’m 29, so for you to be asked that at around this age… Wow!

Nakao: The number of people in the study group grew, and they decided to turn it into a proper training school. In the early days, I’d even get questions like, “I have an audition tomorrow; how should I read this?”…

Saito: Whoa!

Nakao: I learned acting through self-study, so it was embarrassing to be called “Sensei,” to the point where I felt bad about it. But I think that when you’re teaching people something, it shouldn’t be what you digested and applied for yourself. When I became a lecturer, I started reading books about acting. The content was complicated, but I realized that it was all things I’d already been doing.

Saito: That’s amazing.

Nakao: The best part was studying with trainees who had much better sensibilities than me. It was stimulating and educational because we had completely different perspectives.

—In the past, voice acting training schools didn’t exist to begin with, after all.

Nakao: Yes, in a way, it’s good to be taught. But things that are simply taught are also simply forgotten. Besides, nowadays you can easily look up answers on your phone, although whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the person. Back in my day, we would go all the way to the National Diet Library to research things. No one would teach us, so we often embarrassed ourselves at work. At training school, we teach various things so that students can avoid that situation, but in the end, you learn more from actually doing the job.

Saito: Without experience, you slip up. Even if you know in your head what to do, it doesn’t manifest at the recording unless you’ve fully grasped it.

Nakao: In these thirty-plus years, 81 Produce’s training school went from a three-year format to two, then one. Instead of leisurely studying the art, people want to become an immediate asset. The trainees are so serious that I wish I could tell them that they don’t have to stress so much about it. After all, I didn’t take acting that seriously in my life.

Saito: In my class, there were a lot of people who were truly amazing, and I was grateful to be able to study with them. Their personalities were diverse, but I think a lot of them were hungry for knowledge and progression.

Nakao: Your class really was diverse.

Saito: At the time, I was the type to think through everything, so I was extremely scared of making mistakes.

Nakao: There are people like you, and there are people who don’t plan anything. With the latter, I enjoy seeing what they’ll show in the future. There’s no correct answer, after all.

Saito: Thinking about it now, back then I was overly complacent with my knowledge and assumptions.

Nakao: You were quick to evolve when you were told to do a retake. Conversely, it means that you were too serious. At times like that, seniors tend to say “Go wild with it!”, but then it becomes, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Saito: I really wondered that *laughs*. Actually, I probably still don’t know for sure what it means…

Nakao: They’re just trying to say, “Don’t conform to the norm.” The idea is that if you’re given the number “10” and you give a compact formula like “5 x 2”, they’re telling you to instead answer with something like “10000 – 9990.” But that way of thinking isn’t really something you can just do. In fact, people who always give answers like that get told, “Come up with a normal formula!” *laughs*

Saito: Since people start with their own values as the baseline, everyone has unique traits. But Nakao-san, you give off the impression that you’ll accept any approach people take.

Nakao: That’s the only way we can phrase it. But I knew that everyone in your class was thinking deeply in their own ways, so I didn’t say much. The only thing we can teach you is formulaic approaches. We just want you to be more versatile.

Saito: I don’t think the focus of the lessons was on techniques—you taught us more fundamental things. It felt like you were saying, “If that’s the method you choose, then explore it thoroughly.” There’s logical thinking vs. acting through feeling, and you didn’t guide us towards one approach over the other. I’m really thankful for that now. At training school, I got stuck a lot while thinking things through, but before long, I started thinking, “Dialogues are really fun!” I feel like I’m leaning more towards the “feeling” side as the years go by. As I walk the path of an actor, the way I perceive the world continues to change. At training school, I learned how to get started with the fascination of voice acting.

Nakao: I’m glad to hear that. It’s just that it’s hard for trainees to think of it that way, because everyone is in a rush to become pros. Knowing that, I say these things in hope that the meaning will reach them someday in the future. I also teach them, “It’s okay if you don’t have a sense for it.” If you don’t, then you can succeed by being aware of the fact that you don’t.

Saito: You also said, “There’s nothing you can do about how nice everyone else’s voices are.”

Nakao: Even a weird voice like mine is fine, after all.

Saito: What are you saying *laughs*. You taught us that it’s good to look at things from different angles and perspectives.

—Can the teachers tell which trainees are improving?

Nakao: We don’t expect them to be skilled when they’re still in training school, but as we’re teaching, we can sense which ones are probably going to be ready to work soon.

Saito: How can you tell?

Nakao: It’s their acting spirit—whether they’re geared towards acting and creating as a group. With animation dubbing, once you’ve done it three times, you can match up with anyone. So the people who move on to become voice actors are those who can do the acting properly.

Saito: The way I think of it is that when you’re performing a dialogue, it feels like your brains are connected.

Nakao: It’s like playing catch.

Saito: For me, what’s important when acting is essentially the “conversation” aspect, with the other actors, the story, and myself. It’s exactly like how we’re talking right now. Instead of deciding everything in advance, taking in what’s said and reacting to it. It’s something you do without thinking, but actors who really enjoy it have radiant acting that draws you in.

