This Tuesday I officially announced my intention to quit my job as a video game programmer in Kyoto. My last day will be November 12th, and I have to be out of my apartment by November 30th.
Much has been written about the perils of working as a Westerner in a Japanese company. Based on this information, and my previous experiences here as a student, I decided quite early that no matter how much I love living here I do not want to work in a purely Japanese company. This is why I got so excited when offered a job in a foreign-run game development studio here in Kyoto.
But as it turned out, regardless of this company’s foreign population the management style is still overwhelmingly Japanese – from the surprisingly restrictive rules right down to the unpaid overtime. Being a particularly independent and self-motivated person, I’ve found this environment extraordinarily challenging on an almost daily basis. Even during periods with no impending deadline my job has become almost as much about stress management as about actual programming. Nevertheless I decided to see my first year’s contract through to completion, and that’s just what I did. I even extended for two months to help them wrap up the project I’m involved in. And now it’s finally time to move on.
I can comfortably say that I’ve never gone through such a schizophrenic time in my life – feeling so frustrated on some days, yet so blissful on others. I’ve tried to convey this feeling gradually through my posts without coming off as too negative, but now that the job is done I just wanted to post this simple, final wrap-up.
Over the past year I’ve been contacted quite a few times by aspiring programmers, designers, and artists asking how they might break in to the Japanese video game industry. And to each of them I offered the same advice: Don’t. Certainly there are those who come over here and flourish, but for every happy foreigner in a Japanese company there seem to be a dozen who are miserable. I’ve had discussions with people from Tokyo to Hiroshima, and witnessed a hemorrhaging of Western employees the likes of which you’ve never seen. When it comes to truly Japanese companies, my friendly advice is “Just say no.”
On the other hand, if your goal is simply to live in Japan I can’t encourage you enough. The past year has offered me so many incredible, wild, moving, adventurous, risque, unique, and memorable experiences that I can’t even begin to tell you. What I discuss on this public blog barely scratches the surface. But if you do choose to live in Japan, do so by working at a 外資系. The Japanese employment system is changing slowly, but they’re not there quite yet – so for the time being, a 外資系 will almost certainly treat you better, respect your personal opinions and schedules, and often pay two to three times more. After my two years living in Japan, this is the best advice I can offer.
So, now it’s time to move on. My current plan is this:
Dean and I have hashed out a short-term contract programming deal which, for the time being, will allow me to work from my laptop and on my own schedule. Initially I’ll return to the US to spend Christmas with my family, register a small company (for tax purposes), and log as many hours for Dean as possible. Then in early February I’ll head down to Brazil for a month with David, the friend who accompanied me to China during the “Mega Trip” in 2005. After a week or two in Rio (during Carnival), a long trek up the coast through Salvador, and maybe a brief excursion into the Amazon, I’ll head back to the US and put in some more hardcore work before hopefully returning to Kyoto by next summer. There are some other possibilities on the backburner but until Brazil is locked up I’m focusing all of my “trip-planning hours” on that.
So there you have it. For those friends and acquaintances with whom I’ve been in personal contact, I finally did it. I’ve finally completed my year of working as a video game developer in Japan, and am moving on to begin the next phase of my life.
See you soon.