Lessons from Japan - Job Hunting, Part 2
Last time, I talked a bit about what the process of finding a new job is like for college graduates in Japan. Building off of that, we’ll take a look at some of the specific applications that I filled out for a few different companies, and some general recommendations for finding a job in Japan
What kind of positions?
My applications were for one of two entry level positions: in-house composer, or sound creator. Sound creator is the title given to someone that does both music and sound effects for the company. From my (completely unofficial) survey of jobs, it felt like the sound creator position was more prevalent than composer or sound designer. I also felt that there were generally more opportunities to write music and still be in-house, unlike in the U.S., where composers are almost always freelancers. The two big companies I applied to were HAL Laboratory and Nintendo – they made some of my all-time favorite games, so I thought it would be incredible if I could get a job at one of them and contribute to the series that made me so happy when I was younger. Also keep in mind that all of the applications I filled out were entirely in Japanese, and that I’m paraphrasing / potentially horribly translating everything that was on them.
Being the gigantic Kirby and Earthbound fan that I am, the first company I applied to was HAL Laboratory. The number of positions open changes from year to year, and when I applied in 2015, they had one opening for a sound creator. This seemed pretty typical – I don’t think I ever saw an opening for more than one sound creator at any company.
The first step was to submit an entry sheet. From what I remember, it mostly just asked for basic information, such as which school I graduated from, where I lived, and what other qualifications I had. Afterwards, they sent a really nice information packet that included this adorable “level up” pencil I couldn’t bring myself to use because it was just too cute. I wish we did cool stuff like this in the US! (Pictures coming soon!)
The next step was to fill out a rirekisho (Japanese CV) that was unique to HAL, and to also send in a CD (!!!) with two pieces you had written. The two pieces you submitted needed to be in 2 different genres, with an emphasis on strong melody writing. They didn’t care about how you wrote the music or what instrumentation you used, but the pieces needed to be between 2 – 5 minutes. HAL also had requirements for the file type, sample rate, and bit rate. If you passed that step, you would move on to a series of interviews, and then finally receive an offer of employment. Interestingly, they didn’t ask for anything related to sound design at all.
Nintendo’s application was interesting because they had separate applications for composers and sound designers. It started the same way as HAL’s – you send in your entry sheet (which also asked for why you wanted to work at Nintendo), and then they sent you an amazing looking information packet. (I will also post pictures of this soon!)
The materials that Nintendo wanted you to send for the composer position were pretty intense compared to a lot of the other applications I looked at, from what I can remember. I think they wanted at least 4 – 5 pieces of music total. For three of those pieces, they had pretty strict guidelines, which meant there was almost no way you’d be able to just use something you’d already written. The first piece they asked for was a film scoring exercise; they described a scenario and gave you a set of timings, then asked you to write music that would hit those timings and fit what they described. For the other two pieces, they gave you a style, form, and length, and you had to write music that fit those requirements. The last part was to send in whatever other material you had in addition to the other three pieces.
I want to work in Japan!
So what should you do if you’re thinking about trying to work in Japan? First things first, make sure your Japanese is as good as possible. It’s not impossible to get a job speaking mostly English, but most companies are going to want to know that there’s not going to be any communication issues, and that you understand the culture well. You know, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down” and all that – make sure you can fit in without causing trouble. It also helps if you’re already living in Japan, as well. I realize, of course, that neither of those things are easy to accomplish, but they increase your chances of getting a job pretty substantially. I feel like there’s a lot of people that started their career in Japan by teaching English, and then branched out from there and got a job doing what they actually wanted to do. It’s fairly easy to get a job as an ALT (assistant language teacher), and it buys you time to learn the language and go through the entire application process.
Next, make sure your demo reel is as amazing as it possibly can be. This goes for any job you apply to, really, but doubly so when you’re applying for a job in a different country. You have to prove that the skills you have are enough to justify going through the process of getting you a visa and the potential risk that you won’t fit in.
After that, I would focus on applying to companies that have an English webpage that includes career opportunities. These companies typically already have people outside of Japan working for them, and the fact that a webpage in English even exists proves that they have some level of commitment to bringing in foreign talent. Some examples would be Capcom or From Software. For every other company, take a look at the page that says 採用情報 (saiyou jouhou). Perseverance is key – it’s possible, but it takes some extra work to get there.
If anyone has experience applying to companies in Japan (especially if you're working there now!), I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!