Somewhere around six months ago, I was sitting in my apartment talking on the phone with my mom. From just outside my window I could hear Buddhist monks chanting at Ninnaji, an enormous wooden temple that’s stood in the same spot since its founding in the year 888. It was a beautiful sunny day in Kyoto, and the last of the bright red fall colors were slowly making their way onto the earth below. There was nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.
“Mom, I don’t know what to do. My dream has always been to work as a video game developer, and I’ve geared my whole education towards that goal. But now here I am, loving life in Kyoto so much that I just don’t want to go back to the US. It would be an incredible waste to throw away all of that education and stay in Japan as an English teacher…but…I just don’t want to go back…”
“Well, if your dream is to be a video game developer in Kyoto, envision it happening. Believe it’ll happen. If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it come true.”
Yeah, right. If only it were that simple. Kyoto’s a small city, not a huge technological megopolis like Tokyo, and there just aren’t that many opportunities for a foreigner like me. And even if there were game studios here, who would want to hire a young foreigner who can’t even speak keigo (business-level Japanese) when there are so many conformist Japanese salarymen available to choose from? Unfortunately, it looked like my career goals and dreams of living in Kyoto were going to be mutually exclusive.
So, on February 15th I returned home to Los Angeles, re-adjusted to the perils of Life in the West, and began the arduous task of cramming for job interviews. I’ve never had a problem with some intense studying, but after sifting through some old coding projects I really started to realize how much I’d forgotten during my year and a half long “vacation” in Asia. I whipped out all of my notes from college, bought a few 3D math and advanced programming books, and started cranking away.
Mixed in with the studying, my dad and I spent countless hours refining my resume, researching the gaming industry, and compiling lists of candidate companies – both in the US and Japan. E3 was right around the corner, and we wanted to make sure I was well prepared for any promising opportunities that might pop up.
Then one day as I was scouring the web for information, something struck me. And nearly knocked me off of my seat.
I had Googled the phrase “京都 ゲーム プログラマー 募集” – “Kyoto game programmer recruit.” And what popped up? A small independent development studio on Karasuma Oike, just a stone’s throw from my favorite hang out area in Downtown. Some further investigation revealed that it had a mix of Japanese and foreign employees, projects going for both Sony and Nintendo, and the current budget for additional hiring. The president? A Westerner. This had to be too good to be true.
So I carefully drafted an e-mail introducing myself, attached my resume, and sent it directly to the president. He agreed to meet me in person when he came to LA for E3.
At the convention, we spend a fair amount of time together chatting and playing the new Nintendo Wii. Just before parting ways he mentions: “You may have contacted me at a really good time: once we ship our current title in a couple of months we’ll be starting our next project for Nintendo and may have a few openings. I’ll send you a programming test when I get back to Japan.”
I kick my studying into overdrive. No more clubs with Nick, no more trips to San Diego, and no days at the beach. Not until I know everything that could possibly appear on a game development interview.
About a week later the test comes. I take it. 25 pages. I send it back. Another week passes. An e-mail arrives. “Our two lead programmers took a look at your test and liked your answers. We’d like to set up an online interview. When are you available?”
I crank up the studying even more, spending several late evenings drilling as many tech questions as possible with my cousin, a lead developer over at Naughty Dog. I take the interview. It’s much easier than I expect, and several hours later I receive an e-mail from their hiring manager.
“I wonder if you could let me know what your current commitments are and when you’d be looking to return to Kyoto to begin working with us. We need some lead time to prep the visa paperwork.”
That’s right, I got a job developing video games in Kyoto. I’m going back.
It may surprise you that even though I’d just received an offer for my dream job, the decision to accept wasn’t an easy one. There’s no doubt that something powerful is drawing me back to Kyoto, but leaving behind my family, friends, and everything I own is no easy proposition. Not to mention the fact that despite a higher cost of living, programming salaries in Japan are significantly lower than those in Los Angeles.
But of course, I accepted. Not many people have the opportunity to do what I’m about to do, and with very few commitments tying me down I don’t think I’ll ever be in a better position to make a move like this.
Sitting in my apartment six months ago, the idea of working as a game developer in Kyoto seemed like an impossibility…but I’ll soon be on a plane heading back across the Pacific. A little bit of hard work and endless love and support from my family turned my dream into a reality.
The blog will live on.