Ask HN: Expat software engineers in Japan, how are you making it happen?

5 points by UltraPretender 10 months ago

There seems to be a lot of desire for software engineers to live and work in Japan, at least some fairly passionate minority of people. I also see people on HN pop up from time to time and describe the fact that they live and work in Japan; I suspect most are expats, tho I may be totally wrong here. :)

I'm wondering: How are you all pulling it off? Where are you working?

From what I've seen, salaries and working conditions at Japanese software firms seem generally on the weaker side.

Obvious options seem to be:

1. Work for Google Japan, or some other major Western company with a Japanese engineering presence 2. Work for a Japanese game company 3. Become an entrepreneur 4. Work at a Japanese company (Rakuten, etc)

What are most of you doing and do you have any advice here? I'm wondering how the crowd here distributes between these four options (or possibly others).

I'd love to return to Japan, and if possible I'd love to work outside of the Tokyo region (so, likely remote if necessary).


I can speak Japanese and would prefer a Japanese language working environment, but am flexible on that if need be.


laurieg 10 months ago

I think the options you have listed are pretty accurate. If you are a working for a large multi-national then getting an internal transfer to the Japan office is probably the best way to move to Japan.

As for companies in Japan, there is a wide range. From very old fashioned businesses where programming is seen as simple grunt work to modern development shop that keep up with industry best practices. If you don't speak Japanese you will limit your options, but filtering for English speaking workplaces will probably leave you with a smaller number of better companies.

Start off by taking a look at the English speaking expat focused job sites [1][2].

If you have a university degree and can get hired by a company in Japan the visa situation is very straightforward. No lotteries or waiting lists, just a few forms.

You would be right in saying that salaries tend to be lower. This article[3] from JapanDev is a good starting point. Cost of living is also lower, depending on your lifestyle. Inflation is starting to catch up with Japan so it's not clear what things will be like in the future.




  • UltraPretender 10 months ago

    Great reply! I actually do have Japanese language skills downpat and would prefer to work in a Japanese-language environment, although it seems like majority of options that would be seen as high-quality jobs (Western companies with Japan offices, major companies, etc) work in English.

    Thank you for the links! I'll check them out.

    • laurieg 10 months ago

      I'm Fukuoka based and have helped a lot of devs start and change careers in Japan (Full disclosure: Fukuoka city pays me to run tech events and promote software engineering). Please feel free to get in touch if you want to have a 1 on 1 conversation about relocating to Japan.

      • UltraPretender 10 months ago

        Hello, I'd love to get in touch! What's your preferred contact? I see your twitter handle in your profile, can I contact you there?

        • laurieg 10 months ago

          Yes, feel free.

  • wirthjason 10 months ago

    Low salaries compared to the US really hurt things. My wife is Japanese, our daughter half, I studied there in college so we could reasonably have a life in Tokyo but can’t justify such a low salary. One posting on Japan Dev 11,000,000 JPY for senior level!, that’s less than many first year CS grads.

nikau 10 months ago

Admittedly my experience is only based on a 2 week secondment in Japan, but it seems the expats at western companies in Japan are exempt from the work culture and can leave on time etc.