How to Become an Actor in Japan

You’ve finally made that trip to Japan and you’ve got those stars in your eyes. If you hadn’t noticed, you might not be the only one. Being a foreigner in Japan, especially in the rural areas, you may start to experience the Hollywood effect. When you suddenly feel like a big deal because you look different than everyone else. Well, don’t let it go to your head. After time passes, everyone will be over you. But if you really have your head set on being big in Japan, maybe it’s time to take a look at how to become an actor in Japan. Everybody starts somewhere, but remember, the competition is fierce.

Foreign Talent Agencies

When figuring out how to become an actor in Japan, you will eventually start to wonder where all the auditions are being held. After all, that’s how the process works. Loads of foreigners get packing into a tiny room and wait for their name to be called. It’s an eerie feeling, as everyone looks exactly the same. The commercial wants a skinny blonde-haired male with blue eyes and at least 180cm tall. Get ready to meet some doppelgangers.

But you’re still wondering, wait, how do I find the auditions? Well, nobody is going to come knocking on your door, if that’s what you’re thinking. The production company shooting the commercial, movie, TV show, or music video, whatever it is, they will be reaching out to a number of foreign talent agencies, who will in turn reach out to their registered talent. So that’s step one. Register with a foreign talent agency.

Which Foreign Talent Agencies Reputable?

Now that we’ve established the first step for how to become an actor in Japan is to sign up with a foreign talent agency, it’s time to do a bit of homework first. Before you rush into talent office and sign the dotted line, maybe do a little research first on who exactly it is you are signing up with. Even though a lot of agencies let you sign up via their website and send photos of yourself via email, the best thing you can do is take it slow and learn more about how the system works.

Detecting Smoke and Mirrors

I say that because the system can sometimes be rigged against you. Not in the sense that actor’s are already preselected and auditions are scams. No. That’s all very real. The way payment works is where the real smoke and mirrors lie. As foreign talent in Japan, your agent doesn’t work for you. It’s the other way around. You work for your talent agency. And the production company doesn’t pay you. They send millions of yen over to your talent agency, who in return, will pay you somewhere in the ballpark of 5,000 to 30,000 yen ($50~$300 USD).

But wait, it gets better. Production companies often pay foreign talent agencies a bonus for every foreigner who shows up to audition. That means the talent agency you work for is going to send as many foreigner to your audition as possible, furthering the odds against you and getting paid for it. On top of that, some talent agencies impose a minimum threshold for getting paid. Until you’ve earned X amount of yen, you don’t get paid. Also some places will not pay you until after X amount of months. So be very careful and find these things out in advance.

Believe in Yourself

When you’re struggling with how to become an actor in Japan, remember that everybody starts somewhere. No role is too small. When I took acting classes with Jane Kelly, who trained at the original Globe Theatre in London, she constantly emphasized this, and I believe it holds true. Focus on building up those credits one role at a time and eventually you will start getting noticed by the bigger production companies. Keep scouting the internet for opportunities, pick a safe agency to work with, and give it your all.

Where Else Can I Find Auditions?

While pursuing how to become an actor in Japan, you’ll have to stay alert and be aware of all the different production companies out there. Do you watch Japanese TV? Which programs are you familiar with? Check their websites for auditions. Some places post a few times a year. Both Nodo Jiman The World and NHK’s Cool Japan are just a few examples of TV shows that do this. So do your homework and search the internet for answers.

What Else Should I Know?

While fluent knowledge of the Japanese language isn’t necessary to be an actor, it sure can’t hurt to be prepared. Also keep in mind that most auditions will be held in major cities. Talent agencies are not going to be reimbursing you for your travel expenses. Something to keep in mind when your commute to Tokyo or Osaka costs $60 one way via shinakansen, and you’re undergoing three rounds of auditions.

Agencies won’t pay for any of your expenses. Not even transportation to shooting. So the reality is, you are paying a lot of money for a very small chance at a shot and making very little in return, if anything at all. If you are doing this for your ego, best put it aside and find a new hobby. But if you have a love for acting, just make sure you go in with both eyes open. If it’s not for you, there are plenty of other dream jobs waiting for you in the land of the rising sun.