Jul 212006

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.

  20 Responses to “Dare to Dream”

  1. Congratulations!!!!……when do you move back?

  2. Haha wow dude…I’m shocked that after my ridiculously long silence you still bother to check up on here!

    I don’t have a ticket yet…we’re waiting to hear from the Ministry of Justice about the visa situation. Their best estimate is late August to early Sept. Keep your fingers crossed for me that it’s sooner rather than later 😀

  3. Will do…..thanks for posting again you lazy bastid 🙂 Let me know when you hear more

    Has the hit count to your site dropped dramitically since you dropped the site?


  4. Well I actually have been wanting to post, but was intentionally avoiding it: I didn’t want to say anything about this whole situation until it seemed more certain. And aside from that, well, life in America is boring, haha 🙂

    Yeah my hit count dropped ridiculously almost as soon as I got back to the states. To be expected, though. We’ll see what happens once I get back abroad and start living the interesting life again!

  5. !!! congrats bro !!!
    you will be living your dream bro, live it up!

  6. Dude, that’s incredible! I am so jealous. I love programming, but game programming is so complex, I always want to start programming games, but then I always run into the problem of a lack of art (and motivation in a one man team).

    I am hoping to go back to Japan for a few weeks this January (if not then, then during spring break, it depends on how much I can save/how well Jisho sells), and will have to visit Kyoto (rail passes are a wonderful thing).

    I’ve actually got a friend that is going to Rits this fall, maybe y’all can meet up and you can show him around Kyoto a bit or something of that nature.

  7. OMG an update! Hooray! Heather, Harrison, Shivana, and I are heading back to Japan in 5 (five!) days. We’ll all be working, and most of us are heading back to Kansai. YHM woopty-woop!

  8. cool dude. haven’t talked to you since you were leaving for japan, and now you are returning! good luck on the job, i look forward to reading about your experiences.


  9. I’m so happy for you Justin! I can hardly wait to follow you through your day to day life as a workin’ man in Kyoto! Looking forward to visiting you in your new permanent home. Keep me posted on your plans for going – I want to spend some time together before you leave. I know you don’t drive – I’ll come on up.

    Love you,

  10. Good JOB!!!! You did it~~

    the work may be tougher but living there will all pay off ^__^

    have fun…and enjoy…
    hopefully we’ll meet again in December @ KYOTO!!!

  11. Conratulations, Justin. Talk about a dream come true. I’m looking forward to hearing what kinda games you’ll be working on.

  12. Damn! Haha I’d really thought that EVERYONE stopped checking up on me long ago! Thanx so much for all of the comments. I’m way excited about getting back over there…this waiting for a visa is killing me…at least if I had an airline ticket, I’d have a specific date to look forwards to, but it’s still somewhat in the unknown.

    In any case, I look forwards to seeing ALL OF YOU back in Kyoto sometime over the next year/s 🙂

    James: Yeah game programming is definately the toughest type out there (er, that I’ve experienced yet) but I find it to be really really rewarding. You get to work with some of the most talented programmers, solve some really complex problems, and see the fruits of your labor like no other type of programming allows. If you’re interested, don’t let lack of motivation hold you back…it’s worth the effort…trust me 🙂

    I’d love to hang out w/ your buddy in Kyoto at some point, time permitting. Have him drop me a line anytime.

  13. checking out the rumor — and its fantastically true! how cool. xoxo

  14. I told you after I met you that you would make Japan your home. I am very happy for you. Does Chie know you are coming back? You have a charmed life.

  15. Dood,

    Congrats, you’re livin’ your dream. You had to do it and we support you all the way. You need to know, it’s an inspiration to us all.

    Besides, you HAD to go back so I can come visit you in Japan this time.



  16. Can I come for a visit?

  17. will all those visitors going there to visit, i hope you can come home for one.

  18. Hey Justin!

    I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to live across from you in La Jolla. =0) I happened to go on FTJ and noticed that you still had your website link up. So I started reading your journal. It looks like you had an amazing time in Japan and congradulations for being able to go back AND get to do what you went to school for. I’ll have to let you know the next time I make my way out to Japan.

    Well, I hope you have a great rest of the summer in LA and have a fun trip back to Japan!

  19. Holy crap…yeah I remember u Crystal, long time no see! What have you been up to lately…still living out in La Jolla? U should definately drop me a line if you make it back out to Japan again anytime soon 🙂

    David: Thanx…unfortunately, Chie and I separated a little while back. Plus her year in Kyoto finishes and she moves back to Korea on August 7th, so even if we hadn’t split I would’ve been too late to see her…

  20. CONGRATULATIONS!!! I knew you would make it happen. Your perseverance is very admirable. I am truly very excited for you. What excitement you must be feeling right now getting to head back over there so soon. I will continue checking in on your postings from time to time because they are a lot of fun to read….Maybe I’ll see ya in Japan someday when there is an opening in your schedule cause from all of these postings it looks like you certainly won’t be short on visitors =)

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