What are reasonable strategies for foreign graphic designers to approach working in Japan?

Design Jobs in Japan

Design Jobs in Japan

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Disclaimer: The following article is in fact a reply by Ian Lynam to the Quora question with the same title.

I get at least two people emailing me a week seeking employment in Tokyo – I would like to use this Quora question to potentially function as a reference for job seekers.

When I wrote to Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture about moving to Tokyo years ago, he suggested saving enough money to live for a year or two, and focusing on developing relationships and a community in Tokyo.

I would offer an alternate strategy – build a network of freelance clients in your current city and get them to both trust you and make yourself invaluable to them. When you plan to move, make sure that you have a roster of clients that are fine with telecommuting – this will make the transition far more easy.

Finding clients in Japan, like anywhere, takes time.

You need to make your presence known via building a community, online promotion, and attending social events where you can connect with individuals and companies you want to work for/with.

What kind of clients do you want to work with? If you are stoked on dentistry, hit up the local orthodontists convention.

When Dutch designer Henk Elenga moved from Holland to Los Angeles, he took up golf, as rich people play golf. Boom!: clients! (This being said, be strategic, but not gross in your attempts to connect to potential clients. Nobody likes an opportunivore.)

Community events:

  • Pecha Kucha Night
  • UX Talk
  • Ride the Lightning
  • PauseTalk
  • Tokyo 2.0
  • Make
  • DotFes

Go to design exhibition openings. Mingle. Meet practitioners, ask questions and obtain advice. Be humble.


Language skills, even the most rudimentary, are innately helpful. Take the time to learn even some Japanese. This is price-of-entry in Japan.


Many design offices in Tokyo offer internships. Seek out those businesses and write to them. Take the time to find out who to address. Messages sent to “Dear Sir or Madam” and “to Whom It May Concern” will yield little-to-no results. Some larger firms that offer internships:

  • Wieden + Kennedy
  • Ogilvy
  • UltraSuperNew
  • Others feel free to add to this list (How about leaving a comment?)

Most internships in Tokyo at larger firms are unpaid. Contact smaller studios to find a paying internship. It is helpful to BE in Japan when hunting for internships (and jobs). Be aware that innumerable folks from abroad are continually contacting Tokyo design offices for potential employment – being local gives you the home team advantage.

Potential employers:

(A list of creative firms in Tokyo amenable to hiring graphic designers in some capacity. URLs are not provided. YOU do the legwork, buddy!)

  • Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo
  • UltraSuperNew
  • AQ
  • EAT Creative
  • Kaibutsu
  • IMG SRC/Non-Grid
  • THA
  • Tokyo American Club’s promotions department
  • Bento Graphics

** Please note, be flexible! Attempting to secure full-time employment that includes a work visa and benefits is a stretch for many employers. Accept opportunities gracefully and gratefully. Today’s small freelance project is tomorrow’s full-time client.

*** Remember to email a HUMAN BEING with a NAME. “Dear Sir or Madam” is not a human.