Hey Adrian, welcome to the show!
Hey, how's it going?
Good, good. How are you? We were just talking before starting this, so difficult to fake it, but you are in the US right now, right?
Right, right! I'm over here in the United States, in the state of Alabama. Yeah, we were talking a little bit before this, it's kind of like we had a warm up discussion and now we're into the meat and potatoes as we say here.
Into the good stuff! So to give a little bit of context to the people who listen, we've met each other around 2010 and we went together to a Japanese university in Tokyo, called Meiji University. We also lived together in the university's dormitory, in Western Tokyo. Actually if there is anybody listening living in Meidaimae station, big up to them! It's been good times over there.
After university we didn't really keep in touch, didn't really exchange, but we kept the connection on Facebook. And I remember following your adventures in Tokyo from far away.
As I was mentioning to you earlier, I've always been very impressed actually by the fact that I remember during university, you were saying that your dream was to work with manga or anime related topics. And that's actually what you've done, what you are doing right now.
I'm always impressed by people who have a dream and succeed on achieving this dream. That's what I hope this podcast is about, to help people achieve their dream to live in Japan, to have a career in Japan. That's why I'm very excited to talk about all this with you today.
Yeah, I'm super happy to be here. It's been a while. Like you said, we went to Meiji together and we've kept in contact a little bit on Facebook or seeing each other through Facebook mainly. I'm very happy to have this opportunity to talk to you and to everyone who's listening about my life in Japan.
To get started about your Japan story, could you shortly introduce yourself, tell us where you're coming from and how long you've been living in Japan?
First time in Japan
My name is Adrian Morris and I'm 30 years old now. I came to Japan around 2013 for work. As you said, we studied abroad in 2010, 11. But I've been in Japan for almost six to seven years professionally working.
Originally I'm from the United States. I'm from the state of Alabama, a little less known state. I've been enjoying my time in Japan and I think that's about it. I love video games of course. And Manga, Anime as you said. That's what I'm doing now in Japan. Mainly just trying to stay focused on my career and passions that relate to manga, animation and games.
What were you doing before coming to Japan in 2013?
I was still a university student. I actually graduated right after I left Meiji. It was 2011. I went back for a semester and then finished up in the winter. Then, you know, after job searching in 2012, 13 ended up going to Japan again.
What kind of studies did you do?
I started out as a communications major, mainly focusing in the field of journalism. I was huge into video games and my kind of first goal was to write for video game magazines. So I did a lot of game reviews and I used to podcast about games as well. And just worked in our college community, focusing on that.
But my studies majors were always journalism, with a minor in creative writing and Japanese.
And when you came to Japan in 2013, you mentioned it was for work. Was that for a type of journalism work?
Well, it's kind of interesting because I always thought of myself as a strange journalist. Growing up I liked playing games and reading is a thing you do passively in games sometimes. It's not exactly like you're reading a book. I never really liked newspapers, so I was always focused on, as I said, the magazine aspect, things that I like about journalism.
I tried to for a little bit to find jobs in journalism after college. But the main thing is that journalism was on decline in the US during that time and everything was shifting to online focus. So there were less jobs being hired for, and I decided that maybe I should try working in a video game studio. Maybe I should try finding something closer to my passions and related to that. And my Japanese teacher said: "Hey, there's a job teaching English in Japan". The common kind of way of getting there. I always wanted to go back to hone my Japanese skills. That's how I ended up back in Japan through an exchange program similar to JET.
In which part of the country?
I am still living actually in the city that I taught. I live in Narashino. That's in Chiba prefecture.
Oh, I see. On the East side of Tokyo.
Learning Japanese & first job
You came to teach, you mentioned that your Japanese teacher introduced the job. That means that when you arrived in Japan you were speaking Japanese already?
Yes! Thanks to Meiji, I guess I have to give a thanks to Meiji eventually.
Meiji was a very intense learning program and I learned throughout the first couple of years. Now I went back to the international house that we actually stayed at a couple of times actually. That program and even the school has grown so much! When we were there, it was almost a hundred percent Japanese. You could make it there, but it was rough. Right. And at that time in 2010, 11, I wasn't really able to speak that much Japanese, but when I came back I had been seasoned I guess. So I could speak Japanese on an intermediate level for sure. Maybe JLPT 2.
That's already very good. What about now?
Now I've had a lot of years of working in different fields.
After I taught English, I worked, and this is a strange one, for a Chinese company, but with only Japanese people and a couple of Chinese people. The main language was just Japanese and I had to work with contractors and other people within the solar panel industry. It's a long story. That's an adventure in itself.
