The cast – 5. the senior

I found from personal experience that the distinction between junior and senior level employees is a lot less formalised than in the west. Some companies have the distinction, others don’t. When they do they may have their own terminology, but I found “chief” to be most common. So as a senior artist you’d be a “chief designer”, a senior programmer a “chief programmer” with no special nomenclature for the juniors. Although there is a term for recently hired graduates, fresh from college: “shinnyuushain”, literally “new employee”, which these grads are referred to until they pass their first probationary contract.

But what does it mean to be a senior? Well, pretty much the same as it does back home. You’ll be in a (slightly) higher wage bracket, it means you can be left alone and trusted to get things done without constant supervision, it also means there is a higher chance you’ll be working on the juicier parts of the project, with the more boring tasks delegated to the juniors. You might also be involved in deciding the technical specs for your team’s work as you plan, together with the leads, the best approaches within the technical constraints, or how to best turn the creative director’s guidelines into practical use.

If you have a few years’ experience and a few titles under your belt before you move to Japan, with the higher wage demands you’ll have it will not be unlikely you’ll be hired as a “chief” class employee, mostly so the employer can justify your higher earnings; higher than those of your Japanese colleagues, but still massively lower than your wages back home. If your company has a formalised bonus calculation scheme you may find your percentages go up a little higher too, but again nothing to make you rich.

With the higher wages and increased responsibilities you may also be expected to put in the extra hours when things go awry or take over the burden of some juniors should their work fall behind.
As mentioned previously though, you’ll be earlier in the queue when it comes to deciding who does what and the chances of working on the more interesting parts of the game could fall in your lap, with the juniors having to create the more boring and tedious assets or fixing little problems.
You will also be expected to throw the weight of your knowledge and experience into the ring. Currently I am lucky to work with two other senior artists who both know their shit very well and between us we have set out the technical details and art guidelines the rest of the team are following, with me adding some technical tips and trickery into the mix, complemented beautifully by their input and approaches. Though our remit stops short of laying down the laws for the art team, we form the bridge between the leads and the juniors; the leads demand and approve, the seniors formalise and make it workable, the rest of the team follows.

If you’re hired as a junior artist (or a “regular” artist) it is not impossible to be made a senior during your employment. Don’t expect a massive pay rise to come with that though, as those are still fairly rare in the Japanese industry. It is often best to apply as a senior and get the higher wage that way than to be promoted within a company.

Also there is the possibility of being hired as a senior as a mere formality to justify your wage, but your work will be fairly average and junior-level. If you prove your worth though, that can easily change. Because the titles of junior and senior aren’t as formalised as they are back home you could easily become a senior with the Japanese speaking ability of a junior. To do your work as a senior properly however some more advances skills are necessary as you’ll be ploughing your way through documents and specs and you’ll need to communicate with and help the juniors on the team.


  1. Hmm, how formalized is the whole Senpai/Kohai relationship in general?

    I met an amazing character designer in the Japanese animation industry who rejects Senpai/Kohai so animators under her would feel more confortable about approaching her for help.

    I also dealt with the system when I spent part of my 5th grade year at a school near Nagoya.

    Thanks for fielding my questions as always! Next time I get over to Japan, I owe you booze.

  2. Promises, promises. :)

    There is the Senpai/Kohai distinction but apart from not taking any shit from your inferiors and calling them "name-kun" whilst your superios are "name-san" it doesn't seem to have that much effect.
    Or maybe it does, I'm not sure. As a foreigner you are excused from the system and you will always be referred to as "name-san" or "Mr. Firstname". If any Japanese calls you "name-kun" you obviously haven't been paying attention to my Gamesmanship posts...

    But all the "san"s and "kun"s do fly around, yeah.

  3. One funny thing; older people can tell I'm a halfling from miles away but there are younger people that mistook me for native(half JP, half US, with the US half being of UK origin.) O_O
    Ah well, it's probably because my Japanese has no traces of an American accent but more than just a trace of Nagoya accent.

    If it's booze ya want, Kuronek-Yamato has been advertising some special wine shipping service.

    I could send over a fine bottle of something nummy and California if you don't wanna wait til I get to Japan! My heading there will be kind of soon for rather sad circumstances.