What was I thinking?

Apparently there is some curiosity amongst the readers of this blog as to my own motives and circumstances moving to Japan, and if you let your eye wander over the many posts that, despite all the will in the world, smell suspiciously like cynical, frothing rants you may well wonder what a fellow like me, seemingly in possession of his faculties and not to mention dashingly handsome, ever saw in the prospect.
Was I not aware that the Japanese work very hard and long, and that the game industry doesn’t smell of roses but cheap, stale ramen? Did I not know the salaries were drastically lower here and career advancement more of an uphill struggle than Sisyphus could ever imagine? Am I not a two-faced conniving lollard for preaching the woes of work in Japan while at the same time providing hopefully useful information on the process? Well, no, not really.

My motives were, by and large, not to work in the games industry in Japan. While working in England I saw Japan as that otaku-heaven I think most people, rightly or wrongly, assume it is. I imported games, watched some anime and read some mangas. When an opportunity came for me to visit the country on a short holiday I jumped at it with much enthusiasm, and I was not disappointed. The moment you step out of Shibuya station for the first time and see that busy crossing, those massive television screens and the mass of people bustling about it leaves an impression; it usually is the first location I take friends to when they visit, just to show them that initial “wow” moment.

It was a short holiday but I packed a lot into it, and my suitcase, filled as it was with games and plastic crap purchased on the many shopping excursions. The reverse culture-shock leaving Japan from clean, bright and friendly Narita airport and arriving at dark, dank and downright hostile Heathrow was immense. As I waited for my suitcase to make its way on the conveyor belt and reluctantly listening to “Rivers of Babylon” over tinny speakers dotted around the arrivals lounge I made up my mind, there and then, that Tokyo would be a pretty nifty place to live and that maybe I should start thinking about making the move while I was still young enough.

I hadn’t studied a word of Japanese, nor done any kind of research into the legal minutiae of the task, but being rather stubborn and impulsive my mind was made up and within a year plans had been set into action. With the purest, naïve optimism of a man who knows not what he is up against I sent my resume and portfolio to a good number of companies and using some contacts had set up some meetings and interviews scheduled around a second holiday and coinciding with the Tokyo Game Show. My applications were all but ignored, though I received two rejection letters, in Japanese, which didn’t deter me in the slightest.

The second holiday found me as much in love with the city as the previous outing and though I met a few people it quickly became obvious that maybe I should have started learning Japanese a while back. “Nobody on the work-floor speaks English,” I was informed. “Yes, fine, I’ll just learn Japanese,” was my naïve reply.
Eventually I got a job in my field of expertise but not at a games company. This provided me with the Visa I needed and a starting salary. I had already heard third hand stories of the horrors of English teaching, so that was off the agendum from pretty early on. The job was terrible and lasted only two months before I quit, but that is a story for another rainy day.

So I was now settled in Japan and had a Visa. So why on earth demean myself by getting back into the games business, you may well ask. Anyone who has ever sought a way out of the business can testify that it isn’t all that easy. I had some promising interviews at several media companies but that dreaded comment always reared its ugly head: “So, you worked in games. That must have been…um, fun?” The image of game developers eating pizza, having late night parties and impromptu Nerf wars and basically waste our days away playing games is alive and well, even though it’s an absolute fallacy. “Hm, working for a variety of interesting clients on a variety of media for very high wages for as much as 8 hours a day must be a very boring prospect for you!”
I was tainted. The moment a business sees “game developer” on your resume you might as well pack it in and give up. Basically, I was stuck. I yam what I yam.

So that, in a nutshell, is a little bit about my background and motives. I moved to Japan mostly because I wanted to live in Tokyo. I got a job in games because that is what I do. In he end the reasoning has held up remarkably well. Sure, the trains are crowded, there is a language barrier, the summers are stiflingly humid but on the whole life in Tokyo is a very great thing.
I have no plans to ever go back, and the idea of spending the rest of my life in Japan doesn’t repulse me. As for work, sure, I often feel like the Devil on the inside looking out and lustily eying those pastures greener, but to be fair I probably would have been in that state too had I stayed in England. The game business has many egregious problems and many people of my age and level of experience seem to leave the industry. Will I be one of them? It’s too early to tell but I may eventually be. For now I am stuck with my lot but at least I get to live in a place I enjoy.


  1. Yknow, the first few paragraphs are EXACTLY how I feel. Ive been to tokyo (at a great expense) twice this year and I loved it. Coming back home to chavs, terror threats, poor service, litter, miserable faces etc just made me want to get the hell out of the UK.

    Ive been eyeing up a few games/ CG companies in Japan, and - to tell you the truth - im a bit put off by the ridiculously long working hours.
    I dont really wanna turn into one of those salarymen who work 23 hours a day and sleep for 1.

    Someday.... someday....

    Where abouts in Tokyo do you live, and how much is the rent (in quid)?

  2. oh my, arriving back at heathrow terminal 3 after being in Japan is sooooooo depressing!

    A Japanese colleague said that she actually cried and thought 'what mistake have I made?!' after arriving at the UK for the first time at terminal 3 and sampling the delights of the food, cleanliness, and service of the local KFC next to the bus shelter there.

    sod the 2012 olympics, spend the money giving this country a decent welcoming door mat!!

  3. Everybody seems to be afraid of the long working hours.
    I lived in Tokyo for 1 month, and it was the best month of my life. but it was holidays. With your work, do you still find some time to enjoy Tokyo ?

  4. People *should* be afraid of the working hours; they can really be insane sometimes. And indeed, I don't get to enjoy the city as much as I want as weekdays are lost and weekends spent recuperating and feeling sorry for myself.

    I live on the border of Tokyo in suburbia. It is ideal as it is fairly quiet and has a direct line to the center of town. I wouldn't want to live in the center; I did that in London and though it is convenient it is a real pain.

    As for Heathorw, I think it is an excellent welcome mat to England is it is a good warning of what the rest of the country is like. Forget the Olympics, the *whole* country needs an overhaul. Spoken like a true ex-pat, I'm sure you'll agree. :)

  5. Thanks for sharing. Do you mind telling us how old you were when you first moved?

  6. I had the same feeling of sadness when I left Germany for Blighty. We left Germany by taking the local bus to the train station, from there to the ferry from there to Dover Priory Station.

    Which was closed. It was raining. It was 11pm. So there we were with our cases in one of the most unfriendly countries on earth.

    People couldn't even bring themselves to be polite let alone helpful.

  7. It's so weird, I had the exact same feeling returning from Japan to San Francisco Airport. Homesickness for a country I barely knew. A second trip a few years later didn't diminish it.

    I also lived in England for about 7 months, though it was in Gloucestershire, not what most folk would consider real-life. It was gorgeous and the people wonderful. It probably helped that I arrived at Bristol airport--Heathrow is possibly my least favorite place on Earth.

    Yet I've been slowly self-studying Japanese. Slowly but resolutely. I intend to spend a year there (self-employed), which makes your blog an interesting read. Shame you ended it :-(