After a number of recent posts from foreigners working in Japan our latest interview has a slightly different face, that of Yutaka Kurahashi, Chief Artist at Q-Games. As a Japanese employee working along side foreigners in Japan he provides a good counter point to the discussion of issues to be tackled in a mixed work place, from basic communication to cultural misunderstandings. Kurahashi is also able to compare Q-Games to more traditional Japanese companies that he has worked at, shedding some light on to the changing face of business in his native country, and how he feels injecting new cultural ideas can be of benefit.
・How does working at Q-Games compare to more traditional Japanese companies?
About eight years have passed since I started working at Q-Games, but before that, I worked at a famous Japanese foodstuffs company. This rather large company had a well-established history, but at its core, it fit the mold of what is to be expected from a conservative Japanese company. As such, there was something very new and exciting about Q-Games. Having so many foreigners on staff made for a liberating work environment, but what was most impressive was seeing how everyone enjoyed working together. Of course, the industry I used to work in was completely different from the games industry. The day-to-day work was completely different from what I was used to, but it became quite clear to me Q-Games was a great place to have a job. That certainly doesn’t mean well-established, traditional companies like the place I used to work at are bad. For me personally, it gave me valuable experience and served as the basis of who I am today. However, if I had to compare the two, I’d to say there’s nothing better than working at a place like Q-Games for someone like me.
・What do you feel the mixed ethnicity of your co-workers brings to the company and your products?
For starters, we come up with ideas Japanese individuals wouldn’t be able to think of solely by ourselves. Because our cultures are so different, there are many instances I find myself opening my eyes to new ways of looking at things. I get to work on my English skills, it’s easy to keep up on news from abroad, and the atmosphere is so liberating. On the other hand, there are many different cultures and senses of value which may clash with Japanese sensibilities, and this may cause issues with how well everyone works together. However, I think being considerate of each other and maintaining an open line of communication is very important in resolving any issues which may result. I posit it’s precisely because our cultures are so different that Q-Games has become a working environment where we can all appreciate and respect each other.
・Japan is still very ethnocentric in the majority of businesses, do you feel the Q-Games model is likely to be adopted by other companies, gaming and otherwise, going forward?
I think Japanese companies have become increasingly international, but I think Q-Games is a particularly special case. For instance, our President is a foreigner who happens to be extremely knowledgeable about Japan. If our President were Japanese, I would find it difficult to believe Q-Games would be how it is today. Of course there are many instances of foreigners working at well-equipped corporations in Japan, but I think having close to half the staff being foreigners at a relatively small-scale company like Q-Games is particularly rare. Because the President is a foreigner himself, there’s not as much pressure associated with communication, and because there are so many foreigners who work here, Q-Games creates an environment which make it very hospitable for people interested in coming to Japan. If a Japanese national were to start a successful company abroad, surely Japanese people who want to work abroad would be drawn to a company like that!
・Do you find Q-Games are treated differently than other studios in Japan by publishers?
Yes, I think so. The games we’ve developed have always been of high quality, and I think the quality of our work has become highly regarded. Plus, with its mix of good Japanese and foreign qualities, Q-Games has become such a unique Japanese company. That’s why I think there’s been a lot of interest from publishers.
・What difficulties have you run into culturally working with foreign staff?
Of course communication issues happen, but I think the biggest difference is the way in which the foreign staff approaches work. It’s often said Japanese people work too much, but the “work” involved is done as a group. The biggest priority is working with everything as a team – not as an individual. “Cooperation” is a word often used in Japan. In order for everyone to work together in harmony, the group has to come before the individual, everyone has to respect each other, and sometimes an individual’s time has to be sacrificed due to work. That’s been the norm for many Japanese people for a long time. Of course, I’m not saying that way of thinking doesn’t exist abroad, but I believe that amongst most foreigners the individual is prioritized over the group. From a Japanese perspective, this might be viewed as being a very dry, business-like way of doing things. Japanese people have been instilled with an age-old collectivist mentality, and working in this manner – for good or for bad – is a part of the Japanese culture.
・Do you have any advice for non-Japanese wanting to work in the Japanese games industry?
First and foremost, you shouldn’t impose your own culture upon others. Since your culture may be very different from that of Japan, embracing these differences is the key to success. “When in Rome – or Japan in this case – do as the Romans do.” We have a very similar saying in Japanese. When foreigners first come to Japan, they have a tendency to impose their cultural mores and ways of thinking onto others. Or course, I’m not suggesting you abandon 100% of those values; it’s moving forward with an attitude of accepting the Japanese culture that’s important. At the same time, there are certainly many things we Japanese should adopt from foreign cultures. Other than that, enjoy your new life in Japan!