The Japanese working visa: How to get it.
Hi! I'm Riccardo, a Designer living in Tokyo. Sometimes I write articles about design and Japan.
IMPORTANT! This article has been written in 2015, in the meanwhile, the Japanese Government could have changed some of the necessary documents for the Visa application. I'm not a legal advisor, I'm a designer, so be sure to do your own research.
This is one the most popular topics, I’m quite sure some of you are reading this page because you searched on Google “How to get a visa as a designer in Japan”.
Some people have said that to get a “working visa” in Japan is very difficult, but I believe they didn’t have the right skills to achieve it. However recently it has become way easier than before.
The growing startup “ecosystem” of Tokyo and the new immigration laws regulated by the Japanese Government have increased the focus on international talent looking for a job in Japan.
Many international designers have come with a working holiday visa and then search for a company (and consequently for a sponsor).
I did not have the chance to request a working holiday visa so I figured out an alternative way to get a working visa.
The easiest way is to attend a Japanese language school, in order to learn Japanese and to get a two year student visa. That’s actually the path I took. Having a student visa puts you in a good position to be considered by design agencies who are looking for a design intern. With this kind of visa, that you can only get by attending a language school, you are able to work part time. In my humble opinion working part time and studying japanese is a great idea. It will teach you a lot about Japanese working culture gradually, instead of starting work immediately in the Japanese design office environment which can be very different to elsewhere in the world.
While it would be ideal being hired directly from your country, this is very difficult, but not impossible. I have met several people living here because they transfered from within their multinational agency. Usually big companies such Rakuten or GMO use to hire talents from abroad but recently also smaller startups found it convenient and very productive to have employees come for a trial period and eventually hire them and sponsor them for a full working visa..
Being hired from abroad also means that you are classified a specialist in a discipline that nobody can really perform well as you in Japan. At least this the motivation that your company will need to explain at the immigration office.
There is a common misconception about this position. Generally speaking, people (sometimes even professionals) tend to consider UI designers, UX designers, product designers, interaction designers as all the same. It’s said, “The position on your business card rarely describes what you actually do.“
The big difference in the games industry is in the product you are building. People who don’t have knowledge of the video game industry might not even think about how different the job is for a UI designer of mobile games compared to a UI designer of AAA games.
In video games (as in movie theaters) immersion is everything. When you lose track of time and forget about the real word because you are too involved in the game would be considered a perfect example of immersion. Video game designers devote their time at work to increase the experience of complete immersion and often they are faced with to take difficult choices like providing too little or too much information on the screen. A badly designed game UI can completely ruin the overall gaming experience and the success of a title.
On top of this, the mobile gaming experience is very different to console gaming. In mobile games, the UI plays a very important role as it has to work on small screen. Simply put there is less room and you must use it well.
However, in AAA games, the UI assumes a different role, with full immersion in mind the UI designer may want to give a customizable UI to the users or even the option to deactivate it completely if necessary. Those designers work in close collaboration with level designers, sound fx engineers, and sometimes with concept artists to make sure the UI works across the many parts of the game.
To start off – you’ve got to be aware of the scale of these jobs. There are just so many things to keep in mind when you are making the UI for a video game, especially if you’re working on AAA Video games or something with a complex UI like games with detailed skill systems or crafting systems.
Next up – You shouldn’t become too attached to the design in the first year of production; the game may change so many times during the development phase that you can’t afford to get attached to it at this point. A good AAA UI designer should be flexible and always ready to change everything. Which isn’t really that different from other areas of design.
"Japanese government have increased the focus on international talent looking for a job in Japan.
"You shouldn't become too attached to the design in the first year of production"
What do you need to get your visa?
Well, a “Designer” permit doesn’t exist yet, unfortunately.
Originally designers working in Japan could get two different types of visa * :
– Specialist in Humanities/International Services
Since the new immigration laws designers can get several types depending on their experience, the business and the company of course:
– Specialist in Humanities / International Service
Degree in the corresponding field or 10 years professional experience
– Intra-company Transferee
Expats of the foreign companies or the subsidiary companies of Japanese firms located in overseas, it requires having worked more than one year in the said office abroad. The new regulations seem that allowed to find several ways to achieve this visa.
Artistic activities that generate sufficient income to support life in Japan (painter, sculptor, photographer, writer, composer, songwriter, etc…)
When you apply for a visa, two relevant requirements can change the type of visa you are going to get, the years of specialization and the tertiary qualifications you have.
For instance, I had eight years of specialization in my field and a three-year degree at a Design Academy, so I got an engineer visa.
My friend had 11 years of specialization in his field and no degree, so he got a “specialist in humanities” visa. This kind of experience must be documented through recommendation letters from your previous employers.
The visa length can be from 1-5 years but you won’t know what length visa you will get until your application is approved. It depends on factors like your income, the size of the company you are working for and even the staff who process your application at immigration.
Anyway have a look at this page to makes you clear: http://www.juridique.jp/immigration.html#workvisa
What do you need to bring to immigration office?
1) A copy of all your degrees (possibly from high-school) and a translation in English if your papers are written in a language apart from English. A Japanese translation is even better but not necessary.
2) (Rireksho) Your CV in Japanese and a version in English.
