Buying English Video Games in Japan
Many English teachers and other people working in Japan go there for a love of the country's pop culture. Anime is a common reason people get into J-Entertainment, but video games, manga, and J-pop are also popular.
Japan can be an excellent place to get used cheap video games - in their native language. But what do you do if you want to buy English games instead? This can be especially important if you're not fluent in Japanese, and want to play text heavy games like RPGs.
There are several ways to buy games that make your life easier as an English speaking gamer in Japan.
Western Games Usually Have English Modes
This depends on the console and game developer, of course, but it's not uncommon for Japanese versions of overseas games to be in their native language. Sony Playstation consoles are by far the easiest for this.
Japanese versions of popular titles like the Uncharted series and The Last of Us will almost always come with English modes. It's not complicated at all either - just make sure your Playstation's language settings are set to English, and most games will switch over automatically. Other titles may have English voices, but Japanese text.
For downloadable content, this might mean having to navigate the Japanese Playstation Network to get what you want. Regular game updates and patches will be handled automatically in most cases, with no need for language ability on your part.
Use Download Services like Playstation Network and Steam
As long as you have a credit card and still maintain an address back home, you can use the North American PSN in Japan with little problems.
In my experiences there are times when you might not be able to process your credit card due to having a Japanese IP. This hasn't happened to me lately (as of this writing), but if it does happen to you, simply order a PSN Code online and you can apply it to your account. You can order from domestic sites like Amazon with no issue, so there won't be any markups.
PSN is not the only download service you can use - most console companies have their own services, which you can use from Japan with few issues.
With some region locked consoles like the Nintendo 3DS, if you don't mind digital versions of your games it can be an excellent way to get the English versions. Even if physical copies are region locked, you can still access the North American eShop without any problems.
Unfortunately you can't switch regions and get versions of games from your host country. (This isn't the case with Sony consoles; most let you switch accounts and regions by formatting your console, and the Playstation 3 will even let you have multiple region accounts at the same time without formatting)
Steam is an excellent way to get PC games, and has some console ports. Unlike other download services, however, certain games may be blocked in your region on steam, and inaccessible from searches - even if most English games can be found easily.
On the other hand, Steam has recently let you use Japanese convenience stores to pay for your games - which can be convenient for gamers who don't want to send money back home.
Buy English Games in Japan Online
There are some online stores in Japan that have some English versions of games - though it can be hit or miss.
Amazon Japan will have some English versions of games from third party sellers, which is how I bought the N.A. version of Persona 4: Golden. Naturally due to import fees, this method is going to be more expensive than the cost of buying games back home, or getting the digital versions off download services.
Some Asian online retailers will also have the N.A. versions of games at somewhat higher prices. Asian versions of games will also occasionally have English options.
Worst case scenario, you can always order games from U.S. sites, have them shipped to your family or friends, and have them send the games to you. I usually have games sent when my family sends care packages a few times a year.
Video games can be an excellent way to pass the time in Japan - especially if you're in rural areas with little to do. While cheap games can be had easily at local stores, you don't need to struggle with the language barrier in order to enjoy your hobby, thanks to both retail and download stores on the internet.