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I just graduated and got hired in April in Germany as software engineer.

However, I have wanted since my university days to study/work in Japan, in a video games firm, and this personal ambition is becoming obsessional.

I do not possess experience in the games industry, neither have I lived in Japan.

I am willing to work on games ( personal projects ). It is already hard enough to get a job in this industry in Germany with my background.

Would a better knowledge in Japanese change anything to my marketability?


Clarifications based on comments:

What exactly are you looking for, and what concerns do you have, and what have you done so far about it?

I am looking for work, and I know I have technical & language-related short-comings. I only have passed JLPT n5 last year. That's worrying me.

What about American or English companies?

Thank you but I'm not interested in working in Europe/NA. I feel attracted to the local culture. Some people like to move around, to live some kind of thrill.

Until now, I have tried to get introduced in the Japanese market through the help of professors or various programs (Vulcanus for example) but to no avail.

I am trying to assess my chances to find a job by myself.

I would like to thank DarkCygnus for this great answer and ShinEmperor for this technical answer. I will read those books !

Here's some TODOs: [...]

By the way, I was assigned on a Kotlin project instead of c++. Is it an obstacle to the learning of programming design principles ?

I would not expect a good salary, or good working conditions in the video game industry in Japan. I would only recommend this path for you if you really want to make Japanese games, and are willing to put up with a low quality of life (in terms of income and work/life balance) in order to do so.

This is an important remark. I will think of it.

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    Do you speak Japanese at all? If not, what languages do you speak? – David K Jul 24 at 15:36
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    Your English is really good. What about American or English companies? What attracts you to only Japan other than your previous studies? Do you like genres of Japanese video games more than what other country's provide? – KingDuken Jul 24 at 15:36
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    forget marketability knowing japanese is a must in japan due to cultural differences you will have a really hard time if you don't learn at least spoken japanese – user86742 Jul 24 at 16:27
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    As a note, I would not expect a good salary, or good working conditions in the video game industry in Japan. I would only recommend this path for you if you really want to make Japanese games, and are willing to put up with a low quality of life (in terms of income and work/life balance) in order to do so. – さりげない告白 Jul 25 at 5:02
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    Technical note: You seem to use two different StackExchange accounts, both named "Jack Dero". That's why you cannot edit or comment your own question. You should ask to have them joined; see stackoverflow.com/help/merging-accounts . – sleske Jul 25 at 7:35
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In general, in Japan there are companies that operate in Japanese, and companies that operate in English.

Unforturnately for your situation, the vast majorities of companies in Japan operate in Japanese, so if you could not communicate in Japanese, it would vastly limit your choices. That said, even companies that operate in Japanese may make an exception for someone with exceptional techical skills if they have someone who can communicate in English within their organization. (This is an exception, not common practice)

For those that operate in English, Japanese is often not a requirement. However, even then, being able to speak/read/write basic Japanese would be recommended as companies would give preference to those with at least a general knowledge of Japanese.

So if you really have your heart set on working in the video game industry in Japan, I would say you have two options.

  1. Learn Japanese in order to increase the number of positions you would qualify for.

  2. Become very skilled in game development, and make a name for yourself in the field in order to increase your likelyhood of being hired at the limited number of positions available to people who do not know Japanese.


While not directly related to the question, I would like to point out that the percentage of people who can speak English proficiently in Japan is relatively small, so if you plan on living in Japan for any extended period of time, I think you would get more out if it if you knew the langauge.


UPDATE: Based on your update, I see that you already have JLPT5. While that wouldn't hold much meaning in a business world, it does show that you are making an active attempt to learn the language in your home country, which would earn respect from many interviewers. Learn how to do a basic self-introduction, and be sure to get your hiragana/katakana down and at least a few kanji. Be polite and respectful in your language, and you may be able to find a smaller company who wants developers to pick you up and sponsor a visa for you.

Saying this, I would consider working at a company other than a game company as your first company in Japan. Getting your foot in the door is the hardest part, and limiting yourself to game companies that would hire a non-Japanese speaker as your first visa-sponsor would prove difficult, I think. If you are willing to spend a year or so at a Japanese startup, or small development company, I think that it would be easier to transfer to a game company showing that you have experience working in a Japanese company, and you would already have a visa, so it would be easier and faster for them to be able to hire you. Of course they would still have to renew your visa when the time comes, but there is a higher chance of approval for a renewal than the first visa application, assuming there were no issues with the law or tax evasion.

