How Much Do Japanese Voice Actors Make?

Also named seiyuu, Japanese voice actors have left a significant mark in the Japanese television (TV) industry, thanks to the multifaceted media it covers. From anime and video games to commercials, and dubbing for non-Japanese shows, the list does not seem to have an end in sight!

Due to the surge in demand for seiyuu, some of them have reportedly been enjoying sky-high salaries. We have Megumi Ogata, known as the woman of a thousand voices, who is currently the highest-paid seiyuu in Japan, earning an estimated US $630,000 annually.

Credits: Megumi Ogata

There is also Masako Nozawa who is one of the top anime and video game voice actors in Japan. At 84 years old, she can bring home an estimated US$ 360,000 per year.

Credits: Toei Animation

Are such high salaries the norm, though? We attempt to break down the factors governing how high a seiyuu’s pay is, as well as the typicality seen in how much they truly make.

Salary determined by a ranking system

 

Credits: voiceactornote

How much a Japanese voice actor brings home is solely based on where he or she stands in Japan’s seiyuu ranking system, which is superintended by the Japan Actors Union (Nippairen). The number of hours, the number of lines of dialogue, or whether you voice the main character, all do not weigh the revenue. Furthermore, payments are only credited after an episode is recorded, rather than on a cycle basis such as by week or by year.

There are 15 ranks in total, with the rank number representing the revenue earned for every episode recorded. For example, seiyuu earn a minimum wage of ¥15,000 (around $150) so they start their voice acting careers in Rank 15, which is also termed the Junior Rank.

After 3 years, rookies join the “A” to “F” ranking system, with “A” and “F” being the highest and the lowest respectively. Specifically, rookies are first promoted to the F Rank.

The more popularity and experience one has, the higher the rank which means higher pay and more work opportunities. For instance, “A” ranked seiyuu can earn around ¥45,000 (around $450) for a 30-minute episode. There are even “No Rank” voice actors who can set their price as they are above the “A” rank.

Occasionally, the higher ranks allow seiyuu to be directly selected by the director for a role so no auditions are needed. However, higher ranks often mean higher fees which smaller projects and productions try to avoid.

Radio work pays the lowest

Credits: Mangadex

This is the field where junior seiyuus begin their journeys in. Although the remuneration is the least attractive, radio work is seen as a good training ground for newcomers as they can slowly learn what the industry is roughly like, and develop skills that would help them to catapult to more advanced projects or fields later on.

Anime pays lower than pachinko or video games

Even though around 40 % to 60 % of the world watches anime, voicing video game characters is much more time-consuming as the dialogue must be read one line at a time. For instance, on an episode of the BluRaji radio show for the 2-D fighting game BlazBlue, seiyuu Kana Ueda lamented that he was under a great deal of stress while finishing up the script for just one tutorial in the BlazBlue Continuum Shift.

Credits: BazBlue Wiki

On the other hand, up until 2020, seiyuu earn the most by lending their voice to pachinko machines which are arcade games that operate similarly to slot machines in casinos. One popular seiyuu who has numerous pachinko projects up his sleeve, such as voice acting for Samurai Warriors 2 and Romancing SaGa, is Takaya Kuroda who rakes in around $5 million annually.

Credits: Medium

Unstable salaries that tend to be inadequate for living expenses

Credits: Fiction Horizon

Alas, the ranks are not fixed salaries as they are prone to changes. Moreover, talent agencies typically take a 20 % cut from a seiyuu’s paycheck, which is further reduced by a withholding tax of around 20 %. This makes budgeting a challenge for seiyuu who might be struggling to make ends meet from voicing one main character in even a bestselling film or program.

What’s worse is that a typical run for an anime series is one “cour” which ranges from 10 to 14 episodes per week. That means in total, the earnings from one anime series for, say, a rookie is at most ¥‎15,000 x 14 (episodes recorded) = ¥210,000 (around $210). After deductions from agency commissions and taxes, the total amount is much lower at around ¥126,000 (around $126). Given that securing different series to voice act for is already competitive, a seiyuu’s income is unstable and often inadequate to survive in expensive cities such as Tokyo.

Several successful seiyuu have faced multiple setbacks when starting in the industry, such as one who did not have enough to buy a proper meal so he resorted to salt and mayonnaise for dinner. Indeed, those who join the industry eventually have their hopes of extravagant living and adoration from fandoms chip away.

As such, most seiyuu have branched out to other side jobs or have gone freelance entirely to ease their financial burdens.

Going Freelance for Steadier Streams of Income

Speaking of freelance, freelance seiyuu get to decide which roles to audition for, how much fees to charge, and many other factors that are often decided for them by agencies. One of the best features of freelance voice acting is that there are only tax deductions to the salary. Everything else goes to the seiyuu’s bank accounts.

An epitome of a male seiyuu that went freelance and still has solid work to fall back on is anime voice actor Daisuke Ono. After 17 years of working under Mausu Promotion, Daisuke decided to pursue freelance voice acting to tackle future roles with greater flexibility.

Credits: Linda Thai

Other male voice actors such as Kenichi Suzumura, Toshiyuki Morikawa, and Jun Fukuyama have established their talent agencies, enlisting friends and acquaintances.

Not only do these agencies seldom ask for high commissions, but they also establish a safe, welcoming environment for juniors to be nurtured and for veterans to continue growing effectively.

Nonetheless, the seiyuu needs to be recognizable enough to attract the right people to the agency for it to flourish. In addition, he or she needs to continue auditioning for roles to remain relevant in the industry for the workers to have sustained interest in the agency.

Examples of how to stay relevant are by taking on multiple variety show jobs or by acting in TV dramas. As an example, seiyuu Jun Fukuyama, who left Axl One in 2018 to form his own ‘Black Ship’ Agency, continues to act and voice act in live-action films to maintain his popularity as a voice actor, such as being the voice of Ichimatsu in Mr. Osomatsu which was released in 2022.

Credits: Seiyuu @ Facebook

In a nutshell, only a smattering of Japanese voice actors makes it to the glittering high pays and box-office hits to rise quickly as international stars. The majority of them are trying their best to live off of their dream jobs as seiyuu while battling tribulations such as rigid agencies and unsteady wages. To show our support for these inspirational figures to continue entertaining us, simply watching the shows or games in which they voice act, or purchasing their merchandise can go a long way in helping them to keep their necks above the tumultuous, volatile waters of the voice acting industry.

 

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