Kaho Shibuya’s first job was as a sports reporter, writing in-depth columns about baseball players. When asked to describe the work, she says it was a little “gossipy.”
“I worked at an afternoon newspaper,” she says. “So, it wasn’t enough to just report the results from the last match, the morning news had already covered that. I had to write stories that were juicier and looked into the private lives of the players. It was quite a challenge to be a female working at a sports publishing newspaper.”
Baseball reporting might not be the profession that most of us know Shibuya for, but this is just one of the many media-related hats that she has worn and continues to wear. Throughout our conversation, she tells me she’s writing a new song, working on a new collaboration with GamerSupps and that it’s her two-year streaming anniversary on Twitch. It’s all a testament to both how varied her work is and how busy she is too.
Casting her mind back to her first foray into the adult entertainment industry, however, Shibuya admits she wasn’t specifically looking for a JAV role.
“I took a break from baseball and taught English for a while,” she says. “But then I came across a part-time job of trying out adult toys and writing reviews about them. It sounded unique and interesting and I thought I could be a freelance writer. Until today, though, I’m still not sure if there was ever a legitimate job behind that advertisement.”
JAV is the abbreviation for “Japanese Adult Video” more colloquially known as Japanese porn. What Shibuya goes on to describe is the slippery slope one can go down in that industry in Japan.
“From my agency, I began to get interviews to work in JAV productions or to be a ‘part model’ where your face is hidden but certain body parts might be shown alongside products. Then of course they tell you that if you want to earn more, you could perform sexually in front of the camera but it might not necessarily be JAV. Until one day, it is.”
This is one of the reasons why she’s penned her tell-all Japanese book, Everything Girls Should Know About the JAV Industry (in Japanese: AV ni tsuite Joshi ga Shitte Okubeki Subete no Koto).
“My experience in the industry gave me something to write about,” says Shibuya. “And I wanted girls to understand the risks before they got into it. In many lines of work, there’s this understanding that you can start the job first and learn by doing it. JAV is different, it can be dangerous to come into it and just figure it out along the way. Especially because once your naked body is out there, it can be too late.”
Her book received mixed reviews from people within the industry. Some praised her for her honesty while others commented that some secrets should remain hidden to preserve the fantasy. The English translation of her book remains a work in progress. Shibuya says that some editors had issues with her tone of voice, in that they wanted it to sound more scandalous (“like a kind of sultry woman with a cigarette hanging from her mouth”).
The perception of self, identity and who you are versus who the public wants you to be, is perhaps something Shibuya has always had to contend with. She’s since retired from JAV, ending a successful three-year career on a high and freeing herself from the expectations that come with that line of work.
These days, she runs her own show and has pivoted into passion projects she’s had for years, namely anime and manga. This includes creating content as a cosplay model, participating as a guest and judge at overseas anime conventions, being an anime song DJ and live-streaming her gaming escapades on Twitch.
“The truth is that I’m an introvert,” says Shibuya. “I don’t drink alcohol; I don’t smoke and I love to read. Back in elementary school, I was that girl who was always in the library. The world of fantasy was my safe spot. My first anime and manga were probably Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon but I have so many favorites. I love The Quintessential Quintuplets. And I’m currently reading and watching Spy x Family and the Ya Boy Kongming! series.”
Take a scroll through Shibuya’s Instagram feed and you’ll be able to feel her love for anime. Her cosplays encompass everything, from an elaborate custom-made Zero Two mecha bodysuit to Yuffie from Final Fantasy VII to a Demon Slayer-inspired kimono-look complete with Tanjiro’s iconic hanafuda earrings.
Another outlet that Shibuya uses to connect with her fans is Twitch on which she live streams. She started her channel in the middle of the pandemic and has already amassed more than 220,000 followers.
“I didn’t think I was going to get accepted that way,” she confesses. “I thought that if I stopped taking my clothes off, that would be it. But many of my fans are happy to chat with me for hours about anime or general things about Japan. These days I’m also playing Batman: Arkham City on stream. I have a VTuber model of myself that I have been trying to incorporate into the stream and hope to collaborate with other VTubers in the future.”
In addition to Twitch, Shibuya plans to try more new things and have new experiences. “I’m all over the place and that’s good for me,” she says. “I don’t want to get tired of what I’m doing.”
Shibuya is determined to further embed herself into the anime industry. She’s even thinking of studying animation so she can become more involved as a creator, rather than just participating through cosplay.
“There’s so much I can do in my position to bridge Japan with the rest of the world,” she says. “And I want people to see me differently. I’m not just an ex-JAV actress and I’m more than a cosplayer. Everything I do right now is to further legitimize myself so that people will take me seriously. In terms of a big life goal, I hope to one day create a scholarship or fund to help those who want to study animation in Japan.”
Shibuya is many things to many people. After speaking with her I realized that to me, she is still a writer. Whether it’s writing her baseball columns, her JAV memoir in English, or her next song to be released on Spotify, the one thing that she has never stopped writing is her own narrative. And that’s something no one can take from her.