From me to you: Japan’s IT industry

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Photo by Ling Tang on Unsplash

Japan’s IT scene has been making headlines all over the world. However, beyond the global giants with the likes of Softbank, Amazon, IBM, the other names are either unheard of, or we simply do not know enough about their reputation. In this piece, I’ll walk you through my personal observation that I’ve accumulated through the year I spent exploring jobs in the IT industry in Japan. For your reference, I primarily speak as someone who’s doing a non-developer job in the tech industry. This piece is written primarily for people who are still within their first 5 years of professional experience, people with non-IT background who are thinking of shifting industry, or students looking to land their first job in Japan’s IT companies.

Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash
Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

The million-dollar question: Is the IT industry still very Japanese? Or is it so international?

I’ll go ahead and say, there is no clear-cut answer for this one. If you look at two different cities, two different companies, even two different units within one company, I’ve heard very different stories about the working environment inside the company. Just because it’s a multinational brand or it’s a bigger name, it doesn’t guarantee a more internationally-minded working environment. I don’t mean to confuse you–in fact, I think my answer simply says that there are countless possibilities in Japan. You just have to know what you look for, and be very precise where you can find it.

Having worked in the financial industry in Singapore, I was looking for a similar fast-paced, meritocracy-driven, international environment in Japan. Unsurprisingly I turned to the tech industry, because of the rapid growth and the international community that this industry has created in Japan. The first thing I learnt is that everything is completely attainable, yet only made accessible to selected job seekers who demonstrated the capacity to speak Japanese in professional capacity (ie to conduct sales meetings, pitch business, make simple phone calls). The rule doesn’t really apply to any type of specialized engineering role, so I’d say, software developers can continue their search without this additional requirement. 

During the interviews I had with a few startups and consulting firms which were all conducted in Japanese, it was very clear that despite having account management experience in Singapore, I would not be able to do any similar role in Japan because I was not coherent enough in any formal verbal conversation. I had a few discussions with entry-level job seekers and to be honest, the Japanese language requirement is harsher than in the experienced-level recruitment. It is not surprising because Japan has seen a massive boom of young international students who either enroll in language school or enroll in Japanese universities, plus the children of Japanese expatriates who finish their study abroad and return to Japan to look for jobs, making bilingual ability almost seems to be like a requirement for competitive jobs.

Where can I find the more internationally-minded crowd?

This was exactly my agenda during my own job hunting period in 2019 and since the memory is still very clear, these are the three advice I would give. 

Know exactly what you want and the trade-off you’re willing to make to get it.

If you want the same salary as you got in your previous job before, it’s interesting why you choose to work in a country with a high individual income tax, unless you’re set here on an expat package. If salary is a secondary priority, what is the primary one? A transferable skill-set which offers you a lifetime of mobile career so you can work from anywhere in the world? A local expertise which is valuable in any kind of business who’s investing in Japan? The first and the second goal tends to be a trade-off, in my experience. If your career goal is to hone up your Japanese skill to reach professional level, know that you don’t always have to take a career break and enroll in language school. I am somewhat lucky because my current company hires mostly foreigners and uses English primarily, but during my interview I put up my hand and told them I’m willing to work together with them in any Japanese project. Two weeks into the job I was given the opportunity to handle a project with an important Japanese client and I’m also allocated a certain budget to hire professional Japanese teacher. Most companies are not like that but if we continue to think in terms of ‘most companies’, we’ll be missing out companies who don’t fit into that stereotype. 

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Know which companies are right for you.

There are a lot of IT jobs in Japanese branch of multinational companies. But think about how the company ended up opening a branch in Japan. Whether they bought a local partner and rebranded it or they sent their own teams to build a new office, it determines the company culture. Are you open to startups? Which type of startups are right for you? Go to networking events and talk to any employee of the company. If that one person can’t help you, she/he can point you in the direction of the people who could. Tokyo Dev, Tokyo Tech Startups, Women Who Code, Machine Learning Tokyo, Code Chrysalis, Tokyo Fintech Meetup, Coral Capital and Venture Cafe Tokyo are some of the resources/communities I’ve either interacted with or known someone who did, who invest a lot to grow a beneficial, like-minded communities. Be mindful of the people you approach, though. Some people have an interest in just selling you the job, some people genuinely want to see others land a job they’re suitable of, so don’t confuse one with another. Consider Japan-only networking sites like Wantedly (which is helpful because it removes the whole indirect, mid-layer recruiters and you get to talk to the company representatives directly) and Bizreach.

Invest in a strong and genuine relationship with your network. 

If there is anything Japan has taught me well, it is that I’ve been taught the true value of investing in my network. At first it was really difficult for me because I never really had any issue finding connection or a place to belong in all the places I lived in before. In Japan, I had to learn how to convey trust and likemindedness in the first few minutes, and similarly, I had to learn how to identify a mutually beneficial network from others. Honestly, it was easier than I imagined, because I did overthink a lot of my actions. A lot of non-Japanese and also Japanese who don’t really subscribe to the conventional values have a lot in common and can connect very quickly, so it’s always a good place to start. Be kind and welcome people with open arms. Ask everyone, how can I help you? How can I be of value to you? Japan is a huge country and the international community has always enjoyed a better living and working experience in Japan by helping each other, especially one’s career. 


Author’s note: I currently work as a Project Manager for Gengo, now a Lionbridge company. My opinion is solely mine and this article is not sponsored by any means. My Linkedin profile is here.