3) (Shokureki) Because the Japanese cv isn’t enough detailed they require a second version of your CV with a detailed explanation of your job and position for each employer.
4) (Shoumeisho) If you attended a Japanese language school you should bring a certification if you have got the JLPT N2 certification you should definitely bring a copy.
5) Contract with your employer, letter of appointment, invitation letter, or any other documents to prove your activities, position, salary, the period of time you will need to stay in Japan, etc.
(In my case I had a letter detailing how my employer worked with Italian brands and how my experience as a designer in Italy was important to them.)
5.5) Letter from your employer.
6) Company’s certificate of registry (Tokibo Tohon)
7) The contract, of course.
8) Company’s most recent financial statements (Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss statement)
9) Company’s withholding tax report
10) The Application sheet available from the immigration office or downloaded from this website.
11) 2 Passport size photos for documents.
More documents can be required depending on your nationality and other factors.
This can be quite stressful to do on your own, especially if you do not have high-level Japanese language skills as the staff at the immigration department do not speak English.
However, you can pay for an immigration lawyer to do all of this for you and it can make the process a lot smoother. They will help you get the right paperwork, fill out the documents for you and take the whole application to the immigration department on your behalf.
However, it will set you back around USD 800. Some companies who frequently hire international staff will simply pay for the immigration lawyer for you.
What happens when you change job in Japan?
So many people think that after getting a sponsorship they will be tied to that company forever. It’s not true. Here is the official explanation from the immigration website:
“Your working visa is valid until it expires, even if you change your job.
Your former employer can not take your visa away, and you can work at a new place under the visa you obtained with your former employer if the type of activities remains the same.
If the type of activities changes, however (for example from English teacher to an IT engineer), the category of your visa will no longer be appropriate, so you will need to change your visa (status of residence) as well.”
For further information, the new immigration site is now offering a free consulting service to determine what options or solutions are available to you and to see how they can help you get a visa. It’s enough to fill out the form on the website.
Another important part of the job is to always think about the user and what they need, giving them choices: in a AAA game the HUD (head-up display) is a critical part of the UI, which some players prefer to be very detailed and others not see it at all. So instead of possibly making something too small, or too flat for other users, some designers will include an option for turning on and off parts of the HUD such as the life bar, the mini map, enemy information, or indeed in some very immersive games, the entire HUD.
The user always appreciates these functions as it lets them get the experience they want out of the game and to be comfortable when playing, which leads to greater immersion. I imagine for a mobile game it is difficult to introduce this functionality as many times the UI is the game itself. Originality is also crucial. Sometimes it is dangerous to be original, but brilliant ideas usually get recognized.
The usual workflow is like this: I create the design and the animation first, then together with the developer we implement everything in the game.
When all the assets work in the way that I want, I can start to brush up the design and change the animations. For this second step, usually I don’t need any help from the programmers, I can modify the assets as I want, load the new UI files into the project, and when done, I’ll upload everything to the server so everybody can check it. If I want to change something radically, of course, I need to talk to the developers again. We work together all the time.
As you can imagine, I work with Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash for 80% of the assets, for the remaining 20% we have custom software for the UI that gets implemented in the game engine. We use this software for creating something that is impossible to create with animation software such as Flash.
What’s the difference between a UI designer for mobile and for AAA video games in your opinion?
The entire process is different; the main difference is the number of people involved in every single decision. In an AAA game, the wrong choice does not just affect the UI department but so many people around you.
It is a very different space to be designed in, I don’t want to say that it is much more fun or much more difficult than mobile games, it is just different. Also having passion for design is not enough, you should love games because is not easy work for a single project for 3 or 4 years without that passion for gaming.
How important is to speak Japanese in your role?
In my case Japanese language is vital – at my company, they only speak Japanese. If you are lucky, you might be able to work with a programmer who speaks English, but you still have to have enough skills to talk with the other people in the team: sound designers, sound engineers, level designers, planners, art directors, and game directors. The UI department is in the middle; that means UI Designers will have requests from all the other departments. In Japanese.
What do you think are the differences in Japanese and American video game industry? And how about the European Industry?
Probably the main difference is the process by which they create the game. Japanese game companies still think that the UI design must reflect the game’s overall style.
For example let’s look at the UI of the game Destiny, which is considered one of the best UI in the last two generations of consoles. Destiny is a Sci-fi game with a simple, intuitive and easy to use non-sci-fi-themed UI, especially when compared to a game like HALO.
What I think is still difficult is to create a product with a unique and straightforward UI in the game industry in Japan. However, I believe that everything is slowly changing in a better direction, especially because my colleagues have started to look at the European and the American game industries for a different point of view. Now the Japanese people want to study and learn from successful games made overseas.
You work for a well-known AAA Game firm. What are the benefits of working in a large company instead of an indie one?
Without any doubt, the benefits are that you work with many veterans of the game industry, people who have made the history of Japanese games, and you can learn a lot from them. I’m not talking just about the UI, but more about how to create a game as an entire product.
I think if you know how to build a good video game, you can create a good UI. I’ve never worked in an indie team, so I don’t know the real difference, but I’m pretty sure that is exciting as well.
Creating games is amazing, doesn’t matter if you are working for a small team or an AAA game company, you can learn a lot and have fun every day if you have a good team.