After almost six years living in Japan, I have made my way back to the UK. I am now based in London, working for one of the Big 4 Management Consulting firms as a Lead Developer.
I occasionally get emails from readers asking what it is like to be a software developer in Tokyo, some flat out asking me if I know of any jobs going. I tell them all the same thing – Tokyo is a hard place to be a non-native Japanese speaker doing software. I was very lucky to have a pretty sweet job working for a branch of a US company, but ultimately the job market there is not healthy. I very much needed a more senior role but there was nowhere to grow within the Japan R&D office – my boss was not going anywhere. Whilst foreign companies can pay pretty decently by Japan standards (expect anything from 5M for Junior to 9M JPY for a Senior development role, but this is only 50k-90k USD, not even US graduate level), Japanese companies take a very traditional view of compensation setting (think tying job ranks to age, salary to “seniority” rather than skill or value). Don’t expect to make anything like US or even UK salaries unless you are in senior management.
My primary skillset is the whole .NET stack – but .NET is not popular in Japan. The .NET community is so small in that at the time of writing this blog post I was at the top of Google for “ASP.NET MVC Tokyo”:
If that isn’t a reason to move on, I don’t know what is.
Before the move to the UK, I flew over for a week to interview. A bit of planning beforehand lined me up with eight job interviews which resulted in five job offers, with the worst offer being 20% more than I was making in Tokyo. This blew my mind, but apparently it is normal in London for skilled developers. It is nice to be wanted. I also now have a family – my son was born this January and he deserves a successful father. Back in my homeland there are far more opportunities and I am not at a disadvantage in any way – there are no handicaps to being as successful as I can be.
This isn’t to say I don’t still love Japan. It is a lovely place to live, but a pretty crap place to work unless you are very senior or running your own business. The job market illiquidity (especially as a foreigner) means you will be paid far less, have to commute further and have less chance to grow than in the same level software development jobs overseas. Without the ability to instantly get job interviews (something you can do anywhere in the western world if you are good), you end up feeling completely trapped and at the mercy of your employer all the while knowing at the back of your mind that you could actually be having a career elsewhere. Not a good recipe for happiness. If and when I move back it will not be as a salaryman.
Relocating to the UK has been quite an adventure and I plan to blog some more about what it is like to come back after half a decade. Just the level of customer service in retail stores has made me miss my old home but I am sure the reverse culture shock will wear off in time.
To the next six years!