What’s it Like to Be a Western Developer in Japan?


Game development is hard enough as it is – but what about when you’re a Westerner lost in translation in the Land of the Rising Sun?

In many ways, Japan is kind of a geek Mecca, producing a disproportionately huge part of the world’s weird (yet strangely awesome) stuff. You’ve got giant fighting robots, you’ve got ridiculous porn games, and then you’ve got tons and tons of non-porn videogames. There are so many games that come out of Japan, it’s no wonder that some Western designers have made it their home – but as Ryan Winterhalter explores in issue 232 of The Escapist, that has difficulties of its own.

Sometimes simple things like checking the mail become large, complicated tasks. “I have to go to the post box in Shibuya [one of Tokyo’s 23 wards] and check for mail,” says Kay, which means a trip on Tokyo’s crowded subways. Then he must deal with the special bureaucracy that only the Japanese government has to offer. “I have to speak to the accountant or meet the lawyer, which is always a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole in Japan with its many rules and laws, some enforceable, some not.” For example, Japan’s labor laws require that Kay register for National Health Insurance through his LLC. Without a support staff, running such important errands himself is definitely a distraction from game-making. “Little things just annoy me. … I’m an artist. It’s what I do. Sometimes you just want to do that.”

To read more about the experience of being a Western game designer in the bustling urban wilderness of Tokyo (and the rest of Japan), read “I, Gaijin” in Issue 232 of The Escapist.

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