Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2014 - The Year I Stopped Waiting

In 2014, I experienced an amazing adventure that pushed me to my limits. Working in Tokyo, in the legal department of a Japanese trading company, gave me an invaluable practical education in global business, but living in Japan and surviving the crushing loneliness of that experience was the hardest thing I've ever done. It changed me.

Then, I discovered why the boyfriend that had always said he wanted to marry me never proposed. Surviving that heartbreak changed me too.

That's when I stopped waiting.

For the boyfriend to propose.
For the husband to buy a house with.
For the law firm to send me back to the US.
For things to get better.

In the space of a couple months at the end of the year, I moved to the city that's always made my heart skip a beat, started a new (better!) job with a perfect office location, and bought a beautiful, brand new house in my favorite neighborhood.

I have never felt more at the end of my rope than I did in 2014, but I have never had things come together as quickly as they did in those final few months. You know how people like to say it gets the darkest just before dawn? Yeah, that.

Things have gotten so much better, despite that I had lost hope, and, for that, I wake up each day feeling incredibly lucky. 

A heartfelt thank you to those of you who reached out to encourage me while I was in Japan. Thank you for helping me get here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fresh Start

Dear Readers,

Thank you for taking the time to follow my experience in Japan. Special thanks to those of you who have been following along since law school. Your comments and notes of encouragement have meant the world to me and I truly enjoy interacting with you in this space and over email.

Unfortunately, it has come time to restrict the readership of this blog or delete it entirely. By way of explanation, my abusive ex-boyfriend has continued to visit this blog frequently since I stopped replying to his emails and text messages months ago. Maintaining this blog runs counter to my goal of cutting off contact with him and knowing that he's monitoring what I write (together with someone's recent, unauthorized attempts to log on to my Dropbox account) has made me fear for my safety and security. Both problems can be solved by limiting access to the blog or abandoning it.

I hate to allow him to indirectly intimidate me, but safety is a priority. I'm still figuring this out and will post an update when I choose a path forward.

In the interim, I would be delighted to keep in touch with you over email or Twitter. If you are trying to contact me at my mobile number, don't be alarmed (or offended) if you haven't heard back from me. I relinquished my Blackberry to the firm when I quit and, with it, the personal phone number that I have been using for years so I don't have access to any messages you might have left for me.

Thank you for your support.

Jenny


Last Day of Work at a Japanese Company

My last day started with a nice breakfast at the Palace Hotel at 7:45am. This is a tradition among the women in the department. I've enjoyed the group breakfasts as an opportunity to hear what the female Japanese lawyers think of the gender issues in the company. They have also enjoyed the opportunity to ask me the full gamut of questions, very few of which had anything to do with the law (by way of explanation, I'm the first caucasian female secondee that has been placed in the department):
  • What is blonde hair texture like? Cannot tell you how often Japanese people asked to touch my hair once they had a little liquid courage in them.
  • How many steps does your skin care regimen have? Japanese women take skincare seriously and, from what I can tell from the advertising, have the patience to work their way through five or six step skincare systems.
  • Does it bother you that American men are so hairy?
  • Is it true that American women wax off all their hair down there? I hear from my guy friends who spent a lot of time hooking up with local women that it is popular to go au naturale. It appears there is a definite difference in cultural preference here.
  • Why are American women so obsessed with muscles?
  • Are you attracted to Japanese men? Are you attracted to any of the men at the company? Unlike our American understanding that dating within the company is discouraged, in some Japanese companies this behavior is encouraged and supported by the recruitment of two classes of women: the first on each woman's merits as an employee and the second on each woman's merits as a potential wife for one of the male employees (in furtherance of this practice, photos are attached to resumes). At my first social event with my department, the female teammates went so far as to produce pictures of the guys they considered to be the most handsome within the company and asked me who I liked best.
  • Are you willing to be a stay at home wife? To explain where they're coming from, it seems like a lot of women are expected to stay at home once they marry and, even if they want to keep working after marriage, find it very difficult to continue after having a child due to a lack of childcare resources and the practice at some companies of requiring women who return from maternity leave to "start over" as a first year employee. PM Abe is trying to address this with his so-called "womenomics" initiative. I am highly skeptical of the sincerity of this initiative, let alone the likelihood of its success.
  • Are you willing to date someone who makes less money or is less educated than you?
  • Do you think cheating is acceptable in a relationship? They also openly asked the American male secondees if they cheat on their wives. When the guys said no, the women followed up by asking (in near disbelief) "even when you're drunk?"
More than anything else, the secondment was a cultural exchange!

At the end of the work day, we had a goodbye ceremony. True to tradition, the ceremony included a speech by my GM, a speech by yours truly, and the presentation of a bouquet of flowers and a photo album. I was very touched by the photo album in particular (we take a picture at every team dinner and the pictures were compiled with hand written notes from the team in the album).

Finally, we went to dinner as a team one last time. At the recommendation of the team freshman, who is tasked with the logistics of all team dinners during his first year, we went to an oden restaurant.

It turned out to be an enjoyable day and it was very kind of the team to take the time to say goodbye in this way. Undoubtedly, as time passes my perspective on the secondment will mature. I hope I will have something more insightful to say about it all in the future.

For now, I'm enjoying time away from work and a mobile-free existence. I lost my personal phone number, which I've had for at least a decade and ported into the firm, when I returned my Blackberry on my last day. After scrambling a bit for a strategy to avoid losing the number while I waited to sign up for my next smartphone, I decided that--all things considered--a fresh phone number would be a welcome change. 

This is a fresh start. In more ways than one.