Now I still work with primarily Japanese coworkers. So I would say maybe I'm hopefully JLPT 1. Fluent in speaking, but in terms of grammar, I would still say around two.
You mentioned working first in a Chinese company, but in a pure Japanese environment, how was that the very first time?
Do you remember the first few days when you had to completely switch your brain to Japanese? How did you feel? How did you manage this situation?
I started, like I said, teaching English and I spoke a lot of Japanese to the teachers, but I had never been in a business environment. Another thing to add is that in the US, I never really had a part time job. I mean, I worked some summers but I didn't have a lot of professional experience.
So when I was in Japan and finally had to work, I worried about a couple of different things. Like what to wear at work, because this is Japanese business culture. I was actually working in Shimbashi.
The suits neighbourhood!
The suits, all around me! I'd come from working kind of dress casual, but now I had to work in a more business attire. In terms of the environment, I went from a bunch of kids yelling around me, or me talking a lot, to just silence and actually trying to focus.
My main worry was if I would be able to type emails to clients or even to my coworkers in Japanese and also communicating with them. Because we're coming from different backgrounds. Even when I was teaching, teachers are a little bit light sometimes, you know, you can understand and relate to them a little bit better. But when you get to the work environment, it can be a little difficult to feel out everyone.
It was pure Japanese, I was speaking about engineering terms and it was speak, study learn and repeat. That was my every day. Just try to learn as much as possible and ask as many questions.
How long did you work there?
I worked for that company for about a year and a half.
And after that?
I am now at my current company, which is Tokyo Otaku mode.
Which has no links with solar panels...
No link at all!
The very last conversation I had with one of my coworkers before I decided to take this job was: "You know, you should find a company that's more suited for you, more suited within the passionate interest that you have."
What's the big difference between your previous company and your current one ? Besides obviously the products?
At my current company, we deal with anime, manga, games and collaborations with people who work in those industries.
The biggest difference, and I mean I found this out when I first interviewed, was that I went into the office, and the office is in Shibuya. So it's already a different environment there.
The office itself is very laid back. It's very much a casual working environment. There are no more suits! Well, I've seen a couple people wear suits but it's only when they have a meeting. They'll throw on the suit and then that's it. They'll take it back off after.
But the main difference is that it's very relaxed. Most people are in their 30s or mid to late twenties. So definitely a lot younger crowd, as before I was working with probably about forties to sixties. That's a big change!
Even in terms of communication, how you speak to your colleagues or to your managers or even to your customers, I believe. Did you feel that the way you were using the language changed at Tokyo Otaku Mode?
Yes, it changed a lot!
Before it was Japanese and Chinese and then there was me. But within the new company, we have a huge diversity in our staff. We had people from Mexico, France (one of my best friends that I've met was actually from France as well and huge into games). We have Americans, we have a lot of different people, but still primarily Japanese.
So I would find myself working and speaking English more, but then writing more Japanese, especially for any type of technical issues that our customers would have. We would have to write to the development team about a problem and need a solution. All of the written contact is done through Japanese now. And my speaking is primarily English with I would say 25% Japanese unless I'm away for business.
How did you find this opportunity, because that was quite a big shift, at least in terms of industry?
Actually, my friend found it for me.
That's the best situation!
I was looking for jobs within that field and this was a posting on Gaijin Pot.
I had looked a couple of different ways. I used a recruiter, I used Rakuten Navi and the other kind of navigation services, Career Cross. I do really recommend Career Cross, especially if you're doing any type of localization or if you want to get into a technical field. I really enjoyed using their site. Indeed wasn't as much of a thing in Japan at that time and I think that was 2016, 17.
But yeah, my friend found it on Gaijin Pot, which usually just has a bunch of teaching jobs. I mean, one too many. I didn't think too highly of Gaijin Pot but they had the opportunity. I looked at the job and said, okay, let's try it.
That's awesome! That's true that on Gaijin Pot, you have a lot of teaching jobs. So that's good to know that sometimes you have other relevant positions if you are not a teacher.
For the listeners, Career Cross is a job board, specialising in bilingual or jobs for foreigners. We'll put the link in the show notes later on.
How was the interview process? Not only at Tokyo Otaku Mode but in general?
In your experience working in Japan, how was your first interview? How did you feel and how do you approach the whole interview process now?
The first interview I had at the solar panel company was my first formal Japanese interview. I actually had a couple of more before that.
I would say that the rules of finding a job are still there. Even in Japan, you want to make sure that you have these warm up companies that you go through, where you're warming up your interviewing skills and getting used to the environment by the time you reach the company you really are passionate about. Then you are able to fly through the interview. I can say that still applies and you still need to practice your potential responses and go over what you think they're going to ask you.
