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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 August 14 - 20  > Animation industry workers’ decades-long efforts for better working environment
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2019 August 14 - 20 [LABOR]

Animation industry workers’ decades-long efforts for better working environment

August 19, 2019
Akahata ‘current’ column

“Natsuzora” is an ongoing television series which portrays workers in Japan’s animation industry in the 1960s. The main character is a young, talented female animator, Sakaba Natsu. In the latest episode, Natsu decided to have a baby while pursuing her career who was encouraged by her husband who said, “You will blaze a trail for others to follow.”

Before that, one of Natsu’s female co-workers left the animation studio after getting pregnant and being pressured by the company management to become a contract worker. Natsu wanted to continue working as before, but she was not sure she could do it. Her husband told her that if she becomes successful at both child-rearing and a career, it will make the work environment much more inviting to female animators.

Natsu received support from her co-workers. After face-to-face negotiations with the company president, Natsu was allowed to maintain her position and in addition, she was given an opportunity to work as an animation drawing director. This episode is based on an actual event that happened in the then Toei Doga (currently Toei Animation) in the 1960s.

At that time, newly-hired female workers in Toei Doga were required to sign a contract to quit when they get married and pregnant. This requirement was later abolished as a result of union efforts. Okuyama Reiko, who is said to be the real-life model of Natsu, is the first female animator to keep working after childbirth.

Okuyama and other Toei Doga union members, including the renowned animation directors Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao, fought against the company’s unfair labor practices such as blatant gender discrimination, the imposition of a piecework system, and large-scale layoffs of organized workers. The July 14 issue of Akahata Sunday edition reported in detail the history of the union struggle. After four-decades-long efforts by the union, the company in 2016 agreed to apply the Labor Standards Law to all of its contract workers and introduced a system to convert fixed-term workers to indefinite-term ones.

The Akahata article pointed out that due to the struggles initiated by Okuyama and her peers, the quest for higher-quality animated works and better working conditions continues. Workers in the industry will keep calling for improvements in the working environment in order to follow the path opened up by Okuyama and others.
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