“Japan recently acknowledged the work that I’ve done integrating foreign actors with the entertainment industry by writing a book on acting in Japan and bringing people across the board together.

The biggest problem here isn’t someone’s ability to act, it’s their ability to behave. The small cultural things, like what questions to ask or not ask, or who to talk to or not talk to.

“So I focused more on behavioral matters in the book, rather than technical acting skills. You have to navigate cultural barriers, and it’s more than just, say in Hollywood, where you don’t bother the main actors. Japan is all status dictated on set. You don’t talk to someone with a much higher status unless they talk to you. I actually got in trouble once for this. Also, you get jobs not by being the perfect person for the role image-wise, but being someone they feel like they can work with. Someone who won’t be a pain in the butt and will follow directions as they’re given. That’s why even if the lines in English are horrible, or Google translate, just do them as they’re written. Period.

“Then there’s the annual forget-the-year party, or ‘bonenkai’, that I started organizing seven years ago. Here in Japan, it’s customary to get together with everyone you had a significant relationship with and have one last drink for the year, to continue to cement those relationships. But in the old days, every single agency had their own ‘bonenkai’, or didn’t have any at all. It was very fragmented. Since foreign talents tend to be involved in as many as 8-10 agencies, they’d feel obligated to go to several. What if two of these parties happened to be on the same night? I wanted to change that and help people build relationships better. So we invited actors and managers from different agencies, production staff, TV and radio folks, top singers, politicians, newscasters and even sumo wrestlers. Now we’re bring these people together all in one place and it has increased the quality of production. There’s more transparency and visibility so they can choose the person they can work with the best.”

Jason Straatmann is the author of Acting In Japan: A Foreigner’s Guide https://www.amazon.com/Acting-Japan…/dp/1519647557 and was recently awarded with the Higashi-Kuninomiya International Culture Award.

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Finding diversity and inclusion. Breaking down barriers one post at a time. Stories and snapshots of foreigners making their way in Japan.

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