Updated June 25, 2024

“Into the Unknown” Interview with Eric Turner, founder of Japan Dev (Part 2)


Eri Ochiai

Japan Dev contributor


In May, I had the great opportunity to sit down with Eric to learn about this person and professional experiences in Japan. This article is the written summary of the conversation. In Part 1, Eric shared his personal story of how he came to Japan first, as an ALT. From there, he transitioned into software engineering, moving to more international companies and eventually becoming fully committed to Japan Dev. In Part 2, the interview focuses on the insight that he provides on the state of the tech scene in Japan and how this has evolved over the years. Eric also reflects on how Japan Dev started and shares the future ideas he has to continue supporting the expat community and the tech companies. 

Key Takeaways

  • Japan's tech industry is made of both modern, Silicon Valley-style companies and more ‘traditional’ companies that favor outsourcing for cost efficiency.

  • Startups in Japan have gained some prominence over the years, attracting more investment and attention. This gives more space for expats to explore options. 

  • It’s extremely important to understand a person's motivation to come to Japan and to have realistic expectations through research. 

How Japan Dev Started

Eri: Japan Dev is a well-known and accessed job search platform for English speakers in Japan and also around the world. How has working at Mercari, a Japanese company with a global culture, influenced the way you started your business?

Eric: The original idea for Japan Dev was a curated list of jobs that I found that seemed interesting. When I did the job search it was tough because I didn’t know what was out there so everytime I made the transition, I would look at this list as a resource. I would say it was more like a company discovery platform which evolved into a job board. I was looking at things like overwork and how accommodating they seemed to English speakers or non-native Japanese speakers. I also looked at their technologies to see if they were using modern technologies. The list eventually morphed into a job board so people can actually apply but originally it was similar to Glassdoor where we also had reviews but there seemed to be a stronger need from the users to apply to these jobs.

How the Tech Industry in Japan has Changed

Eri: Now that you’re on the other side of recruitment, what do you see in the tech industry in Japan?

Eric: There are two separate groups when it comes to companies in tech in Japan. There are the more modern, I would call them Silicon Valley style companies where they are using the modern tech. They usually have an in -house development team. It is like building products with the idea that we're gonna keep this in -house and create value by building the software or hardware. The other group is companies that are focusing on outsourcing where instead of having this idea that the software itself has value and it should be built by the company itself, it's this idea that you should be outsourcing it to someone else. And because software is just something that it's a necessary evil that we need, but we need to do it as cheaply as possible. That is still very common here in Japan. In fact, I think last I looked at the stats, most software is still created that way. It's good through these, sometimes it's like a series of different companies that will subcontract it out basically to the lowest bidder essentially. There are only a few hundred companies or so that I personally would kind of, I guess I personally would recommend. And I'm trying to have a comprehensive list to the extent possible on Japan Dev of all those companies that I would want to work for or be willing to work for. 

Eri: What changes have you noticed in the industry?

Eric: There are a lot more startups now. Like even compared to when I first came here back in like 2013, there were a few. It was the initial startup wave happening and there was some more investment coming in, and that increased quite steadily after getting a lot more VC funding.

In fact, even the word “startup” is more of a mainstream concept now, I would say. There is the issue of Japanese culture being a bit risk averse, actually, quite risk averse. And as a result of that, I do think that there's a big idea that stability is like the end all be all in your career. Getting into a place where the company is a household name, somewhere like Toyota, for example. The chances of a startup fully working and becoming a massive company are lower. But if it were to happen, the result would be so much greater because Toyota is an amazing company, but it's not going to increase 100x in size, right?

I feel like when I first arrived here startups were like a very niche thing because it's better to be at a big company. If you couldn't get into a company, then a startup would be an option. Like it's a good alternative to do for a while, when you're young. That's basically how it was seen. And I think that's changed a bit. For example Mercari, they became a unicorn. And they hit like, billion plus.

