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My Experience with Inagawa Motoko (IMO) Talent Agency

After getting laid-off from my IT job in the summer of 2009, I decided to sign up at Inagawa Motoko Office (aka "IMO") hoping to at least make some money while searching for a new IT job.  The full-time job market was in shambles at that time due to the "Lehman Shock," but I had heard that entertainment work was a readily-available work avenue for foreigners living in Japan.  Fearing I was facing an arduous and time-consuming job hunt, I hoped entertainment work could counterbalance my income blow, holding me over until I found something more stable.  Since my schedule was quite free, I was available for just about any work that came my way.

My very first job was for a Japanese TV show--one of those history reenactments that you often see foreigners appear on.  At that shoot I met some other foreigners working in the entertainment industry.  I told them I was new to IMO, and that this was my first job.  After I said that, a friendly fellow American pulled me aside and advised me to be very careful.  He obviously had far more experience in Japanese show business than I, so I probed further.  He then asked me, "When did they tell you that you'd be paid?"  I replied, "2 months after the job."  "Ha! Ha!" he shot back.  "It's more like 6 months, and you have to call them and hound them constantly to get it."  Worried about what I was getting into, I contemplated returning to English teaching instead.

The Sign-Up and Job Process
Foreigners (like me) interested in Japan's entertainment work are invariably referred to Inagawa Motoko as an apropos route into the industry because they have been around a long time and are well-known for specializing in foreign talent.

I visited IMO's Roppongi office in person and signed up.  They took some information and a few photos of me.  They asked how free my schedule was.  This was a key point for them because they require people with free and open schedules.  A separate full-time job is not compatible with this industry at all, and I had no problem with that since I was jobless at the time.  They told me that I'd be paid 2 months after a job, and that I needed a Mitsui Sumitomo bank account.  Suspiciously, they didn't ask for my bank account information.  In fact, I ended up having to provide that to them multiple times via phone, email, and in person.

I soon started getting phone calls asking if I were free this day and that day.  If I matched what the client was seeking, I would get the "job" and be asked to show up at such-and-such a train station at such-and-such a time.  Again suspiciously, they would not provide many fundamental details like what it pays, how long I'd be working, etc.  I learned to ask them quickly before they hung up.  Additionally, nothing was ever provided in writing--no contracts, receipts, job descriptions, etc.  The single time they emailed me, they sent a script for me to study.  In retrospect, I wish I had insisted on communication via email and/or recorded all phone conversations; however, I feared that demanding this would undermine future job offers.  Sadly, these measures are indeed necessary when working in such an under-regulated industry.

I did jobs and attended unpaid auditions where I met other foreigners whose voices echoed similar experiences regarding IMO's business practices.  Lines like "IMO never pays" and "IMO owes me money" constantly reverberated among the foreign talent.  At one particular job I was promised the money in cash that same day--a slight ray of hope for unemployed me.  When I got to the front of the line, they instead said I'd be paid via bank transfer the next morning.  I checked my bank account, and the money wasn't there.

I did a few other jobs as I patiently waited the two months after my first job.  Two months later, the money was not there.  Three months later it was not there.  Still without a steady income and feeling exploited and upset, I began pressuring IMO to pay for my labor.

Complaining Directly
Complaining directly was the obvious first step.
* "We'll check into it and call you back."  They wouldn't call me back.
* "The accounting guy is not here right now."  The accounting guy never seemed to be there.
* "Please call back tomorrow."  I would call back the next day, and a different guy would tell me to call back tomorrow.  I felt as if I were on a merry-go-round.
* "Are you registered with us?"  Yes, you've been calling me and offering me jobs.
* "What's your name and phone number?"  How many times must I provide this information?
* "We have another job for you."  Evidently, there's a lack of intra-office communication, as I had to tell each and every staff member individually that I would like the money due to me.

Unfortunately, I didn't have much luck with this approach.  The only thing I got paid was excuses.

How I Got Paid
I finally got paid by simply writing them an email that said, "If I don't receive my money by Friday, I will go to the Labor Department (労働基準監督署) on Monday."  I was paid the same day I wrote the email, so this proved highly effective.  They obviously didn't want the Labor Department involved.

