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Japanese Animators Unionize


Beginning this month, a group consisting of hundreds of Japanese animation artists have launched the Japan Animation Creators Association (JAniCA), an attempt at unionizing Japanese animation artists, especially those who freelance, and creating awareness of the generally poor working conditions of Japanese animators. More details about the formation of the group can be found at Anime News Network. To better understand the necessity of this group, this article describes some of the working conditions that Japanese animators have to endure:

One 32-year-old female animator is working in her second year at an animation company to pursue her childhood dream, but she works 12-hour days for half the salary of her former job. Another animator used to be a regular company employee with an apartment to himself, but had to move back with his parents since he could not afford rent on an animator’s budget. Without health insurance, he would not check into a hospital even when an illness worsened. One 59-year-old had to cut back due to deteriorating physical health, and now subsists on 120,000 yen (US$1,000) a month. Some of the 59-year-old animator’s former colleagues now receive public assistance or are now homeless.

(via TAG Blog)

  • Harry Parker

    Join the club. American animators over 50 aren’t working at all, unless they run a studio.

  • Tommy E. Brierly

    Seeing how much animation is produced in that country, makes me wonder why they didn’t unionize sooner. Were there ever past attempts to make an animator union in Japan before?

  • I am always astonished that animators are so poorly payed over there. Is there really such a large pool of suckers waiting for a chance that they can afford to pay them with peanuts and treat them like dirt?

    At any rate, good for these guys. Maybe this will be a turning point for them.

  • Sebby

    My brother-in-law is an editor over there and from what he’s told me the entire film and television production field is poorly paid and work long hours. He works 12-hour days six days a week and pulls in an annual income of $35k. There is still a caste system over there and artists and craftsmen are near the bottom. Japan has the largest percentage of working-poor of any first world country, which is one reason why my wife never wants to move back.

  • Sheila Yap

    It doesn’t really help that most studios are located in Tokyo. One of my friends work as a BG painter and 3/4 of his wages were eaten up by rent and the poor guy can’t even afford an apartment with a bathroom. He has to go to the communal bathhouse which cost $4/bath.

    makes me wonder why they didn’t unionize sooner

    Perhaps it stemmed from their national philosophy, that people should dedicate themselves to the craft and be happy/proud of it.

  • Myron David

    Japan’s non-union status was cemented by General Douglas MacArthur, who went in after the war and got rid of potential rabble rousers who might have evolved into potential union organizers. And the “large pool of suckers” happened because in Japan lifelong employment was traditionally a promise kept by companies to their workers. That promise eroded in the last fifteen years or so, in every Japanese industry. Welcome to global capitalism, where no one’s job is assured.

  • BigHorse

    At the very least Japanese companies will start outsourcing ALL of it’s animation production to China other asian nations. I don’t expect the union will do the anime industry and it’s Japanese workers any good at all and will become irrelevant very quickly, despite its noble intentions.

  • Hulk

    They should try something like that here in the US. :)

  • Mitch Kennedy

    That is fantastic news!

    Maybe this will inspire some unionization with dental over here! ;)

  • There are a ton of contributing factors to the poor working conditions of Japanese animators and to a lesser extent the anime industry’s hollowing-out in recent years… A single cel might earn an animator a meager JPY 200, which, as is the case with some projects, might be complicated and take the entire working day to complete.

    But a union is a decent step in the right direction. But if you ask me, raising the pay scale may be the first thing to look at; but giving animators and voice over artists (who also have it rough) a royalty on merchandise would be an even bigger step. Anime makes billions of USD annually, on a global scale, after all.

  • Correction: I shouldn’t have stated “annually,” but the anime industry is valued in the billions, altogether, nonetheless.

  • Q

    That sounds like what I’m doing right now…

  • purin

    So that’s why it can be cheaper to produce an animated film instead of a live action one there…

    Well, it’s not the only reason, I’m sure. Such a huge product deserves more respect for dedicated workers. I wish them luck.

  • Janica is not beginning this month. It exists since almost one year.

  • Paul N

    “Japan’s non-union status was cemented by General Douglas MacArthur, who went in after the war and got rid of potential rabble rousers who might have evolved into potential union organizers.”

    You mean the war that ended over 60 years ago? MacArthur’s been dead over 40 years himself. And in all the intervening years, no one has tried to organize labor, all because of MacArthur?

    I love how it’s always America’s fault.

  • robiscus

    Japan’s non-union status was cemented by General Douglas MacArthur, who went in after the war and got rid of potential rabble rousers who might have evolved into potential union organizers.”

    Its a rare day when there is a post here on Cartoon Brew that is as stupid as that. Ignorant, delusional, and idiotic with a healthy does of self loathing.

  • Altred Ego

    It’s a rare day when a comment could be summarily denounced without providing a SHRED of evidence to the contrary.

