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 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: https://jsite.mhlw.go.jp/tokyo-roudoukyoku/
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. I guess they don't like paying people for work.
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- 'Inagawa Motoko'
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