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Study Anime, Video Games and Digital Media at a Japanese University: Digital Hollywood University Tokyo

Digital Hollywood University claims to turn your hobbies into a pathway to a career in the industry. GaijinPot went to the open campus to find out more.

By 7 min read

There’s little question that Japan is one of the premier places for media creation. Anime, video games, graphic design… they’re industries that are popular overseas as well, and many a person has come to Japan to try to work in those fields.

Animation work created by a student at Digital Hollywood University.

One of the biggest obstacles they face is strong competition for entry-level jobs. Japanese companies typically hire their workers straight from university in a rigid process called shukatsu. Graduates are ranked by the quality of the university they attended and hired en masse without much consideration of individual skills or experience.

So, what should you do if you want to work in the creative industry here in Japan? One way would be to study at a Japanese university and put yourself on an equal footing with the locals.

But you may be thinking that you’re not interested in spending four years studying STEM or general art courses that most universities offer. At the same time, studying anime or game design usually invokes an image of two-year vocational schools, which have their purpose but won’t get you a proper university degree and will severely limit your career opportunities in Japan.

A student mockup made in a class learning graphic design for mobile apps.

Fortunately, Digital Hollywood University (DHU) has managed to combine the fun and excitement of the Japanese media industry with a proper program that’ll get you ready for a career after graduation.

Forget those images of university classes in old-fashioned buildings being taught by professors wearing tweed sweaters. If the name itself didn’t give you a clue, Digital Hollywood University is no normal uni experience.

Forget those images of university classes in old-fashioned buildings being taught by professors wearing tweed sweaters. If the name itself didn’t give you a clue, Digital Hollywood University is no normal uni experience.

A visit to the DHU open campus

DHU Summer Open Campus 2019.

As someone who helps run GaijinPot Study, I try to get a feel for all of the different schools in the country, from Japanese language schools to universities. We try to advise the students on what schools would be best for their ambitions, and I’d be lying if I said we don’t get a fair number of people interested in digital media like games and anime.

I’m aware of plenty of two-year trade schools with such courses, but universities are less common. I was very interested in seeing the school in person and attended the open campus. I’m not ready to pull a Rodney Dangerfield and go “Back to School,” but hey, I’m supposed to have my finger on the pulse of the Japanese higher education scene.

Meeting DHU alumni

A talk session with the principal and three alumni.

I started out by attending a talk session with the principal and three alumni. The focus was on explaining how exactly the school helped prepare them for their careers and what they got out of their education.

One of the students studied graphic design at the school and is now a designer at BizReach, a fairly famous company here. Another learned English and Business, studied abroad in New York, and currently works in web marketing at LocalFolio, the Tokyo branch of the American company ReachLocal. The third studied video production and did a stint at an advertising agency. She’s now working as a freelance video producer while studying a Master’s degree at Digital Hollywood Graduate School (DHGS).

Projection mapping at Tokyo Big Sight was part of a project produced by DHU students.

Although this may seem obvious, it’s actually pretty impressive that the students work in a field that they studied in. It is not uncommon for the Japanese companies which recruit you from university to ignore what you studied and just put you on a generic career track. Certainly, there’s little motivation to go the extra mile in your graphic design classes if you end up as an accountant.

The students joked that Digital Hollywood University is a unique name to have on your resume, but that the name does have quite a good reputation in the industry. Even if you’re looking outside of that field, it’ll certainly make you stand out from other applicants.

Turn your hobby into a career with a course at DHU.
A DHU students’ video game animation.

The students also talked about why they chose the school and why they liked it. One answer that kept coming up was that you can really study what you enjoy doing, and your hobby can become your career.

The teachers are all experienced in the industry and can explain the career opportunities to you, and there is a wide variety of classes available, from design to business. This kind of freedom is unusual in Japanese universities.

According to the students, it gets to the point where you’re having so much fun at school that you’d rather be there than at home!

Trying a class at DHU

The open campus 3D design class.

Sounds good, but can someone with a dream but no skills even have a shot at being a successful student? Part of the open campus allowed us to join a beginner class, and I decided to try my luck out in a Maya class. I’m aware that the software is quite popular in the industry but have never used it myself. It’s used to create 3D models which are then put into games, movies, and almost any kind of media with CG.

The class teacher definitely knew his stuff. He graduated from Digital Hollywood in 1999, and worked on some pretty major projects, from the Pretty Cure anime series to the Metal Gear video game series.

Learn how to use 3D design software at DHU.

By the end of this class, we were supposed to be able to create “something” in the software that’s recognizable but I wasn’t too confident in my skills; I’d have enough of a challenge making something in Microsoft Paint.

He taught us how to use basic geometric shapes in the software and modify them with some basic menu functions. Everything seemed confusing at first but the teacher went slowly and explained what the functions could do. By the end of it, I was able to create a snowman and I got the feeling that with enough time and practice, I’d be able to actually make something more ambitious.

Exploring the DHU campus

The DHU campus is modern and compact.

Satisfied with the content of the class, I decided to walk around the school and get a feel for the campus.

The school is located in a modern building in the center of Tokyo, just a few kilometers from Akihabara, which as you probably already know is the district of anime, gaming, and digital media. It’s not the biggest school, and the classrooms were all quite small; nothing like your huge university lecture halls.

DHU is located in Akihabara, Tokyo’s center of anime, manga and video games.

The hallways were colorful and designed to encourage creativity. The school cafeteria’s tables can even be used as giant whiteboards, with markers on every table. The school knows that the best ideas can pop up when you least suspect them, so you can write them down without missing a beat.

The library at DHU.

The school also has a career guidance center, listing internships, part-time jobs and full-time jobs in the industry. The jobs are separated by industry, such as anime, gaming, web design, etc. Companies often come to the school for their recruiting since the school’s name is well-known in the scene. After all, the teachers are most likely former colleagues.

How can foreigners study at DHU?

After touring the school, I asked about the requirements for non-Japanese students. The school has 1,185 students in total, with 434 of them being foreigners.

Of course, the first question any potential international student will ask is about the level of Japanese necessary to enroll. The classes are all in Japanese, but if you can muster around a JLPT N2 level, then you’ll be fine and will meet the school’s Japanese language requirement.

Another DHU student’s mixed media artwork.

I may not be in a place to return to university, but I can’t say I didn’t start having second thoughts about pursuing a second degree after enjoying the open campus. It seems that the digital media world is more globalized than ever and there are plenty of opportunities for foreigners who have the skills, drive, and creativity to make it.

Digital Hollywood University

Digital Hollywood University is on Instagram where it regularly features students’ works, in addition to useful information on their admissions, events and so on. You can even ask questions and arrange a campus visit by DM-ing their Insta page.

If you are interested in learning more about the admissions process, you can also check out this page on their website.

Ochanomizu Sola City Academia 3F/4F, 4-6 Kandasurugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0062

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