Advice for mid-career overseas applicant - HELP!


I’m a game artist that has been working in New York City since 2010. As much as I love New York, work here is extremely volatile, and I’ve been contemplating moving back to Japan for the past year because of the lack of security. Time and time again I’ve been a victim of mass layoffs, and I’m only 30. It’s impossible in this industry to save up money, build a family, etc when you’re being let go multiple times without even 24 hours notice. When I’ve spoken to some of my friends on the West Coast, especially fellow fem-devs, they tell me it can be just as volatile. The only difference is that there is much more opportunity.

I hear that layoffs are not as common in Japan. PLEASE tell me if I’m wrong. When I did work in Japan as a teacher, the one thing I did love was the community feel you would get working with your team. Everyone cared and respected one another, from the principal to the secretary who made the tea. A lot of employers see us as replaceable here, as another eager cog is waiting to take your spot. I think if I want to follow my dreams and have any sort of decent life, Japan will be the place I need to move to.

I’ve really only recently started my search for work in Japan. I’ve just gotten word back from Platinum Games (I know, I’m aiming high lol), but I didn’t get the position. I sent them an e-mail asking if they’d have any pointers for me, but I’m sure they wont have time to respond. Hopefully you guys have a few pointers?

Here is my portfolio:
I’ve always felt a little iffy about my illustrated section because of the adult content, but honestly this has been the only constant source of income for me since 2008, and I’ve made some damn good illustrated comics and pinups for these communities. I suppose my hope would be that they could see the art for what it is. A manga producer friend of mine in Tokyo told me this is how a lot of artists get started.

I know living outside of Japan is a probably a huge negative, but when I apply I try and point out that I’ve lived there before - this wont be a country I get homesick from and back out. I’m not fluent in Japanese, but I can certainly hold my own. I often chit-chatted with the teachers at my school in Japanese, and watched a whole lot of Japanese TV, I also studied in High School and Uni. I can understand more than I can speak, but if I moved back to Japan I’d most certainly take up classes again. It’s so hard to practice on the other side of the world - I’ve gotten rusty!

Any suggestions on where I can apply or how I can boost my chances of being noticed? I don’t care where in Japan I’m working. Thank you for your help.

My impression is that working in the gaming industry anywhere sucks. There’s too many people wanting to work in it, so companies can treat you as disposable. While a Japanese company may be less likely to lay off someone outright, the gaming industry (and software development industry more generally) treats developers as replaceable resources.

Rather than moving to Japan, have you considered getting out of the gaming industry? I think there’s probably other opportunities for you in the US where you can apply your skillset to another area where the culture isn’t so toxic. While ultimately employment in the US is at will, so you always run the risk of being laid off, you’d likely be compensated better so it wouldn’t be so much of an issue.

I can’t say whether having adult content on your portfolio will hinder you or not. I think it probably comes down to what kind of company and position you are applying for.

To get a job from abroad, you’d need to show that you can bring exceptional value to the company, more so than anyone in Japan. To do this, I’d focus in on a specific company, and invest in doing more than just sending an application.

For instance, Pixiv is one company that comes to mind where you could bring them potentially a lot of value, as not only are they a Japanese company with a international user base, but there product seems to overlap with your interests. Maybe you already know about them but if not, you could try building up a following there. Once you’ve done that, I’d try to approach specific people working at the company (for instance, I could imagine you helping with UX there, so I’d find someone who is already working in UX). You’re far more likely to land an interview at a company if you have an internal champion, rather than just sending a resume.

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I’m on the West Coast and can confirm that the gaming industry while yes exists it is certainly not worker-friendly.

I have an artist friend who was actually part of a Japanese branch of a gaming company in SF (from what I gathered they make visual novels catered towards western females). He would give me stories about how bureaucratic the company was - how it was very hard for him to give artistic suggestions, and how he and his fellow artists were overloaded with work. He was relatively stable, just miserable (long commute, long hours). He also told me engineering was laid off and offshored to Vietnam. Most interesting to me (I might be remembering wrong) was they were using Unity to build their visual novels. Sounds overkill to me.

I second Paul’s suggestion that you should leave gaming if you want to prioritize a more stable personal economy. I’m actually currently employed in UI and spend my spare time working on something akin to a game, and I can say it’s much better than actually working in the gaming industry.

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Thanks for the advice!
I certainly do not want to give up on my dream, I’m way too ambitious a person and invested way too much of my time into game development. Aside from that I have an East Asian Studies degree (full scholarship…how could I say no?), I don’t see myself finding work in any other industry I’d like. I honestly can live solely on creating adult work at home, I just despise working from home. I was always happiest working on a game with my team.

