A year ago this month I published an article on How to Get an Animation Job in Japan and since then have received comments, replies and emails in the hundreds with many more questions. Having recently returned to London after nearly a year and a half of working and networking in Japan, I thought now would be a good time to answer all the most common questions about the industry.
What are the salaries like and what is a decent wage?
Salaries in Japan are usually lower than the west and living in Tokyo is not cheap. A basic monthly wage for a junior/ mid 3D artist could be around 250,000jpy = 1370gbp = 2150usd and you could survive in Tokyo. But if you are talented and negotiate hard you can bring this up much higher.
What are the working hours like?
Working hours can be very long but it is not as if this is unique to Japan in this industry. I have had to work until midnight and I have had to work weekends. Overtime pay is non existent and you may even have to fight to get compensated for working Saturday and Sunday. Though as a foreigner, you will have things easier than Japanese people who consistently work until last train at 1am.
Do you need a degree to get a job in Japan?
A degree will definitely be a big help but is not a requirement for a working holiday visa (WHV) and if your showreel is good enough then that’s all that really matters. But if you are from the US which has no WHV program, applying for a job without a degree is going to be much more difficult.
Can I work in animation on a student visa?
You can potentially work part time on a student visa and it will be a foot in the door. But in animation companies this will almost certainly be unpaid internships, leaving you with no time or money.
Do I need to speak Japanese to find work?
You wont need it for the companies I recommended in my post, but speaking Japanese will open many more doors. If you want to pick up the basics fast, I seriously recommend a 3 pronged approach: “Michelle Thomas Method” audio tapes for getting yourself speaking. “Anki” mobile app flash cards to drill vocabulary and the book “A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Sentence Patterns”. Check out my lesson for a head start learning Japanese for 3D artists.
Can I get a job in 2D animation or the manga industry?
My experience in 2D is limited, however from what I found I would say this would be incredibly difficult due to the sheer size and quality of the competition. I saw jobs advertised for 6 day work weeks paying far less than what I thought was the legal minimum wage. I would recommend you do a lot more research before pursing this avenue.
Is it possible to find work outside of Tokyo?
There are a small number of companies outside of Tokyo, but most of them will need you to have at least some Japanese language ability. There is an interesting company in Fukuoka in the south of Japan called Mont Blanc Pictures. Other examples are Nintendo who are based in Kyoto and Digital Media Lab have an office in Osaka.
(Just for fun!) What was the weirdest thing about working in Japan?
For me, the biggest shock was people sleeping at their desks! I’ve put it down the the last train home mentality, people come into work so tired that I would regularly see them snoozing for 2 or 3 hours, only to wake up and have to stay late to get their work done again!