Japan TV is obsessed with TV reenactments. A lot of them are Japanese historical pieces but quite a few are foreign historical dramas. Since Japan is almost exclusively of Japanese stock there is always a demand for foreign extras and characters to play the these parts.
Now you’re probably thinking “I don’t know how to do a blue steel look!”. Well it doesn’t matter what you look like! The people that get the most work are over 50 because most people in the industry are 20 something and everyone over 50 in Japan is a banker or something. They want all sizes, it doesn’t matter what you look like.
It can be an interesting job but while gigs pay well, you’re not going to make lots of money off it. Two main obstacles block the money train:
A) Japanese talent agencies; Japanese agencies have a stranglehold on the entertainment industry and unlike the West where the agent works for the talent here in Japan the talent work for the agencies. They take anywhere from 50-90% of the money the studios pay, if they pay you at all. They even scam the audition process bringing as many people as possible as they are paid per person, money you will never receive.
B) Supply and demand; Economics would dictate that a lack of foreign faces would allow model/extra workers to demand a bigger share but to the Japanese all foreign faces look the same and there are always new people who are willing to work for very little just to be part of the process.
There are two type of jobs the bread and bacon extra work and the commercial headline jobs. The extra work is you just being a foreign face in the background and that pays around 15,000YEN a day (As of 2014 this has gone down to 10,000). Headline jobs are when
you are the main face and they will pay around the 150,000YEN range depending on the length of the spot, face time, etc…
It is possible to make money doing talent work but there is the start up issue. Most agencies have at least a 2 month waiting period to get paid. Some don’t pay out for as long as six months. So for the first few months its necessary to have some saving or zero costs and someone supporting you. Then there will be times were you won’t get any work and then when you do you have to wait for a couple months to get paid. Vicious cycle.
While there isn’t much money its not like you’re expected to do any work. Most jobs just have you wait the whole day for a few minutes work. I just did a role where I was a Russian soldier during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. They shipped me up to the country put me in a hotel and then the next day I spent 7:00AM to 4:00 PM waiting around in costume with about 20 other soldiers. My scene took about 5min to shoot and then we went home. It goes the other way too I’ve also been on other jobs where I get paid the same fee as everybody but I arrive at 9:00AM and then at 9:30AM I could go home. If you have a lot of free time there are a lot of travel jobs too. To get around expensive American labour laws, where they actually pay the actor a decent salary, Japanese studios ship out people to Hawaii or America to film a commercial or drama.
There are a number of number of agencies in Japan including:
While GroupEcho has some commercial work they mostly specialize in movie extra jobs. Think occupying American soldiers who brutalize a poor Japanese population.