I just need some health insurance and to not be laid off - something I feel I can attain in Japan. I’ve never been fired ever, I’ve been promoted at almost every studio I worked for because I’m the employee who goes above and beyond. US companies are harsh, never paid overtime, no health insurance, I was often staying as late as 3-4am helping others reach their deadlines for GDC or some other event. I’ve been sexually harassed at game studios, I’ve been forced to take on extra responsibilities without pay, told to do ‘female tasks’ because “It’s nicer when a girl does it” like answering phones or buying birthday cakes. Could you imagine a full-time salaried developer being asked to do this crap?? I know there is a lot of pressure in Japanese studios, but I’m already dealing with my own BS here.

When I applied to Platinum I did a lot of research on the company, their products, staff, etc. I bought and played Bayonetta 1+2 and even filled out a traditional Japanese resume to submit alongside with my English C.V… I set up a website with photos and a story about my love and interest for Japan, games, etc, chronicling my work and educational experiences. I don’t just apply to places, there is a lot of consideration before I press submit on anything. I do hear you on looking for an ‘internal champion’ at a Japanese studio, as that’s helped me land jobs here plenty of times in NY, but unfortunately I don’t know anyone in games in Japan. Is Linkedin (or an equivalent?) used in Japan at all? Maybe I can connect with some hiring managers over there :stuck_out_tongue:

I am aware of Pixiv, and I’ve had an account for ages, but I dare not link that. I’ve drawn over a thousand pinups over my career as an adult artist, and there is commission work that I think would be far too inappropriate to share with an employer. I have very little limitations on what I will and will not draw, and all my customers I meet online (people from Deviantart, 4chan, etc). I’m sure you can imagine the horror lol :laughing: However, I’m not looking for a design position. I’ve been offered long-term positions here in NY, some that pay way better than anything I’ve ever received in game development, but are solely UI/UX for web, mobile, etc. I hate design. People think I’m a great designer, so I get offered a lot of these jobs. But now most of my portfolio deals with design work. I don’t want to keep on focusing on work I have no interest in doing, I’d rather draw smut! At least it’s more exciting than boxes and letter kerning. No offense to UI artists out there, it’s just not my thing. :confounded:


Yes. I have a few friends on the west coast too, and they’ve dealt with layoffs as well. Luckily, you guys have the pick of the litter with studios :stuck_out_tongue: I don’t think the working condition of a Japanese owned SF studio is reflective of Japan though. You give big businesses the opportunity to take advantage of employees, and they will use every legal resource they have. I believe Japan is or at least one of the most equal countries in the world, unlike here in the US where CEO’s often times making millions more than their employees. CEO’s in Japan often make not much more than their own employees.

I know what your friend is going through. That’s been me most of my professional career. Stressful work environments, stiff art directors who went to fancy private schools and don’t take criticism at all, long commutes (1 hour+ each way), and lots of overtime. I’ve done a lot of research online, and it seems it depends the company, but many said that they would normally leave work by 6pm, no overtime unless they were crunching for something and usually there is overtime pay. I’ve heard the prime minister has been pushing companies to not have so much overwork - which is awesome! Here in NYC, I live further out to live in a safer and cheaper neighborhood, trains are ALWAYS late, or stopped on the track for some issue, sometimes adding an extra 30 minutes or more to my commute at least once a week. Late trains just don’t happen in Japan. I think when I lived there it happened twice on my work commute, ever. And I departed from Mizonokuchi, one of Japan’s busiest stations. Besides, if I could afford to live closer, I would, because literally all neighborhoods in Japan are ‘safe’. That’s not the case in New York or California. I can’t say what the work environment is like in Japanese studios, but if they act anything like in the USA, that’s nothing I can’t handle.

While the health care situation in Japan is better than the US, that’s basically true for every other developed country in the world.

Besides that, a lot of the points you raise about not liking about US companies apply to Japan as well.

While it is true that “employees” of Japanese companies are less likely to be laid off, that’s starting to change culturally here as well. Furthermore, companies will ofter hire people as “contractors” to get around the extra burdens Japanese law places on firing employees.

Unpaid overtime is the standard here too. Companies that do pay overtime often have a lower base salary, so you’re needing to work overtime to make a decent salary. While it doesn’t happen at every company, pulling all nighters isn’t so rare either.

Japanese society isn’t so progressive when it comes to gender either. A lot of Japanese wouldn’t consider the ‘female tasks’ you mention to be sexual harassment - women included. This is starting to change, but if you’re working at more traditional company, I wouldn’t be surprised if similar incidents occur.

There’s lots of good things about Japan, but working conditions aren’t one of them. This isn’t to say there aren’t good places to work in Japan, but I don’t think they’re any more common than in the US.

