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Getting Started in Japan's Show Biz

Getting work in the Japanese entertainment industry is not especially challenging, but don't expect fame and fortune to follow.  This ain't Hollywood, dude.  Here are a few tips to help you get started in Japanese show biz.

Go to Ginza on a Weekend
TV camera crews abound on the main drag in Ginza during weekend afternoons.  Hang around them, and they may ask you for a street interview.  Not all of them are seeking foreigners, though.  Roppongi Hills and Akihabara might be better bets for us gaijins, but I see far more camera crews in Ginza.  This may fulfill your life-long desire to get your 15-seconds of Japanese TV fame, but you won't land steady gigs this way.

Study Japanese
While there are plenty of entertainment jobs for those that don't speak Japanese, it doesn't hurt to crack open a textbook and study the local language.  Even rudimentary Japanese skills greatly enhance your marketability as a performer and allow directors and staff to more easily communicate with you.

Get Headshots & Make a Profile
If you're planning on applying to talent agencies here in Japan you'll need some decent headshots and a profile.  
As for the headshots, you'll need 3 standard pictures:
* Face
* Upper half of the body (a bust shot)
* Full-length

Hire a photographer or ask someone you know that takes high-quality pictures so that you look your best.  Most importantly, make sure the pictures are accurate representations of you because this is the purpose they serve.  In other words, don't photoshop the crap out of them, put obnoxious anime characters around your face, or do your hair in some ridiculous atypical fashion.

As for the profile, it should be a 1-page summary of the vital stats important for show biz work.  Make a Japanese version if you can.  Put a small rendering of your best headshot (face or bust) along with the following information:
* Name (duh!)
* Birthday / Age
* Height - Remember to use the metric system!
* Nationality
* Visa Status – You must have a visa to legally work in Japan!
* Language Skills – How's your Japanese?  Do you speak other languages?
* Special Skills – Can you sing, dance, play an instrument, ride a horse, etc.?  You might also specify if you can drive in Japan.
* Key Measurements – This is for costumes, etc.  Talent agencies will usually ask for this or measure you when you register.
* Experience – Have you done other entertainment work?  Any TV / entertainment experience will make your profile stand-out and lead to more jobs.

Some people include the following information as well.  Talent agencies may ask for this when registering.
* Availability – How free is your schedule?
* Blood Type – This is a Japanese thing.  It's said to roughly determine your personality and attitude.
* Closest Station – Where do you live?  Are you way out in the boonies or in central Tokyo?
* Weight – They can usually determine your build based on your full-length picture, so it's not essential.
* Accent – Are you a native English speaker?  If so, is your accent North American, British, etc.?  This is often asked when applying for voice work.
* Tattoos - Do you have any?

The goal here is to create a concise and professional-looking profile so that yours looks better than all those other douchebag profiles glue-sticked together with webcam snapshots and handwritten binder-paper bios.

Register with a Talent Agency
I already made a list of good ones here: Good Talent Agencies For Foreigners In Tokyo

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  • Guest - Dave E

    Hi David,

    I'm a documentary filmmaker who will be arriving in Tokyo in about a month. My friends and I are hoping to make a documentary about 'gaijin tarento' in Japan. I hope to interview established as well as aspiring celebrities and anyone who can provide a valuable insight into Japan's entertainment industry. Like you did, I'll be arriving in Japan to teach English as my main source of income. But outside of working hours I'll be exploring the entertainment industry. I'll try to follow the journey of aspiring celebrities and in doing so reveal what it means to become famous in Japan, the different types of 'fame' that foreigners achieve, and what that might show about the nature of Japanese entertainment and the representation of foreigners. I am particularly interested in your comments about the restrictive/controlling nature of agencies, as well as your firsthand experience in the entertainment business. I'd love to have a chat to you if you're up for it.

    Hope to hear back from you soon.

    Cheers,
    Dave

    from Melbourne VIC, Australia
  • Guest - Arthur Migliazza

    This website is BRILLIANT David. Thank you for setting it up!!
    (and you are one funny mofo)

  • Up to you. The advantage of going in person is that you can hand them your profile, etc. then and there.

  • Guest - preious

    so do i just go in and ask with my resume and stuff or call first?

  • You need an visa, but not necessarily an entertainment visa. People often cross-over into other industries (even though you're technically not supposed to).

    As for getting a sponsor, you'd have to contact a talent agency willing to sponsor your visa. You might start with the list of agencies I compiled in the other article. The only thing I don't like is that you're "married" to that sponsoring agency. They may limit your work possibilities.

    Another possibility of course is to meet a nice Japanese boy and marry him :-*

  • Guest - preious

    Thx for the response. I don't have the 4 year degree needed for teaching english. So a lot of people can work in the entertainment industry without having an entertainment visa? Do I just go up to people and ask for them to sponsor me?

  • Actually, I never got an entertainment visa. I originally came to Japan as an English teacher, and they sponsored my work visa. I later got a job in IT and pursued entertainment jobs in my free time. Most other Westerners I met working in entertainment had day jobs (many as English teachers). I don't think it's easy making a living on entertainment jobs alone.

  • Guest - preious

    How did you get ur entertainment visa? i.e.
    A.Did you show up with a portfolio of your work and recommendation letters and get a sponsor?
    B.Did you already know someone?
    C.Did you just ask?