The Future of Japan Dev

Eri: Besides the obvious, like language, what are some surprising factors that play into the quality of someone’s experience working in Japan? 

Eric: As a software engineer a big one is the technologies a company is using. This impacts the transferability of an engineer’s gained knowledge and experience. You want to pay attention to if the company is using a specific kind of infrastructure and an esoteric language. The more English presence they have, the culture tends to match better. I’d see if the company has an English version of their website. The number of English speakers is also another good indicator. 

Eri: What are your next steps? Where do you see yourself going?

Eric: I want to continue to focus on Japan Dev with essentially the mission that I outlined of ensuring that everyone who wants to work in Japan can have a positive experience here in tech for like at first just for tech. I want to reach more people and get my message out more widely to prevent people from having negative experiences. I’m figuring out exactly what I need to do to truly take that to the next level. It's a question of what format to take and how to achieve that at a larger scale. Right now, Japan Dev is still quite niche. I have quite a few corporate clients now, which is great. I'm trying to get more. I want to be as comprehensive as possible for the users. Ideally, I would like to have every company that I think could provide a great work environment. 

My ultimate goal is to make it so that any software developer who wants to work in Japan can basically come here and have a good experience. At the same time, help them make the decision to even come to Japan. 

Eri: If there is someone who’s trying to decide to try working in tech in Japan, what would you tell them to help them make that decision?

Eric: The thing that I hear from people when they're considering living in is, “Japan seems awesome…but I hear the work culture is kind of bad”. Everything seems great, except the work culture. Work seems to be the one stumbling block that people have. What I'm trying to do with Japan Dev is steer people away from the kind of less fitting companies and towards more international ones. If you’re looking for ways to decide if you want to make the move, there's also no replacement for simply coming to Japan for a short stay first and talking to people. You can really get a good feel for it that way. Other than that, I think you need to spend some time doing the research. Also, have a frank conversation with yourself. If you’re from the U.S. for example, am I willing to take a 30%, 40%, 50% pay cut? Do I value that experience enough where that would be okay? And if the answer is no, that's okay. You can still look for other ways to visit Japan.

Eri: I wrote an article on your blog about how a lot of people get stuck in the research phase. Being able to access Japan Dev to research is such a gift today, because before it was much more difficult to find companies that matched with what someone outside of Japan was looking for. I also want to echo your point on the intention or the expectation setting for yourself. When I work with a person, I pay a lot of attention to the person’s true desires to work and live in Japan. What does living in Japan mean for them? What's the value? Every person has a different image of how they want to live and work here and it’s good to acknowledge this aspect too. 

What final advice do you have for your audience?

Eric: I think it can be very easy to romanticize about moving to Japan. It might be tempting to see your move to Japan as a one solution to all your problems. The novelty may be enough to survive the first few years but that probably won't last Wherever you go, you’re still you. It's not going to solve the internal issues that you may have. You're still going to be in Japan and you're still going to need a plan for your career and how to earn money and how to grow as a person. Asking if you want that is an important step. If you do want that experience regardless of the challenges you might face, then create a plan and a realistic understanding of what it's actually going to be like.


Eric’s personal journey moving to Japan then building his professional experiences is a story that resonated with many readers of Japan Dev. His perspective on how the tech industry in Japan has evolved and the state of the industry today offers valuable insight for job seekers based locally and abroad. Japan Dev’s success in itself demonstrates the shifts and changes of the tech companies today. Eric acknowledges that relocating to Japan for career aspirations and personal growth has many benefits while emphasizing on the importance of inner reflection on what a person wants or fulfills through their jobs.


Eri Ochiai

Eri is an Expat Career Coach in Tokyo. With a background in HR at an IT startup and expat life in 🇮🇹, she's partnered with +300 expat job seekers in tech. Currently, she specializes in supporting expats towards fulfilling careers drawing on her unique insight and experiences. On a constant quest for good bread.