Working at Merpay / Mercari: My Honest Review as a Software Engineer in Japan

Working at Merpay / Mercari: My Honest Review as a Software Engineer in Japan

In 2019, I joined Merpay, a part of the Mercari Group, in Japan. As I write this review, more than five years have passed. There are so many memories, learning experiences, and insights. This article aims to provide an honest and detailed review of my time at Merpay and Mercari, covering the company culture, management structure, and challenges and opportunities.

Whether you're considering a career move to Japan or simply curious about what it's like to work at one of the country's leading tech firms, I hope my experiences will offer valuable perspectives and advice.

Key Takeaways

1. Mercari is a Japanese company with a Western working environment. It has great resources, benefits, work-life balance, and working culture.

2. I enjoyed working there for it having a lot of senior Software Engineers, flexible career path, and company resources.

3. The company took a deep hit during the recession just like all tech enterprises in Japan. Slowdown continued in 2023 when I left the company due to limited resources.

4. The language environment between JP/EN remains one of its biggest challenges to move to a global environment.

An Overview of The Company and the Market

Services & Products

By the time I left the company, there were multiple services and products from the entire Mercari group:

  • Mercari JP: The dominant second-hand marketplace in Japan (CtoC). They have the largest market share and users among all competitors.
  • Mercari Shop: A different marketplace business model for merchants to sell products to customers (BtoC).
  • Merpay: Mobile payment including QR code and credit card.
  • Mercoin: Cryptocurrency trading and investment.
  • Mercari US: Same secondhand marketplace but in the U.S.. This post will not cover this business as I have almost zero experience working with them.

There are other new services such as Mercari Hallo which helps people find small jobs. However, that was after I left the company so I didn't have a chance to get to know them.

Management Structure

Each company has its management structure. There is a CEO, CTO, VPoE, CPO, and other executives for each company. Under them, there is an Engineering division including directors, EMs, PMs, and software engineers.

Companies work with each other when there are overlapping areas. For example, all payments in Mercari JP go through the Merpay payment system. There are a lot of interactions between the Merpay payment team and the Mercari JP accounting team. Otherwise, companies operate on their own (except all C-suite people report to the Mercari Group executives).

Pay Scale

As I am only one part of the company, I can not say that I know the pay scale very well. However, my general impression is mostly aligned with the data in Each grade in the data is mapped to its Engineering Ladder.

If you're interested in digging deep into the pay scale in the job market, I would recommend checking the salary guidelines on Japan-Dev.

The Tech Job Market Landscape in Japan

If you are familiar with the software companies in the Japanese market, there is a good chance that you know there are several categories. Mercari belongs to the category of "Japanese companies with a Western working environment". Features of this category include:

  • The pay scale is below the top scale but is considered good enough.
  • The language environment is usually a mix of Japanese and English, but foreigner-friendly.
  • They actively hire from overseas with their generous relocation and visa support. They are one of the best choices for foreigners to land their first job in Japan.
  • Other companies in this category include PayPay, SmartNews, etc.

Other major categories in the job market:

  • ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ/๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡บ Global tech enterprises: Worldwide companies such as Google, Indeed, Netflix and others. It also includes smaller but well-known companies such as Stripe and Wolt.
  • ๐Ÿ‘บ Traditional Japanese companies: The majority of companies you can find in Japan.
  • ๐Ÿค Small startups: This is a category on its own because everything depends on the founders. Their pay scale, language environment, and cultural environment vary.

There are also other types including software agencies, governments, and nonprofit organizations. They are not the top choices for foreigners so this post will not cover them.

My Experience with Merpay

My Team and Their Tech Stack

I joined Merpay, the mobile payment business in the Mercari Group, as a Backend Engineer in 2019. I spent all my time in the Payment Platform team. There is a very good article (in Japanese) by our senior tech lead summarizing what we do and our value to the company.

To keep it brief, here is a list of technologies that we used: Golang, PHP (phasing out), Google Cloud Platform, Spanner, Pub/Sub, Docker, Kubernetes, DataDog, and GitHub. Most of the teams in Mercari adopt the same technologies for consistency.

Team Structure

Each team looks like the following:

  • Engineering Manager (EM): EM is responsible for the entire team. Many responsibilities are delegated to PM or TL, but EM is the guardian. There are a variety of responsibilities but most of the time the priority is on strategy and people management.
  • Product Manager (PdM) / Project Manager (PM): Depending on the complexity and impact of the product in the team, there could be PdM (more senior) or PM in the team. They are responsible for the product roadmap and the project planning and monitoring.
  • Tech Lead (TL): Tech Lead is the equivalent of a senior developer that is in charge of the team. All important technical decisions have to go through this role. TL still needs to code, but they also spend quite some time reviewing codes, designing architectures, and designing teamwork processes.
  • QA: Not all teams have a dedicated QA member. For some reason, QA talents are scarce in Japan. Most of the time multiple teams share the same QA member. Their responsibilities are manually testing the features and applications.
  • Design: I focus more on the backend, so I have zero experience working with design members in Merpay. However, as far as I know, they are responsible for designing the UI and UX of the website and mobile applications.
  • Developers: Developers other than Tech Lead belong to this category. There are one or two senior developers, some mid-level, and some junior developers. Sometimes there are interns.