As for connecting with people here, rather than going after hiring managers, I’d look for someone in a similar position to one you’d like at a given company. Normally these people won’t be approached by job seekers, so the novelty of it might help you get through to them. LinkedIn isn’t used so much in Japan. I can’t say what the best way to find people is, and you may need to search multiple networks (GitHub, Facebook, Twitter, etc).

Another approach is to look for events around the topic you’re interested in. Because they often have speaker profiles, you may be able to identify someone who is in a similar position to what you’d like to do.

Thanks, that’s really helpful advice :slight_smile:
I have seen quite a few Japanese studios that offer paid overtime, or at least a decent amount of time off after a project is completed. I never received such bonuses or time off, health insurance, or any real important benefit or acknowledgement of hard work from an employer. The most you will probably get is free snacks and a low wage at indie studios here lol :expressionless:

I understand that the work environment might not be too different, but at least I’ll have health care. I have muscle spasm issues in my lower back which luckily have not affected my work too much, but without care will get worse. I can barely afford to do physical therapy here, it’s $150 every visit. I should be doing 2 visits a week…I spread it out to twice a month. I have other health issues too, but that is the one I’m most worried about because of the long term implications. It’s something that can be prevented with proper treatment now.

I disagree that Japanese society isn’t as progressive when it comes to gender. When I lived in Japan I noticed carts for women only to combat sexual harassment, or special areas for mothers to breast feed in peace and privacy, or how about maternity leave? The US does very little to address women’s needs. While Japan does have some old laws (like tax laws that benefit stay at home moms and working dads over two working parent households), that’s offset by Japan being one of the most equal opportunity countries in the world. It’s almost impossible to afford one parent to work and one to stay home in America - most families I know have both parents working, sometimes each two jobs. I recently read that 70+% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck - and it’s not because we’re throwing away our money on iphones and avocado toast. A few Japanese people see community problems and they work to figure it out together. A few Americans see a community problem and they look to ignore it, or profit from it. Let’s not forget, Flint, Michigan still has lead in their public water since 2014. Children are being born with defects today, learning disabilities, etc. This would never happen in Japan.

Yes, I understand Japan has certain gender roles, and the people who serve tea and answer phones usually are female. I don’t think there is anything wrong with me answering a phone, but the reasoning should not be because I’m a woman, as that would not be expected of my male co-workers. I do not consider that sexual harassment however, I just find it incredibly inconsiderate, because I want to be involved in my team’s project, and if I’m busy answering phones, there will be no room for me to learn, grow and progress in the studio. The sexual harassment that I experienced dealt with inappropriate touches on my rear, waist, shoulder massages, etc. Not to mention the inappropriate, randomly brought up sexual conversation. I’m a married woman, and my boss knew that. Only one of the studios I’ve ever worked for has had an HR person. America doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously, at least not until recently. I actually learned the word ‘sexual harassment’ when I studied abroad at 15 and learned the Japanese abbreviation “sekuhara.”

I honestly felt very safe in Japan. I got hit on a lot…by foreigners, never by Japanese men. Even when working with several Japanese men alone, I was never EVER treated with disrespect. I know stalking is an issue in Japan, but I know how to box/kickbox, and some self-defense moves. I feel safe alone at night in Japan. Now imagine when I’m leaving downtown NYC at 3am because of a work crunch on my 1 hour commute and see people shooting up drugs, hear fights, gunshots, etc. NYC is one of the safest big cities in the USA, but I still watch my back everyday, going to work and coming back home. I’ve never once felt that way in Japan.

I still love America despite all the bad things about it. I think at this point in my life I just want to work in peace. :joy: I feel like Japan could give me that drama-free life I wish for.

I worked for a big Japanese game company for a brief spell (6 months). While its true they dont lay off people, the expectations are high. If you have the skill and the experience, they will keep you. If a project you are working on is not going good, they will shuffle the team, and make you work with new people. On the other hand, as I said expectations are high. You will be expected to be working 8 am ~ 11 pm. Depending on the company, you don’t have to be working all this time, but yeah it is not uncommon seeing people sleeping in the office. If you make a habit of leaving at 7 pm, you may not find yourself in a team in the next shuffle.

Also, not related to gaming industry in Japan, but the whole industry in general I think have lost the point. No one is making titles for people to have fun anymore. The main expectation from a game is to create some kind of addiction and make people buy in app purchases and subscriptions. Actually having fun or entertaining people is not a primary goal. This made me extremely frustrated so I left the sector. If you feel attached to game making, I think you will have better time and conscience working on indie projects, instead of selling your soul to a big publisher. Just saying.