Nakao: I think everyone has desires, like wanting to be famous or make money. But there are a lot of things you can accomplish even if you don’t achieve those. Just because you aren’t famous or you don’t make a lot of money doesn’t mean you aren’t a good actor. Although, I can only say this because of my age—young people might not be able to think this way. When I was your age, Soma, I was hopelessly cocky. And I thought, “Will I be able to do better acting when I’m 30?”…

Saito: …I also vaguely assumed that something will change when I turn 30. *laughs*

Nakao: When I turned 30, I thought, “I guess it’s not enough, maybe it has to be 40.” When I turned 50, I thought, “Hmm, maybe it’s 60.” This year I finally turned 70, and all I can think is, “Huh, I always sucked.” But even though I sucked, I still made it this far. When I was young, I was obsessed with getting better.

Saito: Being reckless in your own way, thinking, “I think I just grasped something,” only to become unsure the next moment…

Nakao: It’s an endless repeat of that process.

Saito: Even though I didn’t fully understand what I was taught at training school at the time, as I’m working, there are times when I realize, “So this is what they meant.” One example is your story about the time when you were busy with both work and personal matters. You were standing in front of the mic, and once you thought, “This isn’t the right state of mind for acting,” you were easily able to give a good performance. I also had a time when I got stuck because I was thinking too hard, and I thought, “I don’t get it! I’m going to clear away the jumbled mess in my mind for a second!”, and it felt like my field of vision opened up a bit. I immediately understood what you told us back then.

Nakao: The hardest thing for rookie voice actors to learn on the job is mic work (switching in and out with other voice actors due to the limited number of mics). Right now, due to COVID-19, everyone has their own mic… but I think rookies will have a hard time with it when the pandemic is over.

Saito: Even I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it anymore…

Nakao: You’ll be just fine *laughs*. A long time ago, a rookie voice actor was gently instructed by his senior, “Come over here.” The rookie answered, “I’m fine right here,” and the senior scolded him, “If you stay there, the mic rotation won’t work!” Rookies should listen to what their seniors say.

Saito: Speaking of what happens at the studio, there’s one thing I want to tell you here, Ryusei-san.

Nakao: What is it? *laughs*

Saito: You taught us that, “At the studio, rookies sit close to the door and open/close it during breaks,” and I put that into practice. Then, much later, when I had the opportunity to work with you again, I was all motivated to sit next to the door… but when I arrived, you were already sitting in the chair closest to the door.

Nakao: I’m really sorry *laughs*. I’ve always been timid, so I feel the most relaxed next to the door. And I get scolded by the rookies, who say, “There’s nowhere for us to sit now.”

Saito: It made me anxious, like “Huh?!” *laughs* I’m obviously joking, but I really do feel nervous when we’re at the same recording. But like you said at training school, “If we meet at the recording studio…”

Nakao: “We’re already fellow actors.”

Saito: When I greeted you, you said, “Oh, we got to meet at work!” I was happy that you remembered me.

Nakao: I’m glad to run into trainees at work. But I’m the most nervous of all—I don’t want them to think, “What? He’s nothing special after all.”

Saito: We absolutely won’t think that!

—Please give some advice for those who want to become voice actors.

Saito: I’m in no position to be giving advice, but…

Nakao: Nowadays, people are joining the training school because they want to be like you! Don’t run away. *laughs*

Saito: Sorry *laughs*. It reminds me of when I was a teenager. I was extremely cynical back then. I couldn’t really play with everyone at school festivals or hang out after school. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m addicted to voice acting now. I can go back to being a high schooler over and over.

Nakao: I see. *laughs*

Saito: My humble opinion is that it’s definitely better to be honest and enjoy yourself right now.

Nakao: I completely agree.

Saito: The world is in a tough place right now, so I can’t say anything irresponsible, but I believe that everything you feel and experience right now in this moment will become your assets. For me, it hurts to remember my cynical days, but when I encounter a character like that, I can make use of my experiences.

Nakao: Fully take in what you’re feeling right now and enjoy the present. It’ll benefit you in the future no matter what your profession is.

Saito: Lastly, I have a brazen request… I want to do a reading with you, Ryusei-san.

Nakao: Of course! I’ve been telling everyone, “Play the main role, and invite me as a guest.” If I can appear once on everyone’s programs, I’ll have a peaceful life in old age. *laughs*

Saito: Wow! *laughs* I’ll strive towards being able to work with you again! Thank you very much for today.

[Serialization] Monthly TV Guide 2021/3 Edition – Saito Soma no “Tsukurikata”. 01

(no scans because it’s still a recent release)

Released: 2021/1/22

Saito Soma
Nakao Ryusei

Komada Wataru
Ueda Reina
Takahashi Rie

Saito Soma’s new serialization where he discusses “How It’s Made” with anime industry professionals. The first guest is Nakao Ryusei, who was Saito’s teacher at voice actor training school. Nakao was born in 1951 and debuted at the age of 5 on a radio drama. He discovered the industry in an era where “voice acting was an actor’s part-time job.” He became known for roles such as Baikinman in Anpanman and Frieza in Dragon Ball Z, and in 1985, he got involved in training the next generation at the previous iteration of 81 Produce’s training school. When Saito enrolled there, Nakao considered him “already skilled” from the very beginning. Here, they discuss what a training school teacher does and what the place means to voice actors.

