Working in Japan

Why do you want to work in Japan?

Things you should know before move


Firstly we need to clarify: Why would you want to become a designer in Japan?

If somebody asked me to explain my choice it would be difficult. I chose to work in Japan because I have a passion for Asia and Japanese pop culture, manga and all that nerdy stuff.
But not only that.
When I was studying graphic design I convinced myself that Japan was a design hub in the way that London and Los Angeles were in the 80’s, Berlin and Amsterdam in 90’s and Poland, Russia, Czech Republic, Mexico and Brazil are becoming today.

I was wrong, very wrong.

What I found when I arrived was that parts of the Japanese design scene was very closed to external influences and governed by rigid structures and rules. However, it feels that now Japanese designers, and Japan at a larger scale, is at the beginning of a new era in which they are listening to the voices of foreign designers in Japan. However this change is happening very slowly.

I started writing this guide because I wanted to share with you some essential things you need to be aware of when looking for a design job in Japan. You should be aware that you may not become a better designer in the sense of your current career direction in your home country. You will develop new skill sets. You may find you will become an expert in Japanese communication.
To people who write and ask me for information about working in Japan as a designer I always give the same advice. If you come to Japan expecting to find the same environment that you might find in New York or London then you are going to be disappointed. However, If you come to Japan as I did with aspirations for professional and personal growth and to understand your identity as a designer then you will happy.

“Do What you Love, do it often and bring people to believe in what you believe”.
These are words I live by, my motto, my credo.

This guide is a tool to help people better understand the process of
‘Beginning a new life as a designer in Japan’.

I’m not trying to teach you ‘the secret of living in Japan’.
It’s based on my own observations and experiences.
Whatever your experience will be (good or bad) this guide won’t be responsible for it.

So, what does ‘beginning a new life as a designer in Tokyo’ mean?
Living in Tokyo will expose you to all kinds of information and communications.
For those of us who work in communications Tokyo could be represented as the matrix, a core or main server.
Here you will find you are exposed to a persistent, constant flow of information.
Wherever you look, whether in the toilets, the park or the train. Despite the overwhelming number of communications, in my opinion, 80% feel chaotic and poorly executed.

Everything changes so quickly but at the same time, nothing really changes.

At this rate of informational overload I wouldn’t be surprised if someday someone figures out how to induce advertising into our dreams. But it’s not all bad; living in Tokyo will give you the chance to observe the flux of markets, waves of fashion and how they spread and implode seemingly in seconds.
There are thousands of inspirations around you every day with global companies using Japanese markets to beta-test products and ideas.
Everything changes so quickly but at the same time, nothing really changes.
The secret is to let the culture possess you without forgetting your roots, ever.

Japanese advertising is completely different from that of Europe and America.
Here the approach is far more focused on a ‘soft-sell’ as opposed to the aggressive american ‘hard-sell’.
What Japanese advertising highlights are the emotional aspects of a product through an implicit communication (Japanese culture and behaviours.)
This approach of highlighting the emotions is the answer to the consumers who expect to evaluate the product without feeling any kind of pressure from the vendor. The successful product, or advertising, has the right feeling to it.

Think of it this way: the brand is considered as your symbol of belonging to a particular sub-culture, part of a club where you can find like minded people who understand you.
The brand itself understands your needs and supplies you the product for all your needs.
After understand these concepts then we can start talking about how to get a visa as a designer, or at least how I got mine.
Every designer in Japan I have met has a different story as to how they made it here.

Riccardo Parenti

Italian. Art Director, interaction design enthusiast, occasionally photographer. Riccardo is the founder the TGD community, starting the LinkedIn group when he first moved to Japan in 2010. He is also a volunteer for Behance Tokyo. He loves to spend his free time seeking and exploring abandoned buildings in the Japanese countryside.

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