Mercari Relocation Stories: @teo from the US

My life in Japan in three words: People, Purpose, and Potential

I moved to Japan in the spring of 2022 with my wife.

Growing up in the US, my introduction to Japan came through, as with most people, watching anime, reading manga, and playing video games as a kid. These hobbies got me interested in Japanese culture, so much so that I even took a few language classes in college. But I never thought my relationship with Japan would eventually go much further.

From the first time I visited Japan in 2018, I was in love. Coming from the US, the quality of life in Japan was amazing and I couldn’t stop wondering: how great would it be to live here? But I had no idea how I would approach applying for a visa (assuming I qualified), getting a job, and finding somewhere to live; all while navigating various language and cultural barriers. On top of that, the best jobs in software engineering are overwhelmingly US-based, so moving to Japan would likely mean a pay cut and stunted career growth. Even if that wasn’t the case, when I thought about Japanese work culture, I had pictured long working hours and the so-called salaryman lifestyle. So I relegated the idea of moving to Japan to a fantasy.

That was until 2019 when I met a close friend who was a Product Manager at Mercari. It was the first time I’d heard of Mercari. He told me about what the company was doing, his relationship with his coworkers, and his overall experience working there. As Japan’s first unicorn, Mercari’s culture seemed very similar to other major global tech companies with a relaxed working style. Already Japan’s largest C2C e-commerce marketplace, it was growing so quickly that the company was even looking for talent internationally, offering comprehensive relocation support. With Mercari, my fantasy of living and working in Japan started to become a reality.

My wife and I during our first visit to Japan in 2018, when I still didn’t know about Mercari. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine just four years later I’d be working in this very same building!

I joined Mercari two years later in September of 2021. Despite applying in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when Japan’s borders were closed, Mercari’s recruiters were supportive and responsive throughout the entire process, eventually even making a way for me to start remotely from the US until the borders opened up in May of 2022.

One other tricky thing about our timing was that when I received my offer from Mercari, my wife and I were still engaged and not actually married yet, but some of the benefits in the relocation package required us to be legally married due to Japanese law. Luckily for us, Mercari’s relocation team was very supportive, going out of their way to arrange our documents and relocation schedule in line with our wedding plans so that both of us could receive the generous benefits and support available.

Even after we landed in Japan, she was included in all aspects of the relocation support, like opening up a bank account and signing up for a phone plan. The quality of service that we received went far beyond our expectations. The staff was so kind, some are now friends that we keep in touch with to this day!

Summer matsuri at a local park

It’s been a year and a half since we moved, and our life in Japan has been beyond what we expected. One of the biggest surprises has been the different communities we’ve found in Japan.

One is our local community, which is a quaint little residential neighborhood just outside of Shibuya. Even though our Japanese is still very basic, my wife and I have made a conscious effort to say hello to people, remember their names, and get to know them, which has led to great conversations and relationships.

One fun serendipitous encounter was finding out that the owner of our favorite local restaurant used to run restaurants near our hometown before moving back to Japan. We’ve gotten to know her so well that she’s like family now, and my wife, being a professional graphic designer, actually got the chance to design posters and stickers that the restaurant now uses for their takeout bento boxes. In addition to our local community, we’ve found other homes away from home like the international church that we go to or the Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym that I train at a few times a week. Before our move, I was worried that living in Japan would be lonely and it would be difficult to make friends. However, it has been the exact opposite.

My jiu-jitsu sensei giving me the first stripe on my belt in 10 years

In terms of my initial concerns about the work culture, my career, and the sacrifices that I thought I had to make to move to Japan, none were true. On the contrary, Mercari’s culture of constant innovation combined with Mercari’s scale has provided huge career opportunities in just a short amount of time.

I joined Mercari’s AI search relevancy team where I was immediately empowered to support the company across multiple projects. My team went on to establish Mercari’s ML search re-ranking system, which became the most successful search ML feature in the app and today drives significant contributions to our revenue. This feature actually laid the groundwork for the fully AI-powered user-personalized search we are now building at Mercari to continue delivering the best search experience to the millions of buyers and sellers on our online marketplace—and I get to be at the forefront of this exciting journey!

In its pursuit to become a global tech company, Mercari is committed to defining the cutting edge to not only provide the most value to our users but also circulate valuable insights within the industry, allowing me the privilege of representing Mercari internationally as a conference speaker—a first in my career! First in Singapore for FOSSASIA Summit (one of Asia’s largest open-source software conferences) and then Germany for Berlin Buzzwords (one of the largest search conferences in the world; for more details, see the event recap article that @cowana and I wrote on Mercari’s engineering blog).

While these accomplishments may sound impressive, they weren’t due to me being particularly special in any way. On the contrary, this work was the culmination of guidance and support from countless colleagues across the company. Mercari’s culture of innovation (Go Bold), excellence (Be a Pro), and teamwork (All For One) meant that, from day one, the people I worked with exposed me to a technical caliber and passion that skyrocketed my skills and inspired me to go above and beyond with every new project.

The people at Mercari are also some of the most kind, gracious, and humble people I have met in my entire career, and I’m lucky to call many of them my closest friends. To this day, I wake up excited every morning to work with them, dreaming of the next big things we’ll accomplish together. And this is what makes Mercari special: you don’t need to be an extraordinary person to work here, but you can accomplish extraordinary things if you do.

Giving a talk at Berlin Buzzwords 2023

To end, my advice for anyone who is interested in working and living in Japan is this: if it’s something that you feel is the right thing to do, don’t be afraid to give it a shot; it may just change your life. Especially at Mercari, not only does the relocation package make the transition much easier, but you’ll have the support of your colleagues after you get here, too. There are people with a variety of interests as well as a shared culture of All for One for members to thrive, whether that is in their work or in their life in Japan.

When I run into any problems, there is always someone that is willing to help me out. When I want to socialize and make new friends, I can join one of our many company clubs for special interests (from cats to beer, you name it)! In this way, your community can start at Mercari. Speaking from my own personal experience, joining Mercari and moving to Japan has been an amazing opportunity in every way I could imagine and has been a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

FOSSASIA Summit in Singapore, setting up our presentation with the help of the other Mercari conference presenters

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