Saito Soma and his respected former teacher discuss “Voice Actor Training School” (Part 1)

Saito: I went to training school more than ten years ago. There are a lot of things that I don’t remember very well, but I do still remember what happened there. For example, going to a summer festival with all of my classmates, like Komada (Wataru)-kun, Ueda (Reina)-san, and Takahashi Rie-chan. I think there were a lot of unique people in our year.

Nakao: It was a fun class with a lot of motivated people.

Saito: I feel like we also caused a lot of trouble *laughs*. I think there were a lot of really ambitious people. After class, we would always discuss what we learned that day in front of the train station.

Nakao: Wow!

Saito: I really enjoyed the debates we had. It was truly a time of adolescence, struggling and frustration included.

Nakao: 81 Produce’s training school curriculum used to be three years. You went there for one year, right? In the first semester you studied voice fundamentals and readings, the second semester was animation voicing, and the third semester was dubbing Western films. But now, animation voicing is done in the first semester.

Saito: Right off the bat?!

Nakao: Anime dialogue is caricaturized to begin with. Before you can study realistic dialogue and acting, you have to do caricaturized acting. There are also classes for fundamentals, speaking, and narration, but it’s still rather tough.

Saito: That’s demanding.

Nakao: The “Words” class that I teach is taught by two teachers in two time blocks. One teaches fundamentals while the other is for practical application like anime dubbing. We take turns teaching the blocks.

Saito: So, Ryusei-san taught me both fundamentals and practical application. We did the “Uirou-uri” (a type of kabuki prologue used for practicing articulation and enunciation) too, right? What I remember most from the lessons is “Wasshoi” which used the lyrics from Kitahara Hakushuu’s Omatsuri.

Nakao: We still do that now.

Saito: The line “Wasshoi, wasshoi. It’s a festival, it’s a festival!” would be repeated, and the following lines would be different things like “A hanagasa on our backs~” or “A portable shrine; it’s a portable shrine~”. We would all stand in a circle and recite the verses from memory. The person speaking goes in the middle of the circle, and when they’re done, they pick a random person to go next. So, you don’t know which part you’ll be reciting until the time comes…

Nakao: You pass the baton while keeping the rhythm.

Saito: We keep going until we make it to the end without making mistakes or breaking the rhythm. It was extremely nerve-racking voice training.

Nakao: The day’s lesson wouldn’t begin until they did it perfectly. It’s a type of theatre game (practice for developing acting ability). Even though you memorized the song, you might blank out when the time comes to say your part.

Saito: Exactly.

Nakao: It’s even more stressful for the last person. If they make a mistake, everyone has to start over from the beginning.

Saito: The pressure builds as the song progresses.

Nakao: It also acts as mental training. At an audition, “I really do have it memorized” doesn’t fly. You have to do it right then and there. We also teach the students to look at people’s eyes when choosing the next person, because you’ll be able to tell if they remember the next line or not.

Saito: You can sense if they’re sending the “I can do this one” signal.

Nakao: Then you can also tell if they’ve memorized the entire song or if they only know one part. However, that’s not always going to work either, so what do you do? We have them work on a solution together.

Saito: You have to think about multiple things at the same time. It’s like that when voice acting too.

Nakao: The workplace is no different.

Saito: If you told me to do “Wasshoi” right now, I think I’d say “Please give me a break.” *laughs*

Nakao: Then, the final part of training school is the presentation.

Saito: Each class presents a work that’ll be the culmination of what they learned that year.

Nakao: We want everyone to come together to create a single work. Even though they aren’t “eating out of the same pot,” we want them to have that foundation. It’s also on them to find a place to practice.

Saito: For our independent practice, everyone pooled money and looked for a place we could rent. Also, each class had their specialties—for example, if they had someone who was good at making arrangements, they would get a training place booked in a flash.

Nakao: The duties naturally get distributed.

Saito: The world of acting involves working together to create something, which comes with both enjoyment and difficulties. We learned about that at training school too.

Nakao: We teachers are like driving school teachers. We can drive with one hand spinning the steering wheel, but we have to teach the students fundamental driving techniques like holding onto the wheel firmly with both hands.

Saito: What I appreciated the most at training school was that on top of teaching us the basic mentalities and techniques, they also made us think for ourselves. Instead of saying, “Do it like this,” they asked questions like, “How did that feel?” or “How do you want to do this?” I’m the kind of person that likes to think. Conversely, that means I tend to be satisfied with small successes. Also, at first I had a strong desire to not make mistakes, but Ryusei-san told me, “This place exists for you to make mistakes.” He never once scolded us unfairly either.

Nakao: I did scold people.

Saito: Aren’t scolding and admonishing completely different? I consider what you did “admonishing.” When you admonished us, we really did deserve it.

Nakao: I never admonished you alone, right? But I did admonish the class as a whole.

Saito: There was a time when we got too used to your kindness.

