Written by: Neil Eichenberger
Published: October 9th, 2019
Interested to work for a game company in Japan, but are not sure how to approach it and what you need? Learn about the best companies to work for, small enterprise vs big enterprise, and most importantly, how to get a job in the gaming business in Japan.
First things first, if you want to work in Japan, you will be need to speak Japanese on at least a conversational level. Many companies will require you to have at least the JLPT N2 (2nd highest level), but even if you have the N1, the decisive point will be your speaking ability which is not tested in the JLPT. So, make sure to brush up on your communication skills. It’s fine if you don’t know 尊敬語 (sonkeigo, honorific language) which is the highest form of politeness in Japanese. As long as you know 丁寧語 (teineigo, polite language / e.g desu, masu) you’re good to go. Of course, it’s a huge advantage if you know the highest form, but it is not expected.
Another certification that will give you a competitive edge is the BJT (Business Japanese Test). Many people don’t even know it exists--but as the name suggests, it’s a test for business Japanese, and if you want to work in the Japanese gaming industry, having certification will help you stand out from other contestants.
Creating games is art. Thus, requires you to have a solid portfolio. I would even go as far as to say that your educational background does not matter if you have an outstanding, unmatched portfolio. Depending on the type of job you want to pursue, your portfolio will be including different things, but the purpose will always stay the same: to show off your creative skills – be it character design, environmental design or programming.
Most companies want your portfolio in PDF format. In case you created a website for your portfolio, try to summarize everything in a PDF and make sure it is clean and visually appealing. Don’t forget to mention that you also have a website and include the link. Do not hesitate to put your assignments from school in it too--everything is important.
Other than that, what you want to mention is the experience with the software you used to create your work (e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator, Blender etc.).
In Japan many companies prefer a hand-written (Japanese-styled) CV. So be sure to write cleanly and in a straight line. Oh, and do not forget to practice your Kanji writing-skills.
Always put your 印鑑 (inkan, stamp/seal) first! Trust me, you will thank me for that later. Why? Picture this, you hand-write your entire CV and then put the seal on upside down. Everything will have been for nothing and you’ll have to start over again. It’s happened to me at least twice, and rewriting everything is… well, you can imagine.
Try to write in pencil first and go over with pen later. Using correction tape or erasable pens is not accepted, so be extra cautious to not make any spelling mistakes.
If you’re lucky, you may find a company that accepts digitally written CV’s and won’t have to write anything by hand.
If you want your CV to stand out when applying, there are some test certificates you definitely do not want to miss out on. I will go through some of the most important ones over here and list their prices and dates. Depending on the job you won’t need to bother with some, but they are all, in a way, connected to the gaming industry, so having all of them is definitely a big plus.
情報処理技術者試験 (Information Technology Engineers Examination)
English website available
This exam is probably the most important one. My professors always pushed us to get this before job-hunting season starts so we could use it for our resume. This is a test that can be used by all IT-related people, from engineers who build and operate information systems to end users who use information systems.
This chart should be useful when looking to sign up to take it. The fee is 5,700 yen.
J検（情報検定、Information Certification Examination）
Website only in Japanese
This examination is similar to the aforementioned one, except for the fact that I personally think it is a little easier. There are 初級 (beginner) and 上級 (advanced) level tests.
1. 基本スキル (basic knowledge) 2. プログラミングスキル （programming knowledge） 3. システムデザインスキル （system design knowledge）
The fee for the beginner level is 4,000 yen and 4,500 yen for the advanced one.
Website partially available in English, sign-up only in Japanese
The CG Arts examination is for when you aim to be a designer of some sort. Even if you have a really good portfolio, having this certificate is still recommended. They have the following tests you can take:
Multimedia: Certification test to evaluate IT knowledge used in business. CG Creator: For designers and creators who express themselves using Computer Graphics. Web Designer: For those involved in web production from concept to management. CG Engineer: For engineers and programmers involved in development in the Computer Graphics field. Image processing Engineer: For engineers and programmers involved in development in the image processing field.
Also here you will have two difficulty levels, basic (5,500yen) and expert (6,600yen).
Okay, so you think you got all it takes to start creating games? Great. Now all that is left is to decide what company you want to work for.
Maybe you have always wanted to work on the Legend of Zelda or Persona series? Maybe you just want to gain some experience to start working independently as an Indie developer? Whatever it is, just know that there are hundreds of gaming companies in Japan alone, and as expected, the more well-known a company is, the harder it is to get in.
Some people from my school have joined Square Enix or Nintendo, and I can say from seeing it first-hand that their portfolios were beyond amazing. Remember that just because you landed a position at Nintendo, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be working on games like Zelda or Mario. It’s likely you’ll start working on smaller projects and build up experience first. Still, where you end up mostly depends on your portfolio. If your level design is exceptional, then you might just end up designing dungeons for the next Zelda game.
I would say it is a bit easier to get into smaller companies as their requirements are not as high. Also you might just feel more comfortable over there, because smaller companies tend to have more of a family feel to them. However, big name companies add more prestige to your resumes and give you more opportunities to choose from in the future.
What I believe matters most though, is not the size of the company, but how well your personality fits in with the company’s culture, and how compatible you are with your future manager.
With many companies in Japan you get the chance to check out the company with a short-term internship (usually between 1 and 7 days). So to wrap up everything I created a small table to compare internships some companies are/were offering for 2019 and beyond. Let’s take a look!
As you can see, bigger companies like Nintendo or Square Enix offer a lot more (and longer) internships than smaller companies. Atlus for example does not offer any internships at all. Most of them require you to send in at least two works you have done either at school or all by yourself. Best is to just have all your works together in a nice portfolio. Also note that all of the internships are in Japanese.
Here are the links to the companies compared in the table above: Nintendo https://www.nintendo.co.jp/jobs/internship/index.html Square Enix https://www.jp.square-enix.com/recruit/intern/#gaiyou SEGA https://www.sega.co.jp/info/internship/ Platinum Games https://www.platinumgames.co.jp/official-blog/article/15528 HAL Laboratory https://job.mynavi.jp/21/pc/search/corp80244/is.html Level 5 Games https://job.rikunabi.com/2021/company/r166010008/internship/
If you’re applying to Japanese companies you should be aware that they can be very strict and seem very serious, but do not let that intimidate you. Be yourself and show your personality, just keep it professional. You’re applying to a game company, so it is obvious that you love games. But it can also be a huge plus if you have other interesting hobbies linked to working on games that you can mention in the interview.
Hope to see you in the credits of the next big title!