Saturday, November 24, 2012

What was Thanksgiving Like in Tokyo?

Thursday was not a holiday in Japan.  My American firm did not give us the day off, but they did cater a lunch that included turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and little pumpkin pie squares.  It was nice of the firm to do this... I was missing my family and our traditional Thanksgiving a lot that day.

Friday was a Labor Day holiday in Japan so our office was closed.  One of the associates coordinated a pot luck for the unmarried associates.  He made the turkey--which was great because turkey can be hard to find and many of the ovens, if you even have one, aren't large enough to cook a turkey.  I broke in my kitchen by cooking up some creamed corn (the real adventure was in shopping for the ingredients).  Dinner was tasty and it was nice to have company.

I heard from a kiwi that I met in Japanese class that the Japanese expect all white people to celebrate Thanksgiving even though it's really just an American and Canadian holiday.  He seemed a bit put off that his Japanese friends were continually asking him what he would be doing for Thanksgiving.  So, there is an awareness of Thanksgiving here, but I didn't see any decorations or explicit acknowledgement of it.

One Month Down

I've been in Tokyo for more than a month now. I miss my family, Ben and California a lot and, most of the time, have no idea how I'll stick around until next October... so I'm trying to take things day by day and stay focused on why I'm here.

My main goals are to get substantive experience at work and improve my financial circumstances in order to give me more (job) market power and flexibility when I get home.  Happily, there's been some progress on this front.

This month, I've been participating in drafting a shareholders agreement for a cross-border joint venture in addition to the usual ancillary document and signature page management.  I'm trying to get the opportunity to do as much drafting as possible while I'm here (at home the only drafting I've been getting is on pro bono projects).  So, I'll count this a success.

On the financial front, I paid off another student loan and made a larger contribution to my savings than usual.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


People in the office have been talking about how great Kyoto is this time of year.  What's the big deal?  The foliage.  Seriously, there's even a foliage report.  A couple of friends from my summer class at Beach City office are also in Tokyo at the moment.  Wanting to make the most of our time in Japan, we hopped on the shinkansen (bullet train) Saturday morning and arrived in Kyoto a couple of hours later.

Because it was pouring down rain, our planned outdoor sightseeing was on hold.  We got some ramen for lunch and checked into our hotel, which came with pajamas (this reminds me to mention that the gym at my apartment loans out workout clothes... not that I've taken them up on it).  Then we did some shopping, had a Kyoto-style dinner (lots of vegetables), and turned in for the night.

The sun was shining this morning, so we were able to hop in a cab to Kiyomizu-dera, a temple that has a nice, official website here.  The walk up to the temple was crowded with people and gift shops.  We saw lots of young women and girls in kimonos, but weren't sure why.

Hello Kitty in Kyoto

Autumn Colors
Next, we walked about aimlessly for awhile (hadn't had time to plan during the work-week), found a few additional World Heritage Sites and saw three geishas walking down the street before catching another cab to Nijo castle.  Inside Ninomaru palace, the rooms were overwhelmingly simple.  The aesthetic is just so different--while there were murals on the wall, there was no other furniture or decoration.  Such a contrast to Europe.  (No pictures allowed inside.)  We got a kick out of the nightingale floors that intentionally squeak in order to alert occupants to intruders, but the gardens were the highlight of this site for me.

I wish I had taken the time to do more research before we went to Kyoto, because I felt I wasn't fully appreciating much of what I saw.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why am I in Japan?

This is a question I'm getting a lot, from all sorts of people.  There are a few reasons:
  • My "home office" told me that there were no projects in the pipeline that would require junior associate support for the next six months.
  • After spending nearly two years in two Southern California offices of my firm trying to best integrate myself in the workflow, but I feel like I have failed.  There are no other Southern California corporate associates in my class year or the one below me and I have been told (repeatedly) that it's not a problem with my work, it's a problem with the workflow and a problem of clients not wanting to pay for junior associates staffed on deals.  I couldn't think of anything else to do to try to improve the quality of my work experience from that location.
  • My lateral options have been diminished by the poor volume and variety of my work experience at the Southern California offices.  Staying longer would only put me further behind in terms of skill and chip away at my earning power (and more importantly, my ability to score an interesting and challenging job in the future).
  • The Tokyo corporate group was looking for extra hands at my level for about a year.  A year here will help me catch-up in terms of work experience.
  • In Tokyo, the firm pays for corporate housing and a per diem (a form of COLA), allowing me to dramatically accelerate my debt repayment and savings for a year.  This will give me more freedom when it's time to make the next career move.
Really, this opportunity was a lifeline as far as protecting the market value of my law degree is concerned.  Because I don't have a husband or kids (and Ben, my long-term boyfriend, apparently has no interest in getting engaged any time soon), I was in a unique position to jump on the opportunity.  I am thankful.  For the lifeline, for the job, for the ability to pay my bills.  And for the adventure.

But it's still pretty tough.  I don't speak Japanese.  I don't blend in.  I left my dogs, family and friends behind.  I miss Ben something fierce.  I am putting off any chance at getting married and having kids yet another year at a time when, frankly, I don't have much time left.  There is nothing wrong with Tokyo, it's just lonely.  Sure, I want to protect my earning potential, but I want to be settling down and starting a family.  I decided that because I had no immediate opportunity to do that, I would come to Tokyo.

I hope, when I look back at this decision years from now, that I feel like I made the right decision.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pictures from the Competition

A couple of pictures from my last ballroom competition have arrived.

Per usual, seeing the photos is pretty eye-opening.  I have a pretty crazy amount of natural turnout, but you would never guess that from these photos.  Looking very pigeon-toed here!  Still nice to have this keepsake from a fun day :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 13: Dinner and Drinks

In celebration of an attorney who is leaving the firm for a public interest job, some of the associates planned dinner and drinks and generously invited me to join in the fun.

We went to an Uyghur restaurant--apparently the only Uyghur restaurant in Tokyo--that was really fantastic.  The last time I had Uyghur food was in Xi'an, China, and I was so pleased by the relative cleanliness of the restaurant in Tokyo and the larger variety of foods on the menu (still lamb-based, of course).  We were also pleasantly surprised by the reasonable bill.

Afterwards, we caught a cab to Shinjuku's Golden Gai.  This area is a small series of alleyways bursting with even smaller bars--most packing in six to eight patrons at a time at most.  We finally found a bar with enough empty seats to accommodate us and hiked up the steepest set of tiny stairs I've ever seen.  I used the restroom at some point in the evening and had to turn sideways to get through the door.  It was eerily quiet in Golden Gai, by comparison to American bar districts, but it was nice to be able to sit down and talk instead of spending our whole night screaming and straining to hear one another.