Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Gaijin Superpower

The rest of the subway car can be packed with people and every seat full, except the ones on either side of me.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


The first few weeks I was in Tokyo, I was homesick but also terribly nauseous.  So one day, when general unpleasantness turned into my-goodness-I'm-really-going-to-throw-up in the middle of Tameike -Sanno station, I looked around for a trash can and realized there wasn't one in sight and, come to think of it, I had never seen a public trash can anywhere in this new city of mine.  Happily, the waive of nausea passed and I didn't have to decide between puking on the station floor or the train tracks.

(For the record, I have since observed many a drunkard choose the station floor.)

Ironically, this city with no trash cans is so, so clean.  I accumulate so much more trash in Tokyo than I did in LA.  If you go into a convenience store to buy something as simple as a juice in a glass bottle and a bento, you will exit with the glass bottle in a polyurethane mesh sleeve, small packet of dry ice to keep your drink cold, bento box (top and bottom) and plastic grass decoration wrapped in a lightweight plastic bag, chopsticks in a paper sleeve, and wet napkin.  If you dare to eat your lunch on the go (and you shouldn't), you will end up carrying all this garbage around for some time--in fact, when on the subway, I often spy small piles of trash, mostly empty energy drink cans, in the bottom of purses that cost a small fortune.

That's right, the rule-abiding citizens of Tokyo will carry their trash (including cigarette butts) home or to their office, where they will sort it: burnable, non-burnable and PET.  Come to think of it, my apartment complex has even more categories.  Minato-ku, the ward within Tokyo where I live, gave me a  30+ page text-heavy manual detailing how to arrange my trash for pick up.

This seems to be a common thread in the Japanese experience.  Exacting, precise textual explanations for lengthy processes are everywhere.  Rules are abundant.  Don't get me wrong, I love rules and I love that Tokyo feels so clean and safe because Japanese people are orderly by nature, but even I find it a bit tedious after a while.

For those who are wondering, I've been told that trashcans were removed as an anti-terrorism measure.

[For the record, all-nighters at the office last week: 2.  I am exhausted.]

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pizza Delivery

I usually don't spot the take out delivery bikes standing still, but this one was parked just outside a swanky apartment complex that I walk by during my daily commute.

Domino's is a favorite of my co-workers, but I've ordered from Pizza Hut twice since I've been in Tokyo.  Two big surprises for Americans when it comes to American-branded pizza in Tokyo:

First, the toppings.  How would you like some mayonnaise and corn on your pie?  You can, or course, order a more traditional pizza, but it's interesting to take a look at the combinations that are popular with the Japanese.

Second, the prices.  A medium pizza at Pizza Hut (which is the size of a small in the United states) costs between ¥1,900 and ¥2,500, which converts to $21.10 and $27.77 at today's rates, before the delivery fee.  I can stretch the medium pizza into two or three meals so I can make peace with the price, but it's still a little shocking!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Enough Snow to Stick

The last time I was in Tokyo (in March 2011) it snowed from time-to-time, but never enough to stick.  So I was surprised when I walked out of my apartment to find this on Monday afternoon:

It snowed for the rest of the day.  By the time I came home from the office around 11:30pm there were workers salting the sidewalks and tiny snowmen here and there.  The snow didn't change my commute, but I heard from the staff that the buses were delayed in the outlying areas.

I've been homesick this week.  I miss my people, my places and my things.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How Often do you Spend the Night at the Office?

Prior to moving to Tokyo, I had only spent the whole night working at the office once and had only had three nights when I stayed until 2am.  I suppose that's a pretty fortunate track record after two years in big law.  But as you know, I spent those two years in slow offices where I was having trouble meeting the hours expectation.  Now that I'm working in a legitimately busy office, things have changed.

Last week I worked through the night twice and, generally, didn't get home before 11:30pm.  Happily, we met the Friday deadline that had been keeping us up at night.  After an afternoon team meeting and late, but delicious dinner with some other associates (although a hot meal of any kind would have tasted great after scavenging from convenience stores all week), I was so happy to get some sleep.

I hit the sack around 1am on Saturday and didn't wake up until Sunday at 10am.  There was no tossing or turning, or getting up for a drink or a restroom break--I slept like a rock.  As soon as I woke up, I fumbled for my Blackberry and panicked a little.  Had there been a team meeting at the office that I missed?  Had I failed to respond to an assignment memo?  Fortunately, there hadn't been any emails that required a response while I was comatose.  Huge sigh of relief.

I took advantage of the free time on Sunday to buy some groceries and do some laundry.  As if on cue, the work emails started back up almost as soon as I had finished folding the last load of laundry.

Ran into this year of the snake display
on my way to the grocery store--happy new year!

Saturday, January 5, 2013


This week, when Stanford went to the Rose Bowl, I started thinking about the last time that Stanford made the trek to Pasadena.  I was a freshman in college and about to try out for the school's dance team so I watched the five girls that were currently on the team walk down Colorado Boulevard with particular interest.  Over the next few years, some of those girls became my friends and part of my best college memories.

After graduation, one such friend moved to LA and was killed by a drunk driver just before Christmas. I've previously written about the collision here.  I got to wondering whether the driver, who had been found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, with a minimum prison term of 30 years to life, had appealed.  Of course he had; and Google quickly led me to the opinion of the appellate court.

