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Originally written: February, 2005. Latest update: Thanksgiving, 2010.

Nihon de hatarakitai desu ka? (Translation: "So you want to work in Japan")

More often than you might expect, I hear from game biz hopefuls who aspire to work in Japan, usually for one of the triple-A companies there (usually Square Enix, and usually to work on the Final Fantasy series). So this month I'll finally discuss how to pursue this fantasy. (^_^)

You might expect that this is going to be an uphill battle. But Teddy Roosevelt fought one and won - so it's possible, if you do things right.

Live In Japan

You absolutely need to live in Japan, if you want to work in Japan. You can't email some Japanese game companies from the United States and get a job offer and then move. See Stupid Wannabe Tricks #6 and #20. If you don't live in Japan yet, plan to move there as soon as possible. If you are a teen, and your parents are going to send you to college, they probably can't afford to send you to college in Japan. So you'll have to wait until you're out of college to move there. If you're finished with college, and not too old for graduate school, seriously consider taking your graduate studies in Japan.

A lot of people get work as an English teacher in Japan. That's a great way to earn some money while adapting to the culture. And looking for a "real" job.

Become Fluent In Japanese

I can have a conversation in Japanese. I can write a simple sentence in hiragana and katakana - but I suck at kanji. I can't read a Japanese newspaper, game magazine, or manga. If I listen to a Japanese newscast, I have no idea exactly what they're saying - I catch a word here and there, I see the news footage, I know what they're talking about but not exactly what they're saying. I was in Japan in 1989 and saw the Berlin Wall coming down on TV - and had to wait until I got the English newspaper the next day to learn details. You have to be much better at Japanese than me.

I don't know if it's necessary to major in Japanese for your Bachelors degree, however. I only know that you need to be able to converse fluently, read anything, and listen to a newscast or talk show with complete comprehension. That doesn't mean you need a degree in Japanese.

They even sell rainbows in Japan!
But don't jaywalk to get to the store.
And besides, it's closed at the moment. 2001

Get A Four-Year Degree In Something Game-Related

To get a game job, you need a degree in, like, you know - programming or graphics, stuff like that. Unless what you want to do is design or write. If you want to design, see FAQ #3. If you want to write, see FAQ #32, and add Japanese literature and Japanese mythology into your curriculum. Since your fantasy is to do this work in Japan, and if you are going to get your major degree in the U.S., you should probably minor in Japanese, to prepare you to...

Go To Graduate School In Japan

Most American kids aren't able to move to Japan until after finishing undergrad school. If you can move sooner, more power to ya. The point is, though, if you want to work IN Japan, you gotta BE in Japan - and the earlier in life, the better. Language wiring in the brain ossifies after a certain age (I didn't start learning Japanese until I was in my thirties, which is why I suck at it so bad), so the younger you move there the better your chance of fluency.

At a Japanese university, get a graduate degree in something game-related... management, advanced programming, anime, business customer relations, marketing, etc. I don't care what degree it is - every person is unique, and you should study subjects that interest you (see FAQs 25, 34, and 44).

Immerse Yourself in Japanese Culture

You can begin here in the U.S. Go to Game Developers Conference - lots of Japanese developers attend.

If you live in a large city with a Japanese club or even just an anime fan club or something, seek out and join. You can also participate in online otaku forums. My friend's daughter is into certain manga characters and writes fan fiction. There are cosplay events at most sci-fi and comic conventions. Be active!

If you're already fluent in written Japanese, why not join Japanese-language online otaku boards or something - that'll not only immerse you in that world but also make you better at written and conversational Japanese. Of course, you'll have to time-shift. Adjust your sleep schedule so you can be online at the same time the Japanese are online.

When you live in Japan, you can attend local IGDA events, Tokyo Game Show, and any other game-related activities. Go to Akihabara and become known as an obsessive player of the latest games (you can play them on the demo machines on the street, or you could last time I was there). Get out there. Make contacts! And of course visit Japanese cultural and historical sites while you're there. Go. Do. See. Learn.

An Alternative Path

Another way into the world of Japanese game companies is through the U.S. office. Several Japanese companies have offices in America. You should still study in Japan and spend time there before applying, though. Konami has an office in Hawaii - and there's Square Enix (southern California), Namco (northern California), Sega Sammy (southern California), Sony (northern California), and Nintendo (Redmond, Washington)... You can also use gamedevmap and gameindustrymap and listings sites like Wikipedia to locate other game companies. Click the Game Biz Links link in the nav frame at left. On my Game Biz Links page, look for the Listings of Game Companies section. Do your research!

My Experience

This section is not important if your dream is to work at a game company in Japan - but you might enjoy checking out these links.

  • I first went to Japan in 1982 when I was the designer of some calculator watch games. Read article 19.
  • I went back several more times after joining Activision in 1988, then Activision sent me to work in Tokyo for several months in 1990. Having worked at Sega before joining Activision, I went partying with Sega folks a lot back then. You can see photos of the 2001 Tokyo Game Show and of my ex-Sega drinkin' buddies at the bottom of article 6.
  • There are some sightseeing photos from another of my Japan trips here.
  • Even better sightseeing photos - Nikko!
  • The shrine of the 47 Ronin!
  • I'm a huge fan of Japan's train and subway systems.
  • I'm an aficionado of Japanese flower cards (hanafuda).
  • I write a strategy column about Japanese mah-jongg (every 3rd one is about the Japanese variant)...

    I've played mah-jongg in Japan several times...

  • My 1st Mah-Jongg Adventure in Japan
  • More MJ Adventures in Japan
  • The 2002 WCMJ
  • Riichi-ing out in Shibuya
  • Vega Mah-Jongg Parlor - English
  • Vega Mah-Jongg Parlor - Japanese

    And I play mah-jongg with Japanese friends here in Los Angeles, too...

  • Little Tokyo no tomodachi
  • Janyou no tomodachi

    In this article, I haven't discussed whether or not Japan will continue to be (or even still is) the #1 hub of the video game world. That's a subject for debate, and goes beyond the purpose of this article. There are apparently lots of folks who want to work where their favorite games are made.

    If you've read my other articles, you know that it's already challenging enough just to get into the game industry in the first place -- even if you don't layer on the added challenge of breaking in within a different culture. But it can be done, if you play your cards right (or your tiles).

    I have worked at a game company in Japan - but my employer was an American company with an office there. And because I'm not fluent, my stay there was short (7½ months). So the story of how I got my "in" isn't necessarily one you can expect to replicate, nor is my path recommended. I've known other American guys who've worked in Japan - each one has a different story to tell of how he got his "in." If you want to work for a Japanese game company, in Japan, I've offered some suggestions for ways you can go. You might well find a different way to finally realize your fantasy. There isn't just one sure path to that goal - even if you do take the trail I've shown you, you'll still have to blaze your own way. Ganbatte kudasai!

    In July 2007, "J.C. Barnett" (not his real name, I gather) wrote an in-depth feature for Gamasutra on how to get your "in" in Japan.

    Are you a student who wants to study in Japan? Check out (thanks to Ashley Ainsworth for the link).

    From the bulletin board...

    Recommended reading: in December 2007, Andrea Rubenstein wrote a great article on about her successful effort to enroll in a Japanese game school, at

    JapanManship is also a useful read for those who want to know about "Life, work and video games in Japan."

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