Language Environment

The environment in Merpay was quite Japanese-dominated when I joined. The management members were making all the effort to create a language-inclusive environment. I saw a lot of progress in those years, but there was still a huge gap in what we wanted to achieve.

Most Merpay product teams need to talk to accounting, legal, compliance, and customer support teams. These teams do not have any English or bilingual speakers. In that case, most teams need to have at least one or two Japanese speakers to bridge the communications. This is also one of the main challenges in promoting English communications.

When I left the company, the environment looked like the following:

  • English-speaking Teams: This includes 3-4 teams. PMs are mostly bilingual so they serve as the bridge in communications.
  • Teams with mix JP/EN: This includes another 3 teams. There are both Japanese and non-Japanese speakers. This includes the team I stayed with at Merpay. We tried very hard to preserve both language use in the team and it worked well so far.
  • Japanese-speaking Teams: The rest belong to this category. There are still bilingual speakers in these teams, but most communications are done in Japanese.

Note that the above is in Merpay. Mercari JP has a better language-inclusive environment.

Work-Life Balance

I have no complaints about this part. The company does not require people to work overtime. The standard working hour is 8 hours per day.

Sometimes when projects are in a rush, overtime can happen. My highest record of doing overtime was 60 hours in a single month, but that happened only once. Most of the time my overtime was within 8 hours.

Professional Growth

There is an Engineering Ladder defined in the company. It indicates the level and sets up a career path for every software engineer. There is also a clear definition and exception of Engineering Managers.

There are no restrictions for Software Engineers to move to a different grade within a specific timeframe as in FANNG companies. However, if you are in MG1 or MG2, managers will strongly encourage you to move up to at least MG3 in the future.

What I Enjoyed Working There

Learning from Experts

There are many senior developers in Mercari and Merpay. They have been in the company for a very long time so they know the codebase inside out. There are also GDE (Google Developer Experts) in the company. It includes tenntenn (Go) and the other person that I forgot the name ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™‚๏ธ (GCP Spanner).

When I was in the Payment Platform team, there was a senior tech lead who designed the entire payment infrastructure. There was no need to worry about any technical issues. He was the guy who went to the stakeholders and finished all the complicated pre-work.

I see it as an opportunity to work with the best in the industry. You have to be at the same level as these senior members to discuss with them, so there are a lot of things to learn in a short time. Every team has a similar structure, so if you join any team, find that expert and try to learn as much.

However, sometimes it could be a double-sided sword. When members are not proactive enough, senior members will handle the work for them. Members only have to deal with minor details and alignments with stakeholders. They miss the opportunities to learn and grow in that case.

Flexible Career Path

For most of the time, the company is willing to support your career growth, including:

  • Changing to a different team
  • Move to a different company within the Mercari Group
  • Changing from IC to the EM track (MG3 and above)
  • Changing from EM to the IC track

It's really good that there are a lot of teams and companies in the group to be able to provide flexibility and support.

However, sometimes I saw managers discourage members' career change and did not provide support. For example, members expressed strong interest in moving to be an Engineering Manager. Those members might not be the best fits, but their managers did not identify the gaps or provide support, either. They only criticized that the thoughts were impractical.

If you run into situations like this, I would encourage talk to your skip manager. It could be either your manager's issue or how this message is communicated. It's always good to find out. If it happens multiple times, consider moving to a different team.

Sufficient Company Support

Visa and Relocation Support

The relocation and visa support were some of the best I had in my entire career. They have a relocation allowance for you to move to Japan, help you get a working visa before you arrive, and provide a temporary residence before you find your own.

Language Support and Learning

They have interpreters ready to handle any interpretation and translation request. Sometimes it might not be as effective, but it's a great temporary measure for eliminating the language barrier.

As for language learning, they have in-house Japanese training until you can use a basic level of Japanese. They claim that it's CEFR B2, but I found that it's still far from being able to live in Japan without any language barrier. You need to spend your own time studying Kanji and other materials to be able to handle most daily conversations.

If your team is using Japanese, they provide reimbursement for you to participate in external training even after you reach CEFR B2. However, this part of the benefits changes all the time. Please refer to the company policies.