I looked at the job description, which was written all in Japanese. I looked at everything they may ask me and just thought of questions in my mind. And when I walked into the interview I was nervous. I won't lie. This was the first time I was like: "Okay. Hopefully my Japanese holds up. Remember death moth, remember!".
I have to say I was very fortunate in the sense that all of the Japanese I had been speaking before, in terms of speaking when I was teaching, talking with teachers and friends kind of helped prepare me for that interview. As well in terms of just not being as nervous speaking. It was just mainly remembering to be polite in the polite form.
I think that's the one thing that if you're going into an interview, you want to make sure you're not speaking in casual Japanese. You want to make sure that you're speaking in proper Japanese to the best of your ability.
And I've learned throughout the years that Japanese business workers are not as harsh on foreigners speaking business Japanese and casual Japanese as they are for Japanese people. They kind of have a mindset that as this isn't your language, it's good that you're trying and we'll give you points for that. But they just want you to be yourself more so than trying to be a Japanese in terms of how you're acting, if that makes any sense.
Yes, it does! That's a very good piece of advice actually.
It's true that at the beginning, you want to be perfect. You want to speak perfect Japanese, you want to have perfect manners and you put a lot of pressure on yourself to behave perfectly. And unfortunately, it's always very, very difficult to do this.
Like everything, with experience you learn exactly, as you said, that as a foreigner, people don't expect the same as if you were a 新入社員, a fresh grad Japanese student.
The most important eventually is realising that you have to focus on the content of your message, on how you want to convey a message. The form comes, or doesn't come, as long as you stay polite, as you said. Even if it's not super advanced Keigo, as long as you stay polite and you convey the message, that's what is the most important in a company.
So yes, very, very true!
Working with Video Games and Anime
Remind me, what's your position at Tokyo Otaku Mode? You're in charge of support?
Yes, I am kind of in charge of customer support. I've been there the longest in terms of our current team for support.
But when I started out, and this was one of the things I liked about the company and it's still in the startup phases, I was able to do a lot of different roles. I was very interested in localisation for games. While I didn't go into localisation specifically, I was able to do a lot of different translation work starting out. I was able to interview a lot of figure manufacturers, the president of those companies.
That was one thing I was super nervous about because, you know, I'm interviewing the president of Medicom Toy. Which is a huge, huge toy company. You know, global! They make Bearbrick of course, Kubricks and they have a lot of cool figures.
I went to Good Smile company. Also Vertex, which is a kind of subsidiary. All these figure manufacturers, people, companies and products that I've seen in the arcades and even bought here in the States. You know, Bandai Namco, Banpresto. Having to do that was.... anyways, I'm getting sidetracked...
But that was one aspect! I've done translation. Customer support is my base work I also am our company's, community manager for our fan club, kind of PR as well. I do a lot of MC hosting as well on Facebook and other streaming platforms.
That's a wide scope of responsibilities! How do you see this evolve? What would be the next steps for you in the next few years?
The next steps in the next few years?
I'm hoping to transition from my current company to another company in terms of purely gaming.
I really, like I said, still love games. I still play games a lot. I have a huge passion for them and I've kind of built the role that I've done at Tokyo Otaku Mode, my current company, to be more like a true community manager, someone who is diverse. Doing social media and producing media as well.
So yeah, the end goal is hopefully to be working in a gaming company.
Producing media, that's what you are doing right now as well. I know you have a podcast called Unknown Games Podcasts.
You want to talk a little bit about this?
Yeah, sure! I have a podcast that me and my coworker actually started.
We're on our 11th episode, so we started 11 weeks ago. We record weekly.
At the Unknown Games Podcast, we talk about video games of course, but we also talk about life in Japan and our experiences as video game players in Japan. We like to have that as a focus. That's one thing we can relate to, but maybe other people don't know so much about the gaming culture in Japan.
We also give a little bit of shout outs to fast food restaurants and all those strange menu items we know about. I know, Paul, that you've probably seen the craziest McDonald's sandwiches...
You need the fuel!
You need the fuel and we hope to provide that. Our other focus is just having deep conversations towards the middle of the show about news going on in the current gaming world. We are analysing what's happening and just having fun.
Cool! I know that's a wide and deep question, but that's one I like to ask people who are really passionate about something.
What do you like so much in gaming? Why are you so into the topic of gaming?
That's a good question!
This is a true story: when I first graduated college, I was trying to find a lot of different jobs and I would go on the interviews. I started a organisation in college for gaming on campus and we became a very successful organisation, almost hundred members, weekly events.