Nakao: It wasn’t my kindness—since we always studied from the same materials, you got used to the course content. When people become competent to a degree, they let their guard down. That’s when I scolded them and said, “Don’t get used to it!”

Saito: Ryusei-san is usually really nice, but when he says, “Tighten up this part and try again with firm emotion,” it’s sharp and motivates you.

Nakao: Saying it sharply makes them perform sharply, right? And then I scold them again, saying “Why didn’t you do it before I had to tell you to?!” I just don’t like it when they can do it but they don’t. If they can’t do it, then that’s a different story. But being capable yet choosing not to do it is bad. I get a little angry when that happens.

Saito: The sound pressure went “bang!” that time. I thought, “So this is what it means to have a voice resonate through your body!” That was when I experienced a real professional’s vocal force directly instead of through a mic.

Nakao: I’m always practicing for that purpose *laughs*. If you wait until you’re told to do it, it’s too late. When you become a professional, you have to do it properly from the start.

Saito: When we first started training school, our mindset was “first, be taught.” From there, we switched gears to assembling our own performances and acclimating our bodies to those ideas. Come to think of it, I expected the “Uirou-uri” story to come up today, so I reviewed it and was astounded. I thought I’d analyzed the content and its meaning back then, but when I read it now, it’s like seeing it through a higher resolution lens. I thought I understood it back then, but my perspective was too narrow.

Nakao: “Uirou-uri” has a lot of components. Accents, nasal sounds, devoicing…

Saito: Back then, I was really focused on memorizing it properly. “Uirou-uri” is about using any means possible to sell the audience on an amazing medicine. When I reviewed it, I kept thinking about how I’d want to present it. But if I did it right now, I think it’d sound extremely shady. *laughs*

Nakao: That’s brilliant. *laughs*

Saito: Since being taught by you, I’ve come to like more things. Back then, I was in my third year of university. That year, I decided that I would dedicate my whole life to walking the path of voice acting.

Nakao: Really?

Saito: I didn’t think my personality was suited for being a voice actor because I didn’t think I could take a step forward with sensitiveness or explosiveness. That was all I thought about every day. One day, I was eating in the school cafeteria, and I suddenly thought, “Wait—if my personality isn’t suited for it, does that mean that if I keep doing voice acting work for my whole life, I’ll be able to change myself over the course of my lifetime?” I called my parents right then and there and told them, “I’m not going to go job hunting.”

Nakao: So that’s when you decided.

Saito: Both of my parents are enthusiastic teachers. They said, “It’s your own life. We’re happy that you discovered what you want to do.”

Nakao: That’s kind of them.

Saito: They also said, “But since it’s your life, be responsible for it yourself.”

Nakao: I’m definitely never meeting your parents! They’d probably say, “Was it you who tricked our son?!” *laughs*

Saito: No way *laughs*. I talk to my parents about what you taught me.

Nakao: They sound like good parents. When you were taking my classes, you were always worrying.

Saito: A lot.

Nakao: And now you’re shining. You were a bit dark when you were worrying.

Saito: *laughs* Yeah.

Nakao: At the time, I thought, “He’s the type to overthink, huh?” It was a worrying time period for you.

Saito: Back then, I was intentionally narrowing my field of vision. All I thought was, “I need to show good results here so that it’ll lead to the next step!” I think that that in itself was a necessary time for me.

Nakao: What we teach at training school isn’t that grandiose, right? The first thing we talk about is always your mentality and the “wait” attitude.

Saito: Right. At training school, rather than how to be an actor, I learned a lot more about the fundamental mentality that I should have as a person who’ll be entering society.

Nakao: Our job is to wait. We have to wait until work comes. How do you spend your time waiting? “Lessons are important, but how are you going to live your life until our next class?” Since the classes continue for a year, I want the students to wait effectively. After they become professionals, this will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Saito: Even now when I meet people from that class, we often talk about the “wait” attitude.

Nakao: Everyone’s working as hard as they can, right? Because they’re pros. But what do you do when you don’t have work? This becomes the most important thing. Waiting effectively, concentrating effectively, and putting forth your best effort. Also, don’t slack off during lessons!

Saito: I think that 2020 in particular was a time for the whole world, not just actors, to think about “waiting.”

Nakao: Everyone, yes.

Saito: I try to keep the wait attitude, but sometimes I give in and I’m just waiting, or I become too passive. We voice actors only exist because of creative works and characters, but that said, we should also be able to actively create and express something. I thought a lot about how it’s important to “wait actively.” I can’t practice in a really loud voice at home, after all. *laughs*

Nakao: I’ve been working for many years too, and this is the first time I’ve had so much time to myself. At times like this, your mentality is the most important thing. We’ve been living rather brazenly, but the young people who are starting out in their career have weaknesses in their mentality. How will they fortify those and wait until their next opportunity? It might be a good idea to think about that.

