Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 9: The Apartment

I registered at the Minato City Hall today (despite HR telling me it was the "Minato Ward Office" all signage refers to is as "Minato City Hall"). There was trepidation--imagine going to a DMV where you can't communicate with anyone!!! But it turned out to be misplaced. There are a lot of foreigners in Minato-ku and City Hall is prepared: they have some English forms and the lady at Window 4 (Resident Registration) spoke English well. They look at your passport, your Japanese visa, stamp the back of your residence card, and give you your welcome packet, which includes a 20 page Guidebook for Sorting Recyclables and Waste.  So many rules, you guys, so many rules.

Now that I'm officially settled in, I thought some of you might be interested in a virtual tour of my new digs.  It's stark, but much larger than I anticipated:

View from exterior door looking in, bathroom on the left.

High tech toilet!

For scale: I'm 5'1" and can barely extend my legs in the tub.

Light Switch

It's a microwave AND an oven.
It's comfortable.  I do miss the heated wood floors and re-circulating tub at the Oakwood in Roppongi, but the neighborhood here is much nicer by my taste.  Less solicitation, fewer screaming drunk chicks at night, and nicer outdoor spaces.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 8: Tokyo Tower

It was a rainy day and I got a slow start--laundry, phone calls home, and a delivery from Flying Pig.  To explain, Flying Pig delivers Costco goods to addresses in Japan.  I ordered laundry detergent and dryer sheets plus some grocery items to fill my box after a friend had a terrible experience with Japanese detergent ruining some of her clothes (maybe it was the machine, not the detergent?).  Everything I ordered was wrapped in a massive amount of cellophane:

This is pretty typical of my shopping experiences in Japan.  I picked up a bottle of Woolite from an "American Pharmacy" and this is how they wrapped it up before sending it home with me:

It keeps things tidy and clean, but just isn't very green.

Later in the day, I picked a nearby destination from my Lonely Planet city guide and headed towards the subway station.  (I am dedicated to seeing more of the city this time around!)  My pick was Tokyo Tower and, as expected, it's a total tourist trap.  Not worth visiting if you're in Tokyo for only a week or two.  The tower is modeled after the Eiffel Tower and was built in 1958.  It's painted orange and white in compliance with international aviation rules and was much more beautiful as day turned to night as it's nicely lit in the evenings.

Tokyo Tower
I had a look around the souvenir shops and found this treat:

Yum!  Octopus snack... well, at least I think that's what it is.
I plan to go back to Shiba-koen (I learned in Japanese class yesterday that koen means park) to see the Zojo Temple and will be back in the same neighborhood to register with the Minato ward office sometime next week.

On my way home, I happened upon the Reigakusha Gagaku Workshop and Concert.  Gagaku, as I understand it from the program I was given, is a form of Japanese classical music (c. 10th century), which sometimes includes dance.  A Stanford researcher has put together this informative website about gagaku.  The director of the Reigakusha group, Sukeyasu Shiba, was a musician at the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency for 27 years and selected by the Japanese government as a "Person of Cultural Merit" in 2011, which made me feel like I was experiencing a truly authentic performance.  It was really nice to sit at the outdoor concert under a sturdy canopy, while the music and sound of the rain melded together.  Here's a picture of Reigakusha--they wore the same costumes and sat is the same arrangement at the concert:

Reigakusha (Source)
What a counterpoint to my experience at Tokyo Tower!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 7: Getting Situated

One week in and I'm started to feel situated.  I've unpacked the three boxes I sent over (Japanese customs opened and inspected them all).  I've done some grocery shopping.  I've even gone to my first Japanese class.

The boxes.  The firm sent them to the office, not my apartment, because everyone thought they'd get here before I did.  It didn't turn out that way and I ended up with three boxes of clothes---boxes that are too big to carry on the subway--in my office.  I've unpacked them by tucking the contents into the filing cabinets in my office (uh, does that count as unpacking?) and take a few items home in my work bag each day.

The grocery shopping.  Last time around, I subsisted on food that the firm ordered in and convenience store food.  Really a shame since there's lots of good food here.  So today, I found a grocery store and spent a lot of time marveling at all the exotic stuff on the shelves (little to-go boxes with octopus tentacles!) and puzzling over the dairy section (is that yogurt?  milk?  full fat or non fat?).  Next up, eating out more often!