Per the advice of an acquaintance also working in Japanese show biz, I still complained to the Labor Department so that they catch wind of the business practices rife in this under-regulated industry.  While the threat alone did get me paid, the threat alone will not instigate true reform.

Here is the one I visited:

When I went there, they were very receptive and helpful; however, in my case there wasn't much they could do since I was technically paid.  Please make sure to keep and bring any records you have of job dates, promises to pay, etc.  I suggest keeping meticulous records yourself because IMO did not provide them to me.

Not too surprisingly, they stopped calling me and offering me jobs after they paid me.

Further Reading

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  • Guest - jon doe

    Your article can claim a small victory over IMO.

    I have been in Tokyo's talent business for just over a year now and Im registered with almost 20 agencies.I heard about IMO from the start and steared clear of them, until recently.
    They must be getting desperate for talent because I was contacted through another agency to do work for them. The third party agency garaunteed my payment so I accepted the job.
    A few weeks later an IMO manager called me and asked me to go to their offices and register with them for more regular work, I politetly said yes but had no intentions of going to see them.
    They again called me a week later and offered me a job, to be polite again I gave them second keep with no intention of giving them a first keep.
    They again called me the day before said job and asked me if I would work, I made a mistake, I said yes.
    i got off the phone and began to stew over what I had done.
    I tried looking on the internet for an IMO website but instead found numerous blogs complaining about their practices.
    I knew I would end up regreting my decision to work for them so decided to cancel.
    When I called the response was really unprofessional and the manager did little to convince me that IMO had changed practices.Im convinced I did the right thing.
    The small victory is that they were made to sweat on the above mentioned job, im sure they dont like messing their clients around in the same way.
    The majority of talent agencies in Tokyo are incompetent and you need to keep on top of them to protect yourself. Always ask what you will be paid and when you will paid and then demand these details are emailed to you for your own records.Make lists of the jobs you have done and check your bank account when you expect to be paid.
    This industry isnt regulated and until it is you need to keep a close eye on your affairs.

  • Guest - Anonymous

    Another one to avoid is R&A Productions. I worked for them on a gig once, and never got paid. I have heard the same thing from NUMEROUS other talents working at the company, so I know I'm not an isolated case.

  • Guest - Katherine

    That is so true, I faced the same situation 5 years ago when I was here as an exchange student. I haven't got any money as I was returning to my home country and didn't have time to push the money out of them. I delayed calling them for the very last moment because never in my life I've imagined that kind of attitude from a Japanese company. To say I was shocked is to say nothing. The existence of such slave-holding agency is a shame for the Japanese business reputation, it's a shame for Japan. Hope it will be eliminated soon.

    from Tokyo, Japan
  • Guest - Mr T

    I can`t read all of this but I really appreciate the crusade.
    Is it possible to mention agencies worth contacting?
    Thank you.

  • Guest - CC

    IMO staff were terribly rude and hurtful to me. I had a leg injury that required extensive therapy and I received a call saying could I be where and where at this date and I explained my current immobility and I was simply told "can't you come in a wheelchair?" Exact words. Never again am I having anything to do with them.

  • Guest - Il Professore

    Emme, a valid gaijin card and visa is necessary for any job in this business. It is not surprising of someone wants to see copies of these documents. And a lot of jobs DO come through connections nowadays. The person who was in touch with you may or may not be honest, I have no idea, but you shouldn't blame someone for wanting to see your documents before they book you.

  • Guest - Emme

    Thank you for writing this.
    I (we ) really appreciate it.
    I have been persuaded by a person for a job (not IMO tho) and he gets all my details (which I gave to all agency-so thats ok). To start with he get me from a talent website-he is a member as well but he did not advertise the job like everyone else. So, I already suspected something fishy going on.
    He did not provide me with any of his/agency background and assume that I will take the job.
    He wanted my passport no. as well, I refused and tell him I'll gv it once the job confirm and with other necessary documents.
    he just did not reply or email me after that. Reliable,huh ?
    And now-some other name from same company approaching me. Seriously?

    Hope this experience help.