(Continued in Part 2 in Monthly TV Guide 2021/4)


“Hello, Saito Soma here! I have an interview published in Monthly TV Guide New Year XXL Edition, releasing today on December 16! There, it was announced that in the March edition releasing January 24, 2021*, I’m going to be starting a serialization in Monthly TV Guide~! I’m going to be having discussions with various professionals from the anime industry. More information will be announced later, so look forward to it!”
(*He says 1/24 in the video, but the actual release date was 1/22.)
“Hello, Saito Soma here! My serialization will be starting in Monthly TV Guide March Edition which releases on January 22. I’ll be having discussions with various professionals. For the first installment, I was given the opportunity to talk with my respected former teacher from my training school days, Nakao Ryusei-san! I really respect Ryusei-san as both an actor and a person, so I’m truly thankful for this! Please check it out!”

Saito Soma no Tsurezure naru mama ni Extra: Night is Over

Published: 2018/11/14
Original URL: https://kiki-voice.jp/journal/585

※This essay contains a bonus image that can be seen at the original URL above. No paid subscription required for this one, but you do need to have a free account.

Extra: Night is Over

Countless stories are hidden in the interstices of the world.

Between eyes bluer than love and crimson silk, between the “a” and “i” when you pronounce “ai” (love), between cells when you take a deep breath, between a cropped photograph and noema, between a reckless nature and death, between kneecaps that don’t touch, between forelocks cut too short and eyebrows, between brothers lying in bed without saying a word, between the upper and lower lip of a mouth slightly ajar, between schizophrenia and paranoia, between polluted search predictions, between 24:00 and 0:00, between the stratosphere and the ozone layer, and between yourself, myself, and yourselves.

Note: The title is possibly a reference to the song 夜が終わる / NIGHT IS OVER by THEE MICHELLE GUN ELEPHANT. (not sure, but even if it’s not, the ambience is right)

Note: This essay was technically included with the book release of Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu, in the form of a printed manuscript in Soma’s own handwriting (exclusive to Kinokuniya)

Saito Soma no Tsurezure naru mama ni #16: A Bright Room

Published: 2018/10/31
Original URL: https://kiki-voice.jp/journal/577

※This essay contains a bonus image that can be seen at the original URL above, past the paywall (KIKI-VOICE subscription required).

#16: A Bright Room

It’s a dim, dry morning.

On nights when I go to sleep early and days after drinking too much, I often see dreams. Sometimes I jot down the good ones and use them as material for lyrics or essays. In the past I had a lot of nightmares—for example, going to the bathroom in my parents’ house and seeing that the whole floor has become linoleum, and there’s a giant praying mantis in the middle that I have to fight by myself (tragically, my skin was ripped apart by its sickle claws). Or there’s a witch pretending to be part of my family, and now she’s chasing me because she realized that I figured out the truth, so I hide inside the blankets in the closet—but she finds me. I remember those horror sequences very well.

Lately, many of my dreams have been story-like, taking place between middle school and university. This morning was one of them. For some reason, I was participating in a university festival despite being 27. Each club had to put on a large-scale play with all of its members. The university was filled with that pre-festival restless feeling that something unusual is taking over, and it felt extremely nostalgic. As the story reached its climax, the dream began to fall apart, and the play transformed into a grand carnival. My role was a major supporting character that acted as a go-between for the main characters who couldn’t be honest with each other, and I think it probably went well. Everyone was smiling with tears in their eyes, and it felt like those festivities could only exist in that moment. As I watched them, I thought, even though I’m not a student anymore, I’ll surely experience these emotions again, so I won’t forget this feeling. Today’s dream was much more vivid than usual. It almost felt like I’d leapt through time.

…It was only a dream, of course. But what if possibilities from parallel universes manifested in the form of memories I haven’t experienced yet? I wondered absentmindedly, mind still half-asleep.

There are two books by Roland Barthes on the table. One of them has a Polaroid photo taken by Daniel Boudinet on the cover. The curtains, bed, and pillow are all bathed in a deep emerald green, and like the gentle gaze of the universe, it calls me from extraordinary sleep into ordinary life. Like I’ve seen it somewhere before. Like I knew about it before I encountered it.

Light streams through the curtains, brightening my field of view. The world will be waking up soon, and another new day will begin. I drink up the remnants of my dream with my coffee, open the door, and leave my room.

TL Note: The book that this essay references is La chambre claire (English title Camera Lucida) by Roland Barthes. The Japanese title is 明るい部屋 (A Bright Room) and the cover looks like this:

Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu – Crystalline World

Released: 2018/10/31

※This essay was specially written for the book release of Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu.

Crystalline World (Kesshou Sekai)

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A classic thought experiment in philosophy.

My stance used to be that if I couldn’t perceive something, then it didn’t matter if it existed or not. So my answer to the above question was “No.” For example, in terms of communication, it didn’t matter what the intent behind my words was—the only thing that mattered was how people perceived them.

I happened to stop by a secondhand bookstore in Jinbocho, where I found a certain photobook. It was by Ana Barrado, an American photographer. The book, which had commentary by Asada Akira-san, retraced the work of sci-fi writer J. G. Ballard, evoking in me that dreamlike feeling of being awake yet asleep at the same time, on “that day, someday.”