The Japanese class.  Rosetta Stone has been fun, but I haven't gotten to a point where I'm learning practical, day-to-day survival stuff.  So I found a little school on the internet that seemed promising and went in for a trial lesson.  It's a good fit and I plan to head back on Saturdays from now on.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 6: Prepared

My Earthquake Helmet
Last year, when I got off the plane from Tokyo, I realized I had only taken three pictures during the month that I had been gone.  This time around, I am taking more pictures, even if they are just grainy photos snapped with a Blackberry.  And this is how I ended up with a picture of the little white helmet I hope not to have to use while I'm here.

These helmets are issued to every employee in my office and, I think, most offices, which is why one of the images that I most remember from last-year's post-earthquake walk home was the sea of little white helmets everywhere I looked.  I knew a lot of people who carried their helmet with them for the next week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 4: Compare the Views

This is the view from reception in the Tokyo (note the Imperial Palace):

This was the view from my individual office in Los Angeles:

Not pictured: the view from my individual office in Tokyo.  In Tokyo, associates are in interior offices until the fourth year.  I miss the sunshine already!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 2: Lunch with Co-workers

An associate from my original summer class in Beach City has been working in Tokyo for about a month. As luck would have it, we are staying in the same apartment building. This meant I had a guide to the office this morning!

The day consisted of typical first day in a new office fare, including a lunch with a couple of co-workers. We went to a chain restaurant called Hibiki, where we took off our shoes before walking to our table.  My instinct was to put on the generic slippers that were set out, but it turns out those are reserved for guests who get up from their meal to use the restroom.  (The waitress put our shoes away in a cupboard and later retrieved them just as we were getting up to leave.)

Here's a photo from the restaurant of the area where we ate (for source, click here):

I drank hot tea (no water at the table), a pumpkin puree appetizer, and had some seasoned salmon with white rice.  There was also a broth and vegetable soup, but I didn't get to that.  Chopsticks only.  The food was good, but ordering would have been tough without my Japanese-speaking co-workers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


It's been a long day. I left for the airport at 4:30am on Saturday. Two flights, one bus ride, and a short walk later I arrived at the apartment the firm found for me. It's a very basic studio--probably not as nice as the one I stayed in during my 2011 visit, but I think the neighborhood is better (to be explained later).

The first thing I did when I walked in the door was power up my laptop to send out a message to my family.  (My firm Blackberry has failed to connect to the cell network here despite the IT department's efforts to ready it to roam in Asia.)  Then, I unpacked both suitcases before turning in for the night.

Other highlights:

  • Enjoying business class.  After sitting in coach on trips to China and India (in the middle seat!), I will never take the luxury that is international business class for granted.
  • Receiving my residence card.
  • Explaining to customs officer what I am here to do in Japanese once I realized that he didn't know the word "law firm".

All in all, I judge the day a success.  Tomorrow, we'll see whether I can get to the office without getting lost.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Competition

This post will tell you a little bit about my experience at the Orange County Dancesport Challenge.

1.  I went to JoJo at Brown Buns Airbrush Spray Tans to get some color.  She does a great job, pays attention to details, and uses her own formula that leans brown instead of orange.  On top of that, she's got a great personality!  I only wish I had found someone like her a few years ago--when I was the pastiest college cheerleader on the planet.  (JoJo also does makeup and, fun fact, works on DWTS.)

2.  To save a little money, I passed on a pedicure since I planned to wear fishnets and glued on a set of press-on nails (yeah, haven't bought a pair of those since the 80s).  I am happy (a) to report that not a single nail popped off during the competition and (b) to not be stuck with acrylic tips for the next month.

3.  Kudos to Patricia at The Winning Look for putting together this awesome updo (she did my makeup too).  She was set up onsite in the vendor area right outside the ballroom.  She has a real passion for dancesport and is a dancer (a very good one!) in addition to a vendor.  I received some great compliments on my hair from other dancers and from random folks I bumped into throughout the day.

4.  The competition ran ahead of schedule.  One of the deck hands had to pull my teacher and I from the warmup area--very grateful that they do that instead of letting you miss your dance.

5.  I'm done wearing fishnets.  At both comps, the buckles of my shoes have snagged on my fishnets while on the floor.  Amateur hour!

6.  My top popped off.  (No video, for those who are wondering.)  I have a nice dress by Randall, who designs for DWTS, but it's second-hand and I'm not sure how old it is.  The dress is backless, with two thin spandex straps that criss-cross over the shoulders and are secured by hook and woven (cf. metal) eye to the bodice of the dress.  The woven eye, no doubt fatigued by the extra five pounds I've put on since the last competition, quit for the day in the middle of the cha cha.  I kept dancing (albeit with one arm holding up the top of the dress) and was able to secure the strap between heats.