The school sponsored us, we even had a convention at the end of the year for games and brought people from across other States to our convention, which was amazing. That was all of my experience.
Then when I would talk to recruiters, they'd just be like: "so why are you trying to work for us? It seems like you really want to work in a gaming company". And I'd just be like: "yeah, I'm sorry. I have to be honest. I do".
My connection with video games came from my childhood. I grew up with Sonic and Mario. I would spend hours and hours on the TV throughout high school and even college, just playing games.
What it is about games that I like so much is that you're able to be very creative in a different way. It's not like a movie because it's interactive and you can see yourself being the protagonist or being the character.
Usually you buy books because you liked the story or the character. You buy games for the same reason, but you're able to do those actions and participate in the story. I love that aspect. I love the music. I love the gameplay of course, and just all of that coming together in one experience. I think that's what makes a really good game.
And now with VR coming out, well it's already here, some of those experiences put your body into the game as well. It's a media that's always growing and is still very young compared to cinema or even books, you know. It's still young so it's still growing and it's always fun to see where it's going.
That's why I'm so passionate about it.
Would you say that if you are interested in gaming, Tokyo is the place to be?
That you have to be in Tokyo to live the real thing?
No, you don't. And my original intention for coming to Japan and learning Japanese is that I wanted to work at a Japanese game company and be able to speak with game developers in Japanese. Sharing my own thoughts, without a translator and work as a game designer.
Now, as I've gotten older, I've realized the industry is very much different in Japan as opposed to the West. Even in Europe there are a lot of independent game companies and a lot of easier ways to get into the industry even if you want to make your own game.
I would say that if you really are passionate, you can of course come to Japan and try to get into the corporate environment. You just have to remember that you will probably be denied more than once or twice or even times. But if you're a programmer, it's a little bit easier because even if you don't speak Japanese, you can still do your work and understand if they give you instructions on what needs to be done.
But if you want to be a designer, if you want to be a community manager, if you want to be in any other specialised fields, you need to make sure that your Japanese is on lock, that you are fluent and that you have a pretty good grasp of writing Japanese as well.
When you look at the aspect like that, you could think that's a barrier you don't have to necessarily go through if you're doing it in your own language.
I think the main thing is to find the companies you like and find those branches they have most of the time around the world. So you can try to find those companies, you know, in a better location.
But in terms of gaming in Japan, it's still a lot of fun though. I think if you do decide that you want to work in Japan, especially for gaming, just be aware there are a lot of mobile companies.
There we go! Mobile gaming is much bigger in Japan than outside. So that's where most of the opportunities are. To easily get into localisation. But the working conditions aren't necessarily the best.
Paul: 28:06 Why are the working conditions different?
I've had a friend who worked in localisation for mobile companies. I've actually applied for a couple of these jobs. The main issue is that the salary is pretty low. It's around... less than $2,000 back off of each paycheck. And the hours are typically 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM and that's if you're getting off work on time.
More than likely, you're going to be working maybe until eight or nine o'clock and potentially on the weekends as well. So it's just a little harsh there.
Is it because mobile gaming is much more like a commodity?
They spend less time on development and the idea is to always develop new things and ship new things?
Yes! There are tons of mobile games in Japan and tons of ones that are just almost copies of the previous one you saw. They like to iterate on a lot of the same formulas.
At any given time, these small mobile game companies that have a staff of 50 or less employees are making two to three games at one time in development. So that's splitting those teams up and you may be working on a team of five, six people. It's just constantly going.
Well, thanks a lot for sharing all this!
I'm a casual gamer, I like to play a party of Batman Arkham but I don't really know about the industry. So it was very interesting to learn more about your experience and hear your recommendation for people who would like to get started there.
Advice to younger self
To exit the career topic and talk more about Japan and especially reflect on your experience living in the country, here is a question we like to ask.
Imagine you go back in time and you meet yourself in either 2010 or 2013, you are just freshly arrived in Japan. You don't know much how the life is going here, how the, the language is being used, about the culture or anything.
What would you say to yourself at that moment?
I would tell myself to, number one, remember to stay focused.
Japan is a hard place. It's a comfortable and really wonderful place to live in. But I think it gets the best of a lot of people and you're going to end up losing some of the friends you made and some people don't come back to fill part of the friendship you had. So you have to remember to stay strong and also be open to making new friends.
I also would say that one thing I didn't think about were all the legal documents. You're gonna want to be able to read and read and read and ask questions and don't feel embarrassed if you're trying to make a phone contract, you know.
If you don't understand what someone says the first time, ask again and ask again and ask five times if you have to. Because this a service, you're paying for something. Try to not be as embarrassed to make sure that you get what you need.