The monochrome photographs captured rocket ships, tropics, vegetation, and the vestiges of humanity’s passionate craving for the unknown. It reminded me of Chirico or My Bloody Valentine in how it felt like I was tripping while sober. I couldn’t settle down, yet there was no need to rant and rave. Outer space and the tropics; a faraway place and where I am now. One and all. Elements that resonate and conflict. A state of calm.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of books from genres I haven’t perused before. For example, I didn’t use to be interested in photography or architecture. I think it was because I didn’t think they were things I could create with my own hands. On that note, writing and music felt like they were within my reach. Perhaps who I am today began when I pretended that that shallow mindset was “interest.” That grand misunderstanding and assumption is forming who I am now, like a crystal lattice.

Of course, I still love them—in fact, my love for them is growing at an accelerating rate. But I now have a wide range of interests in addition to those, such as art, photography, architecture, fashion, engineering, machinery, political science and economics, mathematics, and traditional performance art. Ignorance is wonderful in some respects, but now that I have this superficial level of knowledge, I have to keep learning more forever. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way, but rather that I truly want to do that. In the past, I read in a textbook that the word “philosophy” comes from the Greek “philosophia,” meaning “love of wisdom.” I do believe that I love “knowing.”

It’s said that in the year 2045, the technological singularity will occur and AI will surpass human intelligence. Wise people discuss its merits and their concerns, manipulating the masses. As I waver, I find myself right in the middle, wanting to see what will become of this world. Like Ana Barrado, I just want to be there, cherishing the game of drifting between fiction and reality. Like Erik Satie’s furniture music. Like a flower in Noh.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

My answer now is “Yes, probably.” And I, too, wish to live quietly and peacefully, like a tree standing still in an empty forest. That, or to keep listening in my heart for sounds that should not be heard.

I gently drift, waiting for the final moment when everything becomes a crystal, sparkling as it melts together. Not running or fighting. Not denying or affirming. Simply drifting.

(Thoughts on Ballard/Barrado)

Saito Soma no Tsurezure naru mama ni #15: Milk Boy, Milk Girl

Published: 2018/8/10
Original URL: https://kiki-voice.jp/journal/454

※This essay contains a bonus image that can be seen at the original URL above, past the paywall (KIKI-VOICE subscription required).

※This essay was also published in the book compilation of Saito Soma no Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu.

When they’re distributing lunch at school and someone is absent, that’s when the war for the leftover milk begins.

Not to brag, but I was an extremely active young boy up until elementary school. I was the type of kid who would take the initiative to start a game of dodgeball during recess. I ate my school lunches heartily too, and I always participated in rock-paper-scissors battles for extra food.

My favourite part was the milk—I loved chugging down that cold, smooth, white substance, emptying the bottle in one go. I assume everyone in my class recognized me as “the hero who averages two bottles.”

Even at home, I often got scolded by my parents because I’d drink milk straight from the carton at every opportunity. On average, I probably drank over a litre of milk every day—casually. I liked flavoured milk too. Coffee milk, fruit milk, banana juice, melon milk; I’d gulp down anything that caught my eye.

So naturally, my fridge at home is always stocked with milk. However, recently—to be precise, in the past half year—something’s been very wrong. When I drink milk, there’s about a 100% chance that my bowels can’t handle it. I’m sure some of you are wondering why I’m writing about this in a public-facing essay, but this is a grave situation for a milk lover like me. I did hear before that Japanese people aren’t very good at digesting milk, and even in my own family, my father didn’t like milk for that reason. But still, what on earth happened to the young Saito who everyone acknowledged as a milk boy?

My research led me to a depressing reality. As I wrote earlier, it would appear that many Japanese people are poor at decomposing “lactose,” a component of milk. Additionally, the enzyme that does this, “lactase,” decreases as you grow up. The gist of it is that it’s secreted when you’re a baby so that you can absorb nutrients from your mother’s milk, but production is reduced when that’s no longer necessary. This is only one theory, of course, since studies are still ongoing. I can’t present definite proof here, but it certainly does feel like my milk tolerance has weakened compared to when I was a child.

When I was in third grade, I suddenly broke out into hives after eating my favourite food, karaage. “Ah, love is such a sorrowful thing,” I thought, and the sorrow I feel right now is by no means inferior.

That said, it’s not that I can’t drink it at all. As long as I can still drink it in small amounts, maintaining an appropriate distance, I should be able to continue my relationship with the milk girls.

As I wrote this, I arrived at my usual cafe. I often stop by here between jobs, and I order the same drink every time. I’ll be ordering that today too, of course.

“Excuse me, could I get cold milk?”

I can’t help that I like it.

Saito Soma no Tsurezure naru mama ni #14: Yet Unnamed

Published: 2018/6/20
Original URL: https://kiki-voice.jp/journal/480

※This essay contains a bonus image that can be seen at the original URL above, past the paywall (KIKI-VOICE subscription required).

#14: Yet Unnamed

One of my hobbies is giving strange names to songs and stories. I’ve always been oddly obsessed with titles, and in high school, I wrote a story called 密花 (Hisoka; “Secret Flower”) that won a small prize. The judge announced it as “Next is… Mitsuka!” and I said, “Oh… um… it’s actually Hisoka…”, secretly embarrassed by my unusual kanji reading.