  • Not sure if I am allowed to say it or not, so I will add it in the comments, so it can easily be deleted if not allowed. I would recommend wantedly.com for a place to start looking for employment for your first job. It is really easy to get started (no need for an official rirekisho) and it is simple to start speaking with companies. The companies are usually smaller and more flexible than larger companies. – さりげない告白 Jul 25 at 7:59
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    TLDR: Getting your foot in the door, in country is solid advice! ---------- Just to add to your comment about "getting in the door," this is exactly what I did in China (yes, I realize not the same country nor culture) but the lesson applies. I spoke a little Chinese when I landed, and taught at an English school for a year before moving onto a more technical position as a Performance & Market Analyst in that year I studied Chinese religiously, and while it wasn't good enough to write reports in, it was good enough to give presentations, communicate with colleagues and live life. – Crosbonaught Jul 25 at 15:20
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Would a better knowledge in Japanese change anything to my marketability ?

If you are aiming to get a job at Japan, knowing Japanese will most definitely be of aid for you and your chances of landing the job.

Nowadays, most people can speak and understand English, and most likely in the target company you seek they do. But, speaking Japanese (the official language of the country) will surely give you a great advantage over candidates that don't.

Besides that, knowing Japanese will also let you interact and live your every day life more smoothly, and be able to adapt faster to the relocation, as opposed to not knowing Japanese.

Complementary to that, given that you have experience in software development, I would try to hone my skills, knowledge, and tools that are usually involved in game development (say, some Graphics Framework, state-of-the-art techniques, etc.). This, along knowing Japanese, will increase your chances of landing the job significantly.

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    A couple of additions to a great answer: many people in major population centers in Japan speak English, but it's far from a nationwide thing. Tokyo is no problem, elsewhere might be hard in a job. And work visas are much easier to get after passing the JLPT, and (I've read) there is currently an unusual appetite for immigrant workers, making immigrating easier. Finally, working in a Japanese branch office at an entry-level job may not accommodate much non-Japanese. What would an entry-level worker that doesn't know Japanese be offering to the company, to get posted at a Japanese office? – Upper_Case Jul 24 at 16:09
  • To my understanding Japan is quite an isolated, foreigners-underfriendly society so it is perhaps of merit to go beyond the typical suggestions (that knowing the language increase your chances of being hired), as it's much more of a necessity in this case that can impede his chances than just a good-to-have skill. – Leon Jul 25 at 7:08
  • Also, if you work at a Japanese company, you will likely have to read various internal docs, memos and so on. Even if everyone speaks English, it's not a given that all internal documents will be in English - that alone could make insufficient language knowledge a dealbreaker. – sleske Jul 25 at 7:40
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    @sleske There are companies that their official operation language is English, so all of their documents would be in English as well. – さりげない告白 Jul 25 at 7:45
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Yes, especially in a non-startup or not very international Japanese company.

Apart from being able to survive well in a day-to-day world where English is not always an alternative, you have to expect that in the office a significant part of work is not programming only, and unless there are English procedures existing due to previous international employees, you will have to deal with Japanese at every step, hopefully with assistance from your colleagues.

You are a EU citizen and German in particular so I want to show you 2 very interesting alternatives:
1. DAAD program which gives you a 10 month long language course and 6 months of internship which you have to get, could be at your preferred game company, the scholarship is around 2 thousand euros per month and you get 5 hours of classes every day which at the end will boost your chances better than anything - https://www.daad.de/ausland/studieren/stipendium/de/70-stipendien-finden-und-bewerben/?status=&target=31&subjectGrps=F&intention=&daad=&q=&page=6&detail=50015441
2. Vulcanus programme, 4 months of the same language course and 8 months of internship at a selected company, which could be from a gaming industry (like Square Enix), nice scholarship, the list is updated each year - https://www.eu-japan.eu/events/vulcanus-japan

The problem in your case is that you have already graduated and probably you would need to enroll in some program to be considered but if your goal is to work in Japan, this is a special backdoor, where you're paid to study the language and you can enter the market more easily. I think it's worth considering, since Japan still has the mentality of teaching you everything about your job position so your technical skills may be less important than you think if you're willing to adapt, learn the language and show your motivation to be there.

