Why are Japanese animators forced to live in poverty?

Originally published at: Why are Japanese animators forced to live in poverty? | Boing Boing


As opposed to those high-rolling American animators? Did I miss a meeting?


It could be worse.


Compared to $200 a month, yes.


For the same reason gamedevs at major companies at entry level make shit pay. There are tens of thousands of people with the skillset that want to do it too, and thus it’s easy to keep rates low, there will always be a new freshout willing to do the work you do for $10k less than you.


It’s always been easy for corporations to get people to do work they love for peanuts. Combine that with a toxic work ethic like Japan’s or like the tech industry’s “ironman brogrammer” mentality, throw in multiple generations of incompetent managers who failed upward in the culture, and there you have it.


Or really any kind of work at all depending on how strong your society’s worker protections are.


I’ve been able to make a decent living, but have referred to this as a “cool job tax.” However, other expectations of work culture, like long hours, are also difficult especially with a family.


The animation studios aren’t evil, they are just drawn that way.



I have to wonder if animators formed a union then perhaps the animation wouldn’t be so flippin’ crappy.


I can’t read the paywalled article, so can someone clarify for me: is it literally $200 a month, total? Because I can’t see how anyone could survive on that in a first-world country, unless they’re living with their parents or supported by.a partner, or have a second job, or if Japan has a UBI scheme I’ve not heard about. Heck, even the lower rate of the UK’s much (and justly) derided Universal Credit is more than double that.

Or do these people work multiple gigs, getting $200/month or thereabouts from each, and scraping something approaching a (barely) survivable income?

(To be clear: that would not justify things AT ALL. Pay your workers properly.)


I’ve looked into this a bit.

This article (sorry, Japanese only) explains that because people work on a per-piece basis, many who are new to the industry and inexperienced simply cannot do enough work to earn more than that. The article notes that many of these people wash out of the industry after a few months or (if they’re lucky and as with the case below) become freelancers.

Here is a blog post (sorry, Japanese only) from a person who actually did this (starting out in a subcontractor company before moving on to freelance). After a virtually unpaid training period, he/she went from making 30~50k yen per month at the start of his/her career to as much as 100~200k per month over the course of ten years working in the industry, mostly because he/she became able to complete the work faster over time (though ultimately decided to quit because taking a day off once in a while and stopping the all-nighters brought his/her pay back down to about 100k yen). He/she notes that there are people who are faster and more skilled who can make more (he/she claims to be on the lower end in terms of speed/skill even after ten years).

It’s still pretty crazy. I have lived on 200k yen per month before and was barely making ends meet in a pretty rural part of Japan…


It makes me think of Pratchett’s explanation on why Ballerinas make less money than the cleaning staff: If you advertise a dirty floor a hundred hopefuls will not show up…

Lots of people want to be animators and follow the carrot of ‘one day I will make it big’ into poverty. You see the same thing with musicians, they want to play so they will be noticed and don’t ask much till they make it… only to find out that very, very few and not necessarily the best make it big and you have been working very hard for a decade with no cent to show for it.


They call it Mouswitz for a reason :confused:

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So roughly $300-$500 a month at the start of a career to $1,000-$2,000 a month after ten years? Ow.

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When I first moved to Japan, my roommate’s friend took us on a tour of some small anime studios. The studios themselves comprised animators crammed into a so cluttered, we had to step carefully around the piles of work and the kerosene stoves (it was February). In the back was a room filled with bunk beds for the employees to sleep. Some of them took animating as a side gig while their “real” job paid the bills.

At that point I realized a career in animation was a bad idea.

Before I left Japan, I was able to take a tour of Tatsunoko Studios. The studio building was undergoing remodeling, so I didn’t get to see everything in full swing, but that studio more closely resembled its Western counterparts. I don’t know what the pay scale was, though.

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It’s regrettably common in all areas of arts and science, and exploiters have a very keen eye for it. Basically they are saying “I let you do what you love, now you want money for it? How shameless”. It’s paradoxical, the most elevated areas of human endeavour so rife with all kinds of bloodsucking bastards, sometimes with tragic consequences like two years ago:

notice how such a small building was packed with people with no means of safe egress.
And here, feast your eyes watching a mangaka and his 15-hour working day:

and that’s one of the lucky ones.
By all means a field ripe for improvement.


From what I understand, Japanese people traditionally had a very supportive relationship with their parents. Where in that even when not actually living at home, they’re very often still receiving some sort of financial support, often well into their 20s.

Oh, and if you weren’t aware it’s mama-san that’s controlling the household purse-strings. To the point where papa is also receiving an allowance rather than having direct access to the family’s savings.


One of the reasons for that is the fact that many companies in Japan still use the seniority system not just for promotions, but also for determining compensation. To wit, I get about a 600 USD annual raise every year just because part of my compensation package is tied to my age, which automatically goes up every year. The flipside of this is that people in their 20s do not get paid much at all regardless of what their job is (engineers get paid the same as HR), while people in their 50s (the age when one would be likely to have kids in their 20s) are doing quite well. Children are then expected to repay the favor when their parents are retired, so the financial support situation often reverses.


Am I right in my understanding that at least part of the reason for that is that senior staff are expected to regularly take their juniors out for after-work drinks/meals, and pick up the tab?