The three songs on my third single “Date” were all written and composed by me, so of course, I was the one who named them. “Date” came rather easily, but “Reminiscence” was originally called “Ame” (Rain) and it had a more “wet” feeling.

“C” went through the most complicated journey. Its temporary title was “crowling chaos” [sic]. This was lifted from the Cthulhu mythos (those familiar with Nyarlko-san may recognize it too), and since I didn’t have any English song titles before, I thought I’d go with something chuuni. Then it became “Cx” (as in C multiplied by x), at which point I realized that I could fit a lot into the letter C, so it became “C”.

“C” can mean anything you want; I don’t mind—but I suspect that people will have the most questions about what this song is about, so here are a few possible meanings for “C”:


The pronunciation and spelling is a bit different, but:

And then, placing your index finger to your lips and saying,
“Shiii” (Shh)

So there are actually quite a few meanings that can be retrofit—I mean, assigned to it.

By the way, one of the senpai I’m close friends with at my agency (who has unusually intense eyes and used to be a magician) had this to say about the song: “I see. I thought of eyesight tests first. You look at rotated C’s for that, right? When you do that, one of your eyes sees the world of light, while the other eye sees the world of darkness. I imagined good and evil blending together into chaos.”

To which I proclaimed loudly, “Oh, I’ll say I came up with that then! I’m stealing that idea!” Utter chaos. 14 highballs were consumed. Jesus.

While I’m at it, here are some of the strange titles I have:

Sunny Day Lost (In Heaven)
Atashi Zekkouchou (I’m in top form)
Lemming, Ai, Obelisk
Ninniku Vampire (Garlic Vampire)
Saritotemo Akirameru Atamanaku Mujou ni mo (Alas, I’m in no mind to give up)
Android Spacenoid
Mayonaka no Maple Leaf Rag to Mune ni Aita Kyomu no Ana ni Tsuite (About the Maple Leaf Rag at midnight and the empty hole in my chest)

Utter chaos. When Takasugi Shinsaku was 27, he said, “Live an exciting life in the not-exciting world.” Now that I’m the same age, I more-or-less agree. Even if I can’t become like Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin, the world is still so exciting. Totally lit. Markedly marvelous. Insane.

All of those feelings are packed into my third single, “Date”—please give it a listen♡

  • Note: The senpai he mentions is Kamio Shinichiro

Saito Soma no Tsurezure naru mama ni #13: Cherishing Plants

Published: 2018/4/27
Original URL: https://kiki-voice.jp/journal/454

※This essay contains a bonus image that can be seen at the original URL above, past the paywall (KIKI-VOICE subscription required).

※This essay was also published in the book compilation of Saito Soma no Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu.

#13: Cherishing Plants

I’m not good at growing plants. Or rather, I wasn’t.

Watering and fertilizing them at regular intervals, giving them sunlight… It sounds simple when I put it in words, but I just couldn’t do it. I realized this at a fairly early stage, so I generally never invited plants into my house. I didn’t think flowers were particularly beautiful either; I was more attracted to solid things like minerals and structures.

But lately, I’ve been cherishing them very much. I now share my home with Eucalyptus, Olive, Sansevieria, Pilea glauca, and Tillandsia tectorum, among others, all of which are growing quickly. No longer am I only capable of loving a Roomba.

If you asked me what caused this change, I wouldn’t be able to give a clear answer. I always liked the shapes of cacti (and succulents in general), but I had no interest whatsoever in things that required watering.

I have two sofas at home; one of them is a moss-green-coloured one from Karimoku. Next to it is an ironwood side table, which I decorate with dried eucalyptus leaves. It looks just like a scene I saw in Casa, which kind of makes me laugh too.

Naturally, plants each have their own characteristics and ways of compromising. In the past I thought there was no way I could do such a difficult thing as raising plants, but people do change over time.

By watering and fertilizing them, I feel like I’m energizing my own heart as well. However, they show me different faces depending on the day, and sometimes they wilt even if I’m watering them the same way as always. They seem a bit unhappy these days, probably because of the temperature. I can sense the state of their lives in how they don’t fully conform to logic. It’s said that it takes three years to master watering, but I think I still have a long way to go.

The book version of this essay has been revised from when it was originally published online. There are times when I think I’ve escaped from stagnation—only for my heart to be caught in a different haze. I imagine that these back-and-forths are an inevitable part of one’s daily life. Still, if I persist in my watering, things will sprout again. I think I’ll trust in that and persevere, keeping my enthusiasm in check.

In the future, I’d like to live in a house that resembles a museum. I’d want to relax there, surrounded by lots of books, plants, and things of an ancient flavour. That’s how my state of mind has been lately.

Saito Soma no Tsurezure naru mama ni #12: Fishing Story

Published: 2018/4/1
Original URL: https://kiki-voice.jp/journal/432

※This essay contains a bonus image that can be seen at the original URL above, past the paywall (KIKI-VOICE subscription required).

