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From UC Berkeley to Tokyo: A Journey to finding a Career, and Fulfillment, in Japan

Updated: Jun 17

Working in Japan as a foreigner has become an increasingly attractive option for students and young professionals worldwide, offering a unique blend of career opportunities, cultural experiences, and personal growth. In this article, we sit down with Aaron, a 29-year-old American who has navigated the journey from studying at UC Berkeley, to now working in Tokyo. He shares his experiences, insights, and advice for those considering a similar path.



—— Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you studied?

Aaron: I'm originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, and lived there most of my life. I attended UC Berkeley where I studied political science. In high school, I was in the debate club, and began studied Spanish, which I would go on to do for 7 years.  It wasn't until my last year at Berkeley in 2017 that I started studying basic Japanese. After graduating, I wanted to continue improving my Japanese and experience living in Japan, so I participated in the JET Program, teaching English at two high schools in Tottori Prefecture. This allowed me to focus on studying Japanese, which I did entirely self-taught from that point on.


After JET, I returned to the U.S., passed the JLPT N2 exam, and joined a company called Plug and Play. Based in Silicon Valley, I worked with large Japanese companies on their global innovation strategy, and introduced them to various startups. Wanting to further improve my business acumen, I then pursued an MBA through MIT Sloan’s partner school, Asia School of Business, in Malaysia. After completing my MBA in late 2022, I worked as a bilingual consultant at Cambridge Technology Partners, a Japanese company, acting as the bilingual PMO for client’s IT system rollouts. As I always maintained a strong desire to move to Japan from the US, at 29 years old I relocated to Tokyo to work for a Japanese manga-SaaS startup called Comici (written as “コミチ” in Japanese).


——  What interested you in Japan, and learning Japanese?

Aaron: My interest in Japan started at a young age, with early memories of enjoying Japanese food like sushi and watching Studio Ghibli movies. In high school, I liked various aspects of Japanese culture – music, books, anime and manga. This cultural interest coincided with my love of languages, having studied Spanish previously. I fell in love with the Japanese language, and in particular, Japanese kanji.


Participating in the JET Program allowed me to both teach English, something I enjoyed, and improve my language skills. Many factors have motived me to continue studying Japanese: having many Japanese friends, wanting to use Japanese in my career, and holding an appreciation for Japanese culture, through which I could understand more deeply via the language. Living in Japan – the food, way of life, transportation, and culture – align with my personal preferences, and in many respects, I am happier living here than in the U.S. Although I chose somewhat late in my career to move here, the timing made sense, and it was tied to my personal goals, like obtaining permanent residency.


—— What interested in you choosing to live in Japan? What factored into your decision?

Aaron: After JET, I returned to work in the U.S. This was first at Plug and Play in 2019 as a Japanese partnerships manager, and then Cambridge Technology Partners in 2023. At the time, choosing to stay in the U.S. made sense – both financially, and in ease of finding a position. I think for many people, the higher salaries, and often better working conditions/hours in the U.S., especially in tech, make it tempting to stay there as a skilled professional.


However, I reached a point where I felt if I didn’t make the move to Japan then, I might never do it. The timing aligned with my dual desire to move to a new city, and seriously pursue life and find career in Japan. That said, I emphasize that the decision to move to Japan ought be a personal one. Ask yourself: how does a life in Japan align with your personal and career goals? How much will your love for Japan propel you as you deal with the challenges of living in a new country? Depending on your own personal calculus, the objective benefits may favor staying in the U.S. For me, my personal goals, love of the culture and language, and vision of building a life in Japan long-term, all motivated me to take the plunge and move, despite the challenges.


—— How was your experience on the JET Program?

Aaron: For those who don’t know, the JET Program is an English-teaching program run by the Japanese government. Participants are stationed as English teachers (or “ALTs”) in any number of elementary, middle or high schools across Japan. I greatly enjoyed and recommend the JET Program experience for those wishing to live in Japan. It presents a great opportunity to improve your language skills, and get your foot in the door in Japan. In that sense, it is great for recent college graduates. And for being a fresh graduate, you make a very good salary, and can take advantage of the built-in JET community where you are based.