    If it is so “stupid, ignorant, delusional and idiotic” why no proof? Where’s your supporting evidence to support your clearly superior* opinion.

  • ridgecity

    You know, it wouldn’t surprise to find out only the U.S. animators get paid well. America has an entertainment industry and has unions and communities. Most countries have state-run tv and independent small media, and animation is even less important. The sad thing is you expect japanese animators to do well, especially since anime gets a ton of merchandise and dvd releases, even the shittiest anime gets runs on many countries.

  • robiscus

    Altred Ego, the world outside your door is filled with nearly infinite points of common knowledge that roundly refute the premise that over 60 years ago Douglas MacArthur wiped clean any Japanese individual with the inclination to start a union.

    This is the kind of “master plan” invention cooked up by the conspiracy theory set that is always accompanied by a tinfoil hat. History is well documented. You should familiarize yourself with it and then, when you demonstrate you have just a rudimentary knowledge of it, your allegations will warrant a presentation of evidence. As it stands now, you’re defense of the moronic statements above makes the joke all the more funny… and sad.

  • Wow. What’s shocking to me isn’t so much the story, but the fact that people find it so unusual. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for organizing for better wages (or footage rates), it’s just that I used to live on comparably less. I used to steal coffee and milk from work because I could barely afford to buy grocerys and pay rent.

    I used to work on a T.V show in New Zealand where most people needed second jobs to just pay the rent. Lots of the animators and clean up artists had $35K student loans to pay back too.

  • “Japan’s non-union status was cemented by General Douglas MacArthur…”

    Much as it’s fun to blame a lot of modern Japanese society’s ills on MacArthur (Who I agree was an odd person to put in the odd position of drafting a conquered nation’s laws and who made a lot of mistakes) the current lack of union membership in Japan nowadays has only existed since the 1960s, when Japan moved steadily away from heavy industries. Before that when there was a huge manufacturing economy, 40% of the population was in a labor union. Almost all manufacturing there is done with union labor today.

  • Pedro Nakama

    “… the entire film and television production field is poorly paid and work long hours. ”
    Sounds like working for a Japanese company here called Sony.

  • Argh– I hate unions.

    Sure, they were necessary for progressive movements to increase the quality of life at the turn of last century but have become bloated in useless in post-industrial societies. Modern unions often make demands that exceed the trends in economics (witness the decline in the American automobile, steel, and electronics industries– the unions demanded higher wages ignoring the global level of competitiveness).

    In short, un-skilled labor needs unions, highly skilled labor does not. Think of it this way, a high-skilled worker needs specific training, often college, and this presupposes an individual versus individual competition basis. Meanwhile, low-skills do not require much training, it often amounts to a series of repetitive tasks, and said workers are interchangeable, they aren’t considered as individuals, but as a set of hands, a piece of machinery. Thus the low-skilled worker is more susceptible to unfair treatment, and the union could be a good moderating force between employer and employee.

    Unions have gained recent prominence due to the rise in globalization, yet this is just reactionary fear to having to compete with the entire world to earn a decent wage.

    I welcome the competition, and I would work that 12 hour day mentioned in the article above. And as unfortunate as the elder animators becoming homeless, I still don’t think it’s up to a company to provide for them if it was never part of their initial agreement.

    Well, I guess better start my vague economic lecture tours– look for me at your local community college soon! The first topic: “MacArthur clogged the drains and blew up the windmill at Manor Farm, I mean Animal Farm, in cooperation with that traitorous Snowball”

  • Chris L

    Nobody should have to work a 12 hour day just to survive. Ever. Full stop.

    As the post and comments have shown, highly-skilled labour is abused and exploited just as consistently as unskilled labour. Your competition argument could apply just as well to unskilled labour. For instance, anyone willing to work 13 hours instead of 12 hours… etc.

  • pinky

    I just graduated a year ago and expected long hours to pay my dues. But I’m finding that the 12+ work days, and weekands have yet to stop. On top of that, I work a contract (which everyone else does) and there’s no guareentee that they’ll even keep me on past the duration of the contract. Chris L is right, no one should ever work these hours!
    I think union in canada would be good in our industry because then we might be able to have a little more say and security in our work lives.

  • gingersoll

    This union has the backing of several very powerful directors and producers–that is to say “artists” and “money men”. A good sign for everyone involved.
    While realistically animators *must* expect to work long hours for low pay, the system in Japan is way out of balance.
    This is an industry worth billions of dollars. Paying the workers minimum wage isn’t too much to ask. How can they even hope to attract and train new creative talent when they can’t even offer a living for a long day’s work?

  • H Park

    Ummm…JANICA is not a union. Actually I visited its website and read its FAQ. Somehow Anime News Network mislabeled them as a union because it is trying to do things similar to union activities. JANICA stated that they’re just non-profit organization trying to gradually improve animation professionals’ living standard. They don’t collect union dues. They have no reason to coerce production companies to meet union demands.