※This essay was also published in the book compilation of Saito Soma no Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu.

#12: Fishing Story

(Please read this while listening to my debut single, “Fish Story.”)

Trout fishing often comes up as a motif in Brautigan’s novels, and I’m quite fond of it.

Since fishing is fundamentally a task of waiting, what’s critical is how you choose to spend that vast amount of time. By nature, I’m extremely bad at doing nothing. Whenever there’s downtime, I feel compelled to do something. At first I brought books with me, but I quickly tired of them. I spent those days restlessly staring at the water’s surface, feeling the need to do something.

If you ask me whether I prefer sea fishing or river fishing, it’s definitely the latter. My favourite is the simple kind without using a reel. Driving out into the mountains, leisurely dangling the line in a ravine—and if there’s a catch, cooking and eating it on the spot. Not being able to drink alcohol is a shame, but the deliciousness of river fish eaten in the serenity of mountains cannot be described in words. The other day I caught a large char, and I instinctively shouted “Fiiish!” like Grander Musashi. I also want to try fly fishing and pond smelt fishing. The world of fishing is profound.

That said, lately there’s been a change in how I spend my time waiting. As I stare absentmindedly at the ripples around the float, my consciousness separates from my body and completely different ideas well up. My mind is freed from the bounds of three-dimensional logic and begins to make incoherent connections. It perhaps bears similarity to the state I’m in before falling asleep.

These days, the main purpose of my trips is the time spent letting my mind wander, not the fishing itself. You may be thinking, “Can’t you do that at home?”—and you’re right, but it’s not the same. What’s important is the setting; it has to happen in the remote mountains, surrounded by the trees’ whispers and the animals’ breathing.

I haven’t bought a new pole in quite a while, so I think I’ll visit a fishing store soon and procure some supplies. Oh, maybe I should get a new knife while I’m at it.

Well, I’ve never actually gone fishing before, though.

(The song ends)

TL note: A “fish story” is an extravagant, exaggerated story. In the case of Soma’s debut single, the lyrics are about a person who makes up fantastical stories to cheer up their hospitalized friend. (If this reminds you of Yumeno Gentaro’s “Scenario Liar,” yes, the resemblance is uncanny.)

[Serialization] Saito Soma no Tsurezure naru mama ni #11: Brunch

Published: 2018/3/13
Original URL: https://kiki-voice.jp/journal/416

※This essay contains a bonus image that can be seen at the original URL above, past the paywall (KIKI-VOICE subscription required).

#11: Brunch

I used to always skip breakfast and lunch, but lately I’ve been having them often. I’ve become an adult—those boisterous days are more or less over, and now I get sleepy after three beers. That’s why I’ve completely switched over to highballs. I’m enjoying myself at night, but I still have to wake up in the morning. In the past, my physical condition was so poor that I never had an appetite for breakfast, but now when I go to bed, I eagerly fantasize about what I’m going to eat the next day. Very healthy.

I’m writing this essay after finishing all of my preparations and lying back down in bed. “What shall I eat today?” I write, but that question is a lie. I already know the answer.

It’s tempura.

I’ve loved tempura ever since I was a child—especially shrimp tempura. The tempura on our dinner table was always sweet potato and nothing else, so on occasions when we dined out, even if it was only a food court, I’d order tempura on rice and devour it to my heart’s content. Back then I was only interested in the shrimp and the dipping sauce—I didn’t give the other actors the time of day. But now I, too, am an adult. I’ve obtained a broader perspective and can now love all of the types of tempura placed atop the rice.

To be frank, the shrimp don’t matter. I mean, they’re delicious, of course, but giving them my undivided attention is far too narrow-minded. It means only tasting a small piece of what the world has to offer.

A stellar actor. It normally plays a supporting role, but it puts on an incredible performance—if you’re not careful, it’ll steal the show. It absorbs Edomae sesame oil, vegetable oil, and olive oil in a balanced way, performing with ease. An extremely trustworthy actor.

Sillago, or fish in general—
Well, they obviously have the ability to take the lead role if shrimp aren’t on the same team, so there’s nothing to point out in particular. Squid can be in this category too.

Green shiso leaf—
Is it even possible for a ten-year-old boy to understand its appeal? No. It’s safe to say that when a person understands the deliciousness of green shiso, they’ve become an adult in the true sense of the word. It also makes an excellent accompaniment to alcohol.

It took time to conquer this group. I originally didn’t like mushrooms, to the point where eating nameko miso soup and whatnot in cooking classes gave me an identity crisis and impeded my ability to clean up after school. But now, after overcoming much trial and tribulation, our diplomatic relationship has normalized. I can eat one piece of maitake tempura for every cup of sake, et cetera, et cetera…

After writing all of this, I must now get out of bed, put on my coat, and head out. I already know which restaurant I’m going to today: that famous tempura place in the business district that serves tempura chazuke even for lunch. My front teeth are itching to bite through that crunchy coating. It’s 10:33 a.m.—I don’t know if this qualifies as breakfast or lunch, but in the West, they call it brunch. All right, forget about dressing up. I’m starving. Food. Please excuse me.