  • Yes, I have graduated already, I am not willing to come back to university. Unfortunately, I have tried the vucanus program twice and failed twice. I am not eligible to the DAAD program. One thing I understood is : Learning the language helps getting in contact with the Japanese companies – Jack Dero Jul 25 at 20:19
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I do not possess experience in the games industry, neither have I lived in Japan.

Ok, so here we go.

Here's some TODOs:

  • Learn the spoken language or find out if the industry has a language it commonly uses (sometimes business have the language of their customers, not the country.)
  • Learn the programming language of the industry (C++ I think for game dev in general, but don't hold me to that)
  • Learn good code standards (Structuring good code)
  • Build some games and release them. You need to show that you have the ability to deliver and be a self motivator.
  • Learn design principles in gaming
  • Learn programming design principles
  • MATH!! (A lot of it, there's a ton of physics is gaming)

Good Luck! You can do if just sit down and focus.

Additional Organizational TODOs:

  • Put a whiteboard on your wall
  • Plan out your short, medium and long term goals
  • Short term should be a month (a concept for example)
  • Medium should be 3 months (learn a deeper princple(s), like SOLID Princples for example)
  • Long should be 12 months (Learn functional or object oriented programming, build a small game, that sort of thing)
  • Journal your progress, explore how you feel and where you're going
  • Expose yourself to new ideas constantly. Gaming is a creative endeavor. So consume games, go to plays, read fiction... just get exposed to the creative ideas and the creative process.
  • Read three book (Power of Habit, Productivity Project and A Mind for Number) One teaches you how to be consistent, the other teaches you how to be efficient and finall the last teaches you how to learn.
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No matter what you level of Japanese is, better knowledge of Japanese would without a doubt improve your marketability.

Learning the local language will help you in any business in any country in any time period and always will. The question isn't "Will it help you?" but "How much will it help you?" and "What level of Japanese is absolutely necessary?". Its utility can range anywhere from extremely useful to absolutely necessary.

Germany and Japan are opposite ends of the spectrum (among developed countries) when it comes to English proficiency. In Germany, practically every educated person speaks fluent English. German technical business is conducted in English. This is not the case in Japan—not even in Tokyo. Most Japanese people are not comfortable speaking English and are not fluent in it. Japanese firms conduct internal affairs in Japanese.

It is possible to work in Japan at a Japanese company without knowing Japanese for one of two reasons. Either (1) you lead a foreign business with a lot of money and will pay a premium for them to do the translating or (2) you have valuable skills and the company you are working for is willing to pay pay the translational overhead of employing you. Neither of these is likely to be the case for a videogame company because lots of software engineers want to work on videogames. Videogame companies can therefore take their pick of software engineers in a way most other tech industries cannot.

To summarize:

  1. Japanese companies perform internal business in Japanese.
  2. Videogame companies do not face a severe labor shortage.
  3. Therefore Japanese videogame companies are more likely to hire an engineer who speaks Japanese over one who does not.

You should still learn Japanese even if you never attain a high proficiency. The reason is interpersonal. Imagine a Japanese person coming to Berlin and expecting you to speak him/her in Japanese. That'd be unreasonable, right? Well, that's basically what you're doing if you go to Japan and expect the local people to work with you in English. (It's not quite as bad since English is the world's international language but I hope I'm getting the right idea across here.) Japan has a high standard for politeness. Attempting to speak Japanese is the polite thing to do. You should try as hard as you can to speak Japanese. Japanese people know Japanese is hard. They'll give you big points for trying because so few foreigners even try.

For more information, I recommend Inside the Kaisha: Demystifying Japanese Business Behavior by Noboru Yoshimura and Philip Anderson.

Disclaimer: I have neither lived nor worked in Japan. However, my family has Japanese roots, I've traveled to Japan, I read + speak Chinese, I've lived in China and I can read more Japanese than most expats. I have studied Japanese culture and history.

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