Yes, that's a good point!
That's true that at the beginning, it's easy to try to express something and if the Japanese salesman or anybody in front of you doesn't understand, you kind of give up because you're a bit ashamed of not being able to express yourself properly. But eventually, as you mentioned, you are the customer.
One golden rule that exists in Japan, and that's what I miss when I travel to France, is that the customer is King and you have the right to get the same advantages and the same conditions than any other person. So it's not an issue at all to push a little bit and to keep on repeating or to ask for additional explanations about to sales speech that you didn't fully get.
In my opinion, in the past few years, at least in the big cities, Japanese people have been getting used to that as well and are a bit less reluctant about this.
I think so too. I've met a lot more Japanese salespeople who have always been willing to work with you. But you'll find the more you're able to speak or phrase what you want in different ways, the more the experience opens up.
However that baseline customer experience has always been good. No matter if you're eating out at a restaurant or if you're shopping Bic Camera or any electronic store, theme park or attraction, you know.
The service standards nationwide, that I've been to so far, have always been very comfortable and very easily something where I know I can bring my friend and we're going to be okay. Even though I'm translating, we'll be okay.
We are going to be okay.... The peace of mind is priceless! That's exactly that.
The peace of mind is priceless!
I have a friend who visits every other year. The first year he came to Japan he was shocked that there was no English almost anywhere or that workers didn't really use English as much.
Now I can honestly say, and he can also testify to this, he's been able to move within the country a lot easier when he's come to travel because there's more information in English. There's more signs written English, there's more menus. Workers are making more effort to speak English.
So it's just been interesting to see over the past, you know, close to 10 years how it's changed.
Favorite Japanese Word
Talking about the language, if we forget English for a second, what would be your favourite Japanese word?
I can never say this word correctly, but my favourite Japanese word is 必勝 (Hisshou). I hope I got that right. It means "a certain victory". That's my favorite Japanese word.
Why do you like this word?
I bought a charm at a shrine a long time ago. Actually it might have been Meiji Jingu when I was studying. I still have it and kept it at my door entrance for the longest time. There's something about that word that's just cool.
It also kind of describes my mentality. I played sports all of my life, so I have a very competitive aspect to me and I think that's one of those things.
Well, I hope you will keep this charm for a long time with you!
The next question is more about your community and people that you support in Japan.
Is there anybody living in Japan currently or any company or any project that you would like to give a shout out to?
Definitely, I want to give a shout out to my coworkers at Tokyo Otaku Mode, all of them. We are a very close group of friends.
I also want to give a shout out to my Japan family as we call ourselves. These are expats and also Japanese people who have really helped support me throughout the years. So, Maura, Carl of course, Sierra, Kazushi and Yoko.
When you come to Japan or if you're planning to come to Japan, I would say keep your eye out for those Japanese people who are, I don't know how to describe it, but they're very open and you would almost think that their curiosity... I don't know how to describe it, but there are some Japanese people who just click with you.
I would say just always try to keep your eye open for those, the ones who will be with you for the long run and yeah, almost be like family to you even though they're your friends.
That's it! I like this term of second family.
When you're lucky enough to be able to find these in another country, whether Japan or somewhere else, but when you have people to support you when you live abroad, it's always a massive relief and it's so good. So good to know that you have people around you, for you.
That's great! Maybe another shout out, and we'll put the link in the show notes, is for your podcast Unknown Games Podcast, that you're doing with your colleague from Tokyo Otaku Mode.
If you like gaming, if you like good stories and hidden gems about old games, I believe you should listen Adrian's podcast.
Where can we find you online if people have questions, if people want to get in touch with you? Where should they do that?
You can find me on Facebook. Look up Adrian Leon Morris.
You can also find me on Twitter at @AdrianMorris.
And you can find the Unknown Games Podcast on Twitter. You can follow us at UGP_cast and we're on iTunes, Google podcasts. We're also on Anchor, Spotify... so any major podcasting services you can just look up Unknown Games Podcast,
Click that subscribe button!
Thanks a lot for your time Adrian! That was awesome being able to catch up with you.
All the best on your current projects, all the best on your podcast and on your next adventures. Hopefully we'll be able to catch up in real, in Japan next time.
Yeah, for sure! Thank you for having me on your podcast and I wish you the best of luck and success with it.
For anyone who is wanting to come to Japan, I'd just say, it's a fun ride. It's a long ride.
Just be able to make sure that you're in it 100% and keep focused you'll be fine.
It's a fun country and it's definitely very convenient and safe. You don't have any worries about these things around you. So just make sure that you are up to the best you can be.
And you'll be fine! Thank you!