Childcare Support

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to utilize this part, but they provide great benefits in childcare. I've seen a lot of colleagues having a great family life with these supports. Some include:

  • Full-amount paid parental leave (The legal parental leave is up to 67%)
  • Infertility treatment
  • Egg freezing reimbursement
  • Nursery reimbursement

Likewise, these supports have high costs so things might change in the future.

Challenges and Opportunities

Slowdown during Tech Recession

After COVID, the global tech industry entered recession. Many layoffs occurred in the U.S. and other countries. Japan, on the other hand, due to its strict employment policy, is one of the countries hard to fire employees.

Same for Mercari. They tried their best in cutting costs. This included the closure of the Sendai office, which a lot of employees were not happy about. They thought that the company was finding an excuse for a mass layoff. Other than that, they also slow down hiring and salary growth, as well as putting more restrictions on benefits.

The slowdown impacted the secondary businesses such as Merpay and Mercoin even more. As the secondhand market is the most profitable business model, resources are prioritized there. Other businesses did not get as many resources. For example, some divisions in Merpay could barely get 1 new hiring when they needed more than 10. Or, some teams could not even get backfill. It obstructed the progression of these secondary businesses.

Also, tasks during that time were not the most exciting either. Every business had tens of items on their roadmap, but due to resource restrictions, the progress became slow. Management tasks became "how to cut costs" instead of doing innovations.

The Glass Ceiling from the Language Barrier

Embrace the fact: a glass ceiling exists in any culturally divided environment. This situation is more obvious in Japan where companies try to create a language-inclusive environment. The glass ceiling comes from the language barrier. The higher you want to go, the more language barrier you need to overcome.

There are many factors, but one important cause is Mercari's pattern of creating a new business. Mercari usually starts a new business (e.g., mobile payment or cryptocurrency) with a group of Japanese-speaking members. After the business is steady, it starts to move to a language-inclusive environment. This is good for starting a business in Japan because it streamlines the communication process. The efficiency allows them to test the MVP ASAP.

However, this strategy is less ideal for creating opportunities for non-Japanese speakers. When a business is ready for a language-inclusive environment, the communication pattern is already all well-established in Japanese. It takes a huge cost to translate them into English and establish a new communication pattern.

If we look at the businesses in the Mercari Group now, there are only a few businesses that are easier for non-Japanese-speaking members. They are Mercari JP and Merpay. All the other businesses are struggling with hiring non-Japanese speakers.

Even within these two businesses, we still see language barriers from time to time. This naturally creates a glass ceiling for non-Japanese speakers who want to make an impact in the business. For example, they usually need to communicate with Japanese-speaking stakeholders to agree on important decisions. In an organization that is Japanese-oriented, they require extra time and effort on communications. This dilemma is more struggling for those who are at a senior level.

As far as I know, Mercari JP has less of this issue. Most executive members are bilingual, and their communication patterns are more mature. I think other businesses are able to navigate through this issue following the existing pattern in the future.

Negative Reviews of Traditional Management Style

There is an infamous review on Glassdoor about Mercari's management culture. It points out that there are many examples of the management members' incapability. Yet they still manage to take control of the organization, which leads to an unhealthy work culture.

I did see multiple reviews like this both externally and internally. Fortunately, during my time at Merpay, I did not have any similar experience. I believe the majority of the organization does not need to handle an extreme management style like this. If you find yourself in such a situation, my advice is to move to a different team or division.


On my journey at Merpay and Mercari, I'm grateful for the mentorship, experiences, and the career transition to Engineering Management. Each moment has been a valuable lesson. As I move forward in my career, I carry the skills I learned as well as an appreciation for those who have helped me.

For those who are interested in the company, feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you would like to understand the company more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is some advice you would give to those who are interested in joining?

Mercari is a good company to work in. Career-wise, I would suggest:

  • Learn from the best: There are many senior Software Engineers who are the best in the industry. Be proactive in taking responsibility and try to learn as much as possible from them.
  • Find the best environment for yourself: There are many teams and companies in the entire Mercari Group. Your first team might not be the one that suits you the most. I would suggest switching to a different team in a different domain every one or two years. It is refreshing and motivating at the same time.

What is the interview process like for Software Engineers in Merpay?

As in 2023, it was as follows (order might be different):

  • [optional] Casual chat
  • Resume screening
  • Recruiter screening
  • Take-home assignment
  • Technical interview / System design interview by peer Software Engineers
  • Behavioral interview by EM
  • Final interview by VPoE or CTO
  • Offer

What is it like working in Merpay as a Software Engineer?

I have a YouTube video explaining the life of a Backend Engineer in Merpay.

What are some other foreigner-friendly companies in Japan?

I have a YouTube video explaining my story of how I found my first job in Japan. You can also find a job listing on

Any other question? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me :)