Acting in Japan: Where to Start

Here's a quick guide on how to jumpstart your acting career in Japan.

By 5 min read

I know why you’re here. You saw some random foreigner aggressively overreacting to an otherwise mundane Japanese product on a TV commercial and thought, “I could do that.” Well, I’ve got good news: you’re probably right. Japan’s television is absurd in the best possible way. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

But how do you get from the toilet where you’re reading this on your phone to on set, in costume, centered in front of the camera? Rest assured, you’ll be fully equipped to accomplish just that by finishing this article. But be warned—acting isn’t always as glamorous a profession as you might think.

And landing the job is often the easy part. Here’s a quick rundown on beginning your acting career in Japan.

Step One: Be in Japan and eligible to work

Make sure you have the right permit before applying for any acting jobs.

I’ve seen many people asking online if they can apply to be an actor in Japan from their home country or if a Japanese talent agency will sponsor their visa. The answer is, almost without exception, no. To get started, you must already reside in Japan and possess a visa to hold a job. Unless you are already an established actor in your home country being specially brought to Japan for a role, these are unavoidable prerequisites.

Step Two: Join an agency

For example, this kinda blurry photo taken by my wife got me the audition for my first nationwide commercial.

Join lots of agencies. There is no shortage of foreign talent management firms in Tokyo, and unless you sign an exclusive contract, you’re free to be represented by as many of them as you like. Different agencies tend to represent different jobs, resulting in the most opportunity for you. Registering is as simple as calling or emailing one of them to come in and complete the paperwork.

List of agencies

While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the foreign talent agencies I’ve had positive experiences working with:

  • Remix – One of the major players in foreign talent management. They offer extra work and roles in more prestigious commercials and films.
  • Free Wave – Another huge agency that provides a steady flow of opportunity. While all these agencies tend to overlap when it comes to extra work, this agency sets itself apart by representing more niche jobs such as local advertisements and stage performances.
  • Avocado – Offers plenty of print modeling jobs in addition to acting roles.
  • Bay-Side – I’ve heard nice things from other long-term actors who have equated them to Free Wave.
  • D’xim – In all honesty, I only hear from D’xim once a year, but every time I do, it’s about a role no one else is representing so I’m inclined to include them.
  • Sup – A very young agency that doesn’t even have a physical location—all registration is completed online. That said, the agents running it are industry veterans and have been a consistent source of work for me since they opened.

When you register, several of these agencies will take high-quality photos of you free of charge, so be sure to come looking stylish and maybe even bring a few outfits. That being said, not all agencies provide this service and the ones that do will use said photos exclusively for themselves. So, taking photos to send everywhere you’re registered is a good idea. They don’t have to be professional, just good enough.

Alright, you’re registered and the emails are flooding into your inbox. Nice. That brings us to…

Step Three: Scheduling and availability

Keep your schedule open, and always reply to your agents.

Each of the roles you land will be paid for with untold hours of wrist-shattering clerical work. When an email for a potential job comes in, the agent will usually have a list of dates and ask for your availability. You will give them one of four answers:

  • First keep: You are 100% available for the job. But be careful. As stated in your contracts, this is binding. If you give a first keep and are selected but accidentally double book or can’t make it for any reason, you may incur devastating fines and/or harsh legal action.
  • Second keep: This is when you’re unsure about your schedule or if you want to take the job. If a job is photo selection only (meaning they select the actors based only on picks submitted by the agency), a second keep isn’t going to land you the role. However, you can often call one if there is an audition.
  • NG: No good. Pretty self-explanatory. You can NG a job for any reason, whether you already have plans that day or don’t find the role very interesting.
  • Sorry: Another agency contacted me first: If you receive the same offer from one agency, then another reaches out with the same job, you simply tell them this, and there are no hard feelings.

Remember to always reply to your agents. The only reason we get to enjoy this kind of work is thanks to them, so I recommend your correspondence be both prompt and courteous. And besides, they are the ones advocating for us, so it sure won’t hurt if they like you.

And that’s it! As long as you have some decent picks and a moderately flexible schedule, it’s only a matter of time before you land your first extra role or, even better, an audition.

Have you tried acting in Japan? How was your experience? Let us know down below!



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