7.  I was out-danced by some familiar faces.  One young lady is a former student of my studio and the other I've seen at competitions before.  The former student of my studio has at least two years and many, many competitions' worth of experience over me.  I know that she has danced in silver and gold before, so I was curious why she was dancing in bronze, but wasn't surprised that she beat me.  The other lady is someone who I've seen at workshops I've attended and I know that she too is at least a couple of years ahead of me with ballroom lessons.  In every heat that I danced, she placed first, the younger lady placed second, and I placed third.  Of course I would have liked to do better, but I placed third in Latin Closed Bronze Scholarship (not beating out many people, mind you), which was one of my goals for this year.

8.  I have video, but it's encrypted so I might not be able to share it.  Pictures will be available in a couple of weeks and I'll be sure to post them (mainly so you can see that great hairdo in action =P).

9.  I am happier with my experience than I was after Emerald Ball, but bummed that so little of what I've been working on with my teacher shows up in the video.  I made basic mistakes, like not checking out of my New Yorkers among many other things.  I usually get kudos for nice, pointed feet, but that didn't seem to be happening today either.  It's humbling and makes me appreciate all the work and practice that is behind the advanced dancers' performances.  I just haven't put in adequate practice time, between the secondment and the prep for the move, so I shouldn't be surprised.

10.  It was still fun.  It is a real pick-me-up to see so many smiling happy faces.  One lady bounced up to me to introduce herself and explain that it was her first competition--she was bubbling over with enthusiasm and so happy to be there.  I don't encounter that kind of pure joy very often, so it's pretty fun to immerse yourself in it for a day.

PS: Someone's Shih Tzu sat on the edge of the dance floor and intently watched each of the heats, wagging its tail the whole time.


Tomorrow morning should be a lot of fun.  I don't need to win, but I want to have fun and capture some of the technique we've been working on in lessons while I'm out on the floor.  Hopefully I don't get so excited that I forget the routines!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One Last Competition

At the last moment, I decided to do a ballroom dancing competition before moving to Japan (you know, because an international move hasn't been keeping my to-do list full enough).  To prepare, I'm taking an extra lesson tonight and my teacher and I had a coaching together over the weekend.  That's it.

(You guys, how do I always end up in last-minute competition entry situations!?!  I want to be prepared, not scrambling at the last second.)

The answer is that when you work at a law firm (or at least when you work in corporate practice), you have to be opportunistic.  You never know when a deal will go pencils down or start up again.  So, if you have spare time, you better use it and, if you don't, you're going to end up canceling on pretty much everyone and every thing when work picks up again.  (As you can imagine, this makes corporate lawyers immensely popular with their friends and family.)

I have the time and what is likely my last opportunity for an entire year to compete, so I'm doing it.  It's a minor competition and I'm the only student from my studio participating, but it should still be fun.  I registered for 10 single dances (Cha cha, rumba, samba, paso doble and jive in both the intermediate and full bronze divisions) and a scholarship round.  Unfortunately, the closed bronze scholarship round was undersubscribed and I've been bumped to open scholarship (to put this in perspective, this is like being a member of the frosh/soph team and only knowing about five moves, but dancing against the stars of the varsity team).  It will be kinda embarrassing, but what can you do?

Tomorrow, I tan.  Saturday, I dance.  And, until the competition is over, I refuse to think about packing up my apartment for the third time in less than three years.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Do you know what that means?  Paid.  In.  Full.

I paid off my first student loan today.  It was a tiny one that financed the Global Connections trip to India that I took with my MBA classmates in 2010 (see related blog posts here).  Before I took the trip, I remember wondering if I would regret taking out the loan.  I had gone on the Global Connections trip to China the previous spring, wasn't that enough?

Because no trip to India is complete w/o a picture in front of the Taj.
A couple of years and many loan payments later, I can say that I'm glad I took the trip.  India is a beautiful and complex country that I likely wouldn't have had the courage to visit on my own.  I'm so happy to have made the trip and experienced a little bit of the culture.  My only regret is that I skipped our bollywood dance class to finish and submit a seminar paper to one of my law school professors.

Now, with a year of working in Tokyo ahead of me, I'm even more grateful for the time I took to travel to China and India, to try to understand other business cultures, and to understand what it's like to be a true outsider.  I think I am just a little bit better prepared for a year in Japan because of it.  Thanks, McCombs.  The money was well spent.