I certainly experienced some culture shock, as it was my first time spending more than a month in Japan. For one, the language barrier often necessitated relying on others’ help for some basic day-to-day tasks.


However, I found it highly rewarding to teach eager Japanese students, make friends with other JETs, and use the opportunity to improve my Japanese. While speaking Japanese is not a requirement for being a JET, I recommend learning at least some basics beforehand to get the most out of the experience. For me, it was an ideal way to be immersed in a Japanese environment, and get acquainted with life in Japan, without having to set up everything on my own (for example, finding an apartment, which is done for you).


—— What do you think about your current job at the Japanese manga-SaaS startup, Comici?

Aaron: As I recently moved to Japan, I’ve only just started working at Comici. That said, it has been fantastic so far! All my co-workers are incredibly kind and helpful, and of course, super passionate about manga (which makes it very enjoyable!). It is not the most ‘traditional’ Japanese work environment, which suits my background and preferences well, and gives a peek into Japanese business culture for foreigners. People are also hired more on a role-by-role basis, and tend to be subject-matter experts (versus many large Japanese companies, where you often get hired and trained as a generalist).


I believe many startups in Japan have a similar culture, so working at a Japanese startup, or foreign startup based in Japan, may be a great option for you!


For me, I'm excited to contribute to Comici’s accelerating growth, while immersing myself in a totally Japanese work environment. It is a unique opportunity to blend my passion for both manga and tech, with my desire to build a career in Japan.



—— What advice would you give to students who are considering a career in Japan?

Aaron: My first piece of advice would be to study Japanese diligently. Even if your work doesn't require it, being proficient in the language will open up countless personal and professional opportunities, and make your daily life much easier. (I passed the JLPT N1 exam in 2022, and sometimes that doesn’t even feel like enough!) Second, consider how Japan fits with your priorities in life. If you're passionate about experiencing Japan's culture, language, and way of life, pursue that dream! Even if it means a comparable role in the U.S. may be more financially lucrative in the short-term.


Also, when you're young and just starting your career, you often have the benefit of not needing to be as concerned with money, or a family to provide for. In that sense, it is a great time to take risks, and try something new, like living in Japan. Through that process of trial-and-error, you can find what makes you happy, what makes you tick. Maybe you can try an internship in Tokyo in your junior year of college, and see how it suits you!Which is to say, if you have a strong desire to live and work in Japan, I say go for it. Embrace the challenges, immerse yourself in the culture, and be open to personal and professional growth. It’s a decision I certainly don’t regret.


—— What do you think about Jelper Club?

Aaron:  I think the concept behind Jelper Club is very interesting! I appreciate the team’s mission of attracting global talent to Japan, and think it's important for the country to be more competitive, and appealing to skilled international workers. I imagine the company’s clients are quite open to hiring non-Japanese talent, and have a more foreigner-friendly, less-traditional Japanese work culture. A service like that would have greatly interested me when I was younger. I'm curious to follow Jelper Club and see potential in the business model of connecting young, global talent with Japanese companies (particularly those in need of greater globalization). I think it can have fantastic benefits all-around, as long as all parties go in with mutual respect, and an appreciation of working-style differences between Japan and the U.S.



Aaron's journey from the U.S. to Japan highlights the rewards and challenges of living in Japan as an American. His story demonstrates the importance of language proficiency, cultural adaptability, and a genuine passion for the country and its people.


For students and young professionals considering working in Japan, Aaron's advice is clear: reflect deeply on your priorities, cultivate a love for the language and culture, and embrace yourself for the unique challenges, and opportunities, that come with building a career in Japan. With the right mindset, support, and determination, the experience can be truly transformative, both personally and professionally.


At Jelper Club, we're here to support you every step of the way for your career development in Japan. Our platform connects ambitious students from top universities worldwide with exclusive internships and full-time job opportunities in Japan with a variety of Japanese proficiency requirements. We also provide access to practical information, member-only events, and a professional community of like-minded individuals.


If you're ready to embark on your own Japanese adventure, visit Jelper Club today and discover how we can help you unlock your potential in Japan.

(Editor: Jelper Club Editorial Team)


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