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.
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!”
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.