  • Guest - K

    Good afternoon.
    I have finally managed to get my wages after an eight-month struggle with IMO.
    Never before had I seen such unprofessionalism or carelessly open lying in a company here in Tokyo.

    A friend of mine brought your site to my attention shortly after I began to question IMO's integrity, and sadly enough every last detail was true, just as written above, from their multi-stage scam to each of their time-wasting excuses.

    They paid me after I sent them a long email, threatening to take their corruption not only to the Labour Department but also to various newspapers and larger Tokyo film companies.

    Although they caved in and apologised and sent me my long overdue wages, I know that there are still plenty of unsettled cases out there.
    I too, would like to bring these despicable fraudsters down.
    They prey on those that they judge as "helpless gaijin" thinking that the victims' visas will expire before legal action can be taken, or otherwise because of a lack of confidence in spoken Japanese.
    I say they can either stop this disgraceful fraud or disappear altogether.

    I hope that any and all who've had problems with IMO and are reading this now, will post their stories too.
    Remember to get as many details as possible. Dates, times, locations, names.
    Although they'll try to do everything over the phone (so as to leave no evidence) see if you can get them to email you when possible. This helped me out a lot, and will help you out too.

    For those who are eager to do acting/modelling around the city, I have heard many a good thing about a company named Freewave, and am hoping to join them myself.

  • Guest - Adi

    Hy guys?

    What do you know about Igrek agency in osaka ?

  • Guest - Ex IMO "talent"

    Hi all,

    Thought I would share my experience. Definately do not sign with IMO. I knew they had been slow paying their actors models before I signed with them and asked if they had rectified the problem after reading this article in Japan times about how they screwed over some of their best and longest serving actors/models

    If you have worked for them you can easily get your money. Don't waste your time calling them or emailing them more than twice. As the article mentions above you will only get the run around. To start the process go to the Department of Labor and work place affairs (三田労働基準監督署 - is the kanji for the name of the department) it is near Tamachi station (Walk out of the mita guchi exit - 三田口 and go straight for about 50 m, go down the stairs on left so you are on road level and walk forward 100 meters. You will be out the front of 産業安全会館 - Industrial Safety Assembly - go inside the building to the elevator head to the 3rd floor). Here is a map from the station.

    When you go in explain that you have been screwed over by IMO. They will then get you to fill out some paperwork, take a copy of your foreigners card and get things moving. I was told by 4 other people this was the only way you can get them to pay you without messing around. Once this agency calls them on your behalf IMO are subject to legal action and prosecution if they fail to pay. It's amazing thats what it takes to get things moving. Before starting the process make sure that the last job you did for them is at least 2 months overdue so you can get all payments in one lump sum. I also suggest writing up invoices for every job that you did and include the date, time you started, time you finished and your guarantee for the day. Email them to IMO's "accountant" - Kawase at [email protected] letting him know you expect payment and that IMO is late despite the fact you have called repeatedly. He will not reply to your email. However he does get them. This also gives you proof that you have made contact with them in writing and it fell on deaf ears. I bought my laptop along so I could show the dates I had emailed IMO invoices, bank account details and questions regarding when I would be paid. Printing them out before you go will be advantageous as you can hand them straight to whoever helps you. When I went, there was no lines, I got attended to straight away and the man was very helpful. If you don't speak Japanese bring along a friend who can help interpret for you. Otherwise arrange a meeting on a wednesday with their in-house translator. Even if you are only owed a small amount of money make sure you go through this process. The harder we make it for them to not pay any amount of money the better it is going to be for everyone working in the industry.

    There are much better agencies in Tokyo that also do TV work. Remix, Bayside, Freewave, Junes, KandM, Epromotion are agencies that have gotten me work and are great to work with. They also pay on time and are a lot more professional. If you have had the "pleasure" of working with Eddy you will know what I am talking about. To finish off, for any of you who have done TV work for IMO, know that the per day rate they get paid by tv production companies for "finding" extras is 50,000 yen per day, not including the overtime that they also charge for run overs on time (most productions go late btw) So them paying you 12,000 yen for a day's work means they are getting a (minimum) 76% commission.

    Anyways good luck getting your money! hope this helps with some solutions :)

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