Game Changers of Japan: Naomi Arifin, Aspiring Seiyuu from Indonesia
Watching anime is probably a hobby, something that most of us usually do, non-Japanese included. However, to become a voice actor for an anime character; 声優（せいゆう), is probably something none of us think is possible to become as a foreigner. But it’s different for this game-changer. Her love for anime has led her to a whole new journey of being a seiyuu in Japan. Meet the uniquely-talented Naomi Arifin.
Written by: | Date published: 30th July 2020
Early Days in Japan
She is the one and only Naomi Arifin, a game changer from Indonesia who is brave enough to start her unique career path by becoming an anime voice actor (known as seiyuu) in Japan. She came to Japan in 2013. Now, her work can be found in many places. From a series of “curvy girl problems” illustrations on her Instagram, to a weekly podcast named “naomi hari ini” that tells her stories of pursuing a career as a foreigner who wants to become a Seiyuu.
It all started when she was conflicted on deciding whether to continue her studies in Japan or the United States first thing after graduating from high school. Since most of her family members studied in the US, she assumed that it might be easier for her if she went to America and continued the same education and career path as most of her cousins. After much consideration, Naomi finally decided to pursue her study in Japan. At first, she wanted to apply to the G30 program that offers English courses in Japanese universities, but she later found out that the courses didn’t really match her desired major, Science. So, she took an alternative path instead and entered a Japanese language school for 1,5 years. After she graduated, she took the EJU (Examination for Japanese University for International Students) and succeeded in admission to Tokai University majoring in Biochemistry.
Years of studying Biochemistry went by, but her love for anime did not diminish ever since she was a child; reminiscing about the beauty of Japanese culture. The uniqueness of anime created a magnet for her towards the appeal of Japan’s culture, Even more so, it was a big motivation for her to learn the Japanese language as well. Most of us might quip that anime was one of our influences for choosing to come to Japan when asked by an interviewer, however in Naomi’s case, anime is literally her one sole reason for wanting to come.
Parent’s Dreams,One’s own Passion, and Life Paths
Even though she majored in the sciences, Naomi had her heart and passion set for art ever since she was in junior high school. Illustration, music, singing; it sparks happiness for her. However, her parents believed she should pursue an “actual” undergraduate degree and keep her passion for art only as a hobby.
“It’s not that I didn’t like science, but I didn’t see myself planning to pursue something about biochemistry in the future as a career. I can’t imagine myself doing something that I am not fully passionate about for the rest of my life”
After a long talk with her parents and acknowledging the privilege she had for studying in Japan, she completed her undergraduate studies in Biochemistry. She also added a very wise comment for all aspiring artists,
“In the end, I regretted nothing at all because at least, I have something to hold on and help me survive in Japan some time maybe in the future. My degree is a safety net for me. We will never know what the future holds but planning for every possible scenario is the smartest move even when you are pursuing something you are passionate about”
After her undergraduate program at Tokai University, she came back home and helped her family business while also searching for a Seiyuu School in Japan through the internet. It was quite a challenge as most of the seiyuu schools in Japan are not open to accepting international students.
“It’s really hard for international students to get accepted to voice acting schools. Even the Japanese are really competitive with one another when it comes to applying.”
But giving up was not an option for Naomi. Passion drove her to move forward, motivating her to reach the starting line of her career. After countless emails and applications; sending 学歴 (education history) and JLPT scores to various institutions to prove her capability in speaking the Japanese language as well as someone who is well accustomed to the Japanese culture, she finally got accepted in her dream school; Tokyo Animation College.
Journey as a Seiyuu
Of course, there were times where she thought about furthering her studies to a graduate school and giving up her dream in the arts. Like many people, pursuing a career your parents are reluctant to approve of, along with facing challenges as a foreigner in an industry where its national citizens will always remain the first pick for most companies; adversaries and challenges are like pebbles in a rocky road. But art has always held a big place in her heart and it successfully kept her going to pursue her career as an anime voice actor.
It has been a long rocky road for Naomi. Having to compete with Japanese who are also pursuing a career in becoming a Seiyuu creates a lot of doubts for her. But with a strong will and determination, she continued her journey to become ane. Besides being a voice actress, she also dreamed about being an singer for the opening song of an anime.
“It’s either you go hard, or you go home. It’s better for me to regret something I have done than to regret something I haven’t done at all,”
Competing with other Japanese people during the school application process wasn’t the end for Naomi. She now needs to keep competing from one audition to another. There are various types of Seiyuu auditions. First is the “Kounai Audition” (campuswide audition), where schools invite anime or manga agencies to their auditions to help showcase students’ talents in order to be recruited. There is also direct scouting, where the companies/agencies themselves do a one-on-one interview with the Seiyuu students - similar to the normal job-hunting process. Making a CV, going through interviews, reading audition scripts, has become a routine for Seiyuu students like Naomi. Despite being a foreigner who is pursuing a career in that field, Naomi sees it as an opportunity to compete with other students. Having the chance to introduce herself as a trilingual (Indonesian, English, Japanese) can be a strength for her in the Seiyuu audition.
For Naomi, being a good Seiyuu is not just about having a high-pitched anime-ish voice like what people generally assume. In the Seiyuu world, acknowledging the individuality of our own voice is a more important thing. Having a unique voice will open a broader path to play different kinds of characters in various shows. Naomi mentions to“Just believe in what you have, because your voice is your best asset in this Seiyuu world.”. Besides that, Japanese language skills are crucial for this line of work. Accurate pronunciation and intonation of each word in the dialogue, and an impeccable Japanese accent is needed.
Additionally, having good communication and networking skills are also crucial as a seiyuu. As another member of the staff, creating a good relationship with the producer is necessary. If you have a bad attitude or even have an unfriendly or arrogant look, people will not like you and they most likely won't work with you. You also need to be a fun person to work with. Likewise, it is also important to keep an open-mind and take all the work opportunities that come to you.
Naomi’s Word of Advice
As for Naomi’s advice for students who are aspiring to journey on a creative career path like her, she pointed out one of the simplest things that she practiced; that is to be persistent in learning and staying humble. “Do not be closed to every chance that comes to us, because we never know where those can lead us to. No matter how big or small it is, it can be a great way to learn and develop your voice acting skills.”
She adds, “Love and appreciate your own voice.” Naomi believes that everyone has their own uniqueness in terms of their voices, and eventually everyone will find a role and character that fits them the most.
Last but not least, “JUST DO IT!” she stated it clearly. “If I didn’t fight for my path to join a seiyuu school in the first place, my dreams will only stay as it is. So, I encourage all of you to just believe in yourself and go for it. Chase your own dream!”
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