I am Cody, a designer in the “branding team” at LIG Inc., Tokyo.
I am originally from New Zealand but have made Tokyo my home.
Japan is home to some of the world’s finest creative output. The creative side of Japan, whether traditional or modern is extremely alluring. I personally find Tokyo to be an amazing city in terms of design and the arts. I have put together some key points for foreigners who are hunting for that dream creative gig in Japan. Naturally everyone finds their own path, but if you are passionate about working in the creative sector in Japan, these tips will hopefully get you started in the right direction.
1) Be in Japan
For every job available outside of Japan there are hundreds more that are only available within the country. Some firms may conduct skype interviews, but for most creative jobs you will need to have a Japanese cell phone number and address on your application as well as be able to attend a face-to-face interview where you can talk about your work. If you are able to come over here on a university exchange or a working holiday, or get your foot in the door with an ALT or ESL teaching position your chances will increase immensely. Once you are established you can meet people and network, and if you are already here on a non-tourist visa it is much easier for a firm to be able to consider you. The rigmarole of getting visa statuses changed is a lot more straightforward when you are here in person.
2) Become an expert on Japanese style and design
There is a unique design history that goes into the collective creative output of Japan. From white space to color palette, an understanding of the Japanese design language, attention to detail, and fundamentals are essential to creating good work. Find out what it is that inspires you about Japan and read everything you can about it.
- Build a Japanese version of your portfolio or website
- Expand your knowledge of Japanese photographers, designers, architects, and other creatives
- Learn Japanese design terminology and keywords
3) Develop your communication skills
At LIG all of my daily interactions are in Japanese. I studied Japanese language for three years at university, though I only really began to gain fluency after living here. You need to focus on your Japanese language development and communication skills. Communication is not just about language, but also about mindset.
- JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is a rough indicator of what level your Japanese ability is at. Having JLPT N1 or N2 is considered business Japanese for most circumstances, however these tests do not take into account conversational skills and cultural knowledge such as meeting / greeting protocol. Even with JLPT N3 and the right attitude, a job with a Japanese creative firm is possible.
- In most cases your written Japanese will be the first test of your language ability when you apply online or write an application email. If possible get a native Japanese speaker to check your communications before you send them, and observe the structure and tone of the writing. There are certain set phrases, respect words, and formalities in writing Japanese business emails that need to be adhered to.
- Some modern Japanese language textbooks have deemphasized the importance of respect language, keigo. On the contrary, this is the most important language skill you need to have when attending job interviews and working in a Japanese firm.
4) Bring the right stuff
Resume / CV – There is a standard format for writing a Japanese resume, known as rirekisho. There is also a more detailed work history / skills document called shokumu keireki-sho.
Templates for various creative jobs in both of these formats can be found at:
Both documents will need to be completed exactly. Generally typing the application is fine, but occasionally a hand written resume will be required. On the shokumu keireki-sho you will need to list the exact start and end dates of previous work, the employment type (contract, employee, part-time) and responsibilities.
Portfolio of work – Bring a well laid out portfolio of your work, either printed or ready to present on an iPad or computer.
Business cards – Must be 91x55mm. Include email, Japanese cellphone, and name in English & katakana.
Suit up – Look good, suit up. No matter how underground the firm is that you have applied at, a crisp suit will go down well in an interview. You can get some great deals on the classic black suit at the big stores like Aoki and Aoyama, and if you know your way around there are plenty of excellent independent suit shops in the big cities (I choose to shop around the Jinnan area in Shibuya).
5) Just be cool
There is a huge creative sector in Japan which is in particular need of digital and online specialists. Opportunities will come to those who try. In particular there are a wide range of opportunities for foreign creatives working in Japan, but the culture shock and differences can be challenging.
The Tokyo / Yokohama region is the creative center of Japan, home to most major advertising agencies, design firms, and film studios, though all major cities in Japan have their own flavor of creative business. There are more people packed into the Tokyo region than Australia and New Zealand combined, so from time to time things can get hectic and stressful, especially if you have not lived in a global city before.
Naturally if you find yourself in the midst of it all just remember to take a moment to chill. Japan is full of beautifully mellow creative experiences, hidden cafes and galleries, world-class museums and events, and amazing photography.
“It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself”
Good luck with your job hunting, please contact me if you have any questions.