Video Game Book Reviews
Japanmanship is a hard sell. Its subject matter is genuinely unique, being an English-language guide for non-Japanese game developers wishing to work in Japan, and so therefore it's valuable. Unfortunately its intended target audience is so niche, there can't be more than a few hundred potential buyers at best. Ignoring the focus on games development, how many people do you know in general who are up to the task of moving to Japan, to live and work there?
Not being in that category of reader or potential expatriate, it's impossible to judge the book on its intended purpose. Certainly it seems comprehensive, detailing reasons for making the jump, learning the language, getting a degree and experience, choosing a career path, available jobs, writing a resume (in Japanese), creating a portfolio, interviews, tests and visa applications (in Japanese), types of employment contract, corporate culture (and differences), daily routines, renting a flat, bank accounts, various laws, and much else. This is followed up by a series of reprinted editorials from the Japanmanship blog, interviews with non-Japanese developers living in Japan (at companies like Square-Enix and Grasshopper), and over 250 listings for games companies in Japan with contact details.
Significantly, it's written by an Englishman who made the jump himself, James Kay, who later co-founded the Tokyo-based Score Studios development company. He writes from personal experience, with a perspective ideally suited to the subject matter. In fact the book is an extension of his aforementioned blog, Japanmanship, which detailed his life as a foreigner working in Japan. Many of the editorial essays near the end are taken directly from the blog.
This is one of the strongest aspects of the book, making it appeal to more than just curious job hunters. There's been innumerable essays on the state of the Japanese games industry - everyone who has written anything on video games has probably touched upon the subject, at least twice. Kay however brings a unique insight which only a foreigner working in Japan could have. Given the number of foreigners living in Japan, and the many "books" these same foreigners have written based on their experiences, the majority feel like wasted opportunities, offering nothing new. Japanmanship in contrast will describe an actual scene where Kay was chastised by his Japanese boss, for keeping regular 9-5 hours but working efficiently, compared to a colleague whose work was poor but put in much longer, more impressive hours.
There's a lot of stories about Japanese company life out there, online and in books, but these firsthand accounts are fascinating in their honesty, and because they focus specifically on games development. Significantly, even if you have no intention of working in Japan, reading about everything that happens in a Japanese games company, from the bizarre "bonus schemes" to employee attitudes, it helps re-contextualise what you've previously read about the industry. It provides a new layer of understanding to many of those interviews with developers who seem frustrated or disgruntled. It also explains, using precise mechanical reasons, why Japanese games development lags behind the west. It's less to do with consumer preferences, or "making games more western", which is something we've argued before on HG101, and it's more to do with how companies function.
Having said all that, it's still clear that the book is an extension of the blog, written as a stream of consciousness. Some sentences are difficult to parse, there's a lot of spelling and grammar errors, and in many instances it's more like an informal chat. It's not a deal breaker though, and Kay gets a free pass from us on this, since not only is the book strictly a one-man self-published project, but there really is nothing else like it. Writing books is difficult, requiring tremendous levels of continuous dedication to complete it, and then still finalise and put it out there. If you've not followed his blog before, the reprinting of the essays is a welcome addition. Japanmanship is more than just a job hunting guide, it's a detailed examination of a way of life that exists behind our favourite pastime, and if anything, the biggest complaint is that it's marketed as and focuses more on the former, when in fact the best stuff is the latter.
You can buy Japanmanship on Kindle via Amazon - the UK price is £6.48 ($10.51 in the US). However, if you have the disposable income to buy this version, you might as well shell out a little extra for the Print on Demand version on Lulu. It's nice to feel the pages and make notes on interesting chapters, and it also elevates the company listings in the back to a valuable reference source. Besides, it's the kind of book where it's better to dip in and out of random chapters, than read through consecutively. In our case, the European PoD version cost €11.44.
Visit the page at Score Studios for more information.