I learned from the opinion that the driver had been at a holiday party where complimentary cab vouchers were given to guests, but that he had chosen to drive himself home instead.  That broke my heart.  There were many small mistakes that led to the collision, but foregoing the cab voucher was among the less forgivable.

Still, I stand by what I previously wrote this about the driver:

But let's also realize that it was a tragedy for the drunk driver. It was wrong of him to drive drunk (especially given two prior misdemeanor DUIs in 1998 and 2004). He had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit an hour after he killed two young people in a collision. He messed up, in the worst way possible. I don't know this man, but it must be terribly difficult for him to live with himself knowing that he killed two people because of his own foolishness.
And also:
Don't we all know someone, who we probably consider a good person on most days, who has gotten a DUI? It is perhaps only by the grace of God that one drunk driver walks away with only a DUI while another causes a fatal collision. If you have driven drunk, you are lucky not to have found yourself in this man's shoes.
To reinforce that point, one of the key issues on appeal was whether evidence of the blood alcohol content of the driver of the car my friend had been in had been properly excluded.  Everyone had been drinking.  Everyone decided to get in their cars.  Some survived and some did not.

The opinion went on to discuss whether the trial court erred in admitting crime scene photographs of the victims into evidence.  This means that the appellate court examined, and described in detail, the related photograph of my friend, lying on the sidewalk where paramedics had given up hope of reviving her.  I looked away from the computer screen and thought of all of the great memories I had of her in life and could hardly believe that it ended that way.

The driver, if you're curious, lost his appeal.  Everyone lost, really.  We miss her very much.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Two Years

Yesterday, the WSJ published an op-ed with a new stat: law schools are graduating two students for every available job opening.  Is that really news?  Seems like we've been hearing those numbers since I graduated.

What it is, I think, is a reminder to be grateful that I snagged a job out of law school and have managed to hold onto it.  As of today, I've survived two years at the firm.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Goals

Tokyo Goals (Jan - Oct 2013)

Generally, I want to live my life abroad in such a way that (i) I don't feel like I'm living in a labor camp, (ii) I depend on American things or food a little bit less, (iii) I set myself up to feel like I've made positive progress professionally and financially while here, and (iv) I'm able to realize some long-time goals when I get back to the US.

  • Start eating "real" food.  Grocery shopping is tough here because I can't read labels or identify some of the foods.  In my first two months, I've alternated between making poor food choices or not eating at all, with some rare exceptions.  I can do better.  I especially want to be more open to enjoying Japanese foods.
  • Exercise.  I've lost a lot of flexibility and muscle tone in the last two months.  There is no getting around the fact that I rarely get home while the gym is still open, but something is better than nothing.  It would be especially nice to do some walking outside on the weekends as I experience almost no sunshine during the workweek.
  • Carry my camera; take some pictures.  So far, nearly all of the very small number of photos I've taken are Blackberry shots, which I could never have printed.  I brought my nice camera with me all the way across the Pacific Ocean, so there is no excuse.
  • Visit at least one tourist destination each month.  The bar is low, but who knows how often I'll escape the office.  I'd especially like to go skiing this winter.
  • Get a ticket to WDC Open in Tokyo.  I'm not sure I'll be able to take dance classes while I'm here, but it would be really fun to check out this competition.
  • Visit Tokyo Disneyland.  When I started law school, my idea of a dream job was working in-house at Pixar.  I like Disney stuff, plus I'd love to compare Tokyo Disneyland to my experiences at Disneyland in Hong Kong, Orange County, and Florida.
  • Keep chipping away at Rosetta Stone.  Any word that I can add to my vocabulary helps.
  • Pay off all debt carrying 8.5% interest rate.
  • No more negative net worth!
  • Maintain my deal list; update my resume.
  • Get as close as possible to meeting the annual billable hours requirement before leaving Japan.  Because the same guys that only gave me 47 hours to bill in the month between my secondment and departure to Japan will probably do the same when I get home.

US Goals (Oct - Dec 2013)

I need to think really hard about where I want to be, geographically, when I return to the US.  Some of the concern is professional--I don't expect the work flow in my prior office to be much (or at all) improved by the time I return--and some of the concern in personal.  Since graduating from law school in 2010 I have worked in Austin, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County and Tokyo.  I've felt outrageously lonely for too long and it's time for me to put down some roots and feel like part of a community again.

  • Max out 401(k) contributions.
  • Go to my 10-year college reunion.  I hesitate to put this on the list because the dates of reunion are too close to the end date of my Tokyo assignment.  Still, I really want to go after missing my 5-year and Stanford's big win at the Rose Bowl.
  • Take a vacation.  I haven't taken a vacation since I started at the firm.  It's overdue.  If I stick with the Pacific, I'm thinking of Australia.  Other places I'd like to go include Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and South Africa.  (Frankly, a staycation in Southern California sounds pretty good too.)
  • Buy a condo.  I can't control when I'll get married or get to start a family, but this is something that I can do on my own.  I'd like to buy something that will eventually become a rental.
  • Dance.  I am so very excited to get to dance again.  Here's hoping for some yoga classes too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

It was a quiet night here in Tokyo.  I picked up a little champagne from the store to acknowledge the new year in some way, watched a movie downloaded from iTunes, and got some sleep.

One of my 2013 resolutions should be to learn to use my camera!
I have hope that 2013 will be a better year in terms of gathering work experience and paying down my student loans--I'm thankful for both opportunities.  Unfortunately, because I will be in Tokyo until October 2013, I can't count on more than that.  We'll see how it goes!