Sunday, February 24, 2013

Asian Open Professional Dance Championship

When I left for Japan, my ballroom teacher encouraged me to find a new teacher, keep practicing, and figure out when the 2013 WDC World Super Series would be coming to Tokyo.  I haven't found the time for lessons since I've been in Japan, but I was optimistic that I'd be able to make it to the competition.  It would be a great opportunity to see some of the European and Asian pros that don't travel to the Southern California competitions.

I found the date of the competition on the WDC website, but WDC's links to the competition website were dead.  Google didn't help because, unsurprisingly, there is no English website for the competition.  So I emailed the Japanese Dance Council, which coordinates the event, and they promptly sent me an order form that I could use to purchase tickets.  That was great, except that I couldn't place the order in advance because it required a furikomi--a bank transfer from a Japanese bank account.  I would have to wait to purchase my ticket with yen at the competition.

Today was the day.  It was a quick trip on the subway and very short walk to the Nippon Budokan, the arena where the competition took place.  (Fun fact: the Budokan was originally built to serve as the judo venue for the 1964 Summer Olympics.)  The ticket windows were shuttered and my Japanese vocabulary is very limited, so it took some time, patience and gesticulation to purchase my ticket.  I paid 2,500JPY or 27USD for my seat.  This was the cheapest ticket and, it seemed, the only type of ticket that they would sell to me.  They may have been sold out of other classes of tickets, but once I got in the venue I noticed many empty seats so I think this was a language issue.  (This was probably for the best, as floor seats were sold for more than 500USD each!)

As you can see in the below photos, I wasn't the only one sitting in the cheap seats.

Yulia and Riccardo et al. getting ready for the Paso Doble.

This was my view from my seat.  I think it was slightly better in person than it appears in this snapshot, but I still felt very disengaged from the competition.  Most of the pro heats I've watched at home have taken place in relatively small hotel ballrooms that allow for a dancer-audience connection.

I have some mixed feelings about the experience:

  • First, it was exciting to see the Standard dancers on such a large floor.  The expanse of an arena floor allows the couples to really turn on the gas and travel, making Quickstep and Viennese Waltz, in particular, very exciting to watch.  It was interesting that, even with so much space, there were still collisions--an amateur lady took a hard elbow to the face during a Viennese Waltz and a collision between two of the latin pro couples knocked one of the ladies to the ground!
  • Second, Latin was difficult to appreciate from a distance.  As a style that doesn't travel the floor much and relies heavily on personality and showmanship, I think it's much more fun to watch from the floor or in a smaller venue.  Next time, I'll bring binoculars, spring for a more expensive ticket, or just buy the DVD.
  • Third, because the program was in Japanese (as it should be), I couldn't identify the couples dancing in the quarter-finals unless I recognized them from a California competition or YouTube.  In later rounds, the couples were introduced in Japanese and English, so it wasn't a huge problem.
  • Fourth, it was really cold in the Budokan.  I wore my coat and gloves the entire night!
All in all, it was a fun evening and an interesting contrast to what we see at the professional level at local competitions back home.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


When I left the for Japan at the end of October, I was coming off a 45 hour September and found myself more than 200 billable hours behind pace.  I was convinced it would be impossible to qualify for a bonus (at my firm, we must log a minimum number of billable hours to be bonus eligible).  This was especially true given controversy over whether a significant sum of travel time to and from a client's office would count towards my hours.

Coming to Japan was by no means a hail mary attempt at a 2012 bonus.  That ship had sailed.  I was far more concerned with making sure no one could label me developmentally off-track.  My great fear, as I've moved from one slow office to the next, has been that I wouldn't have enough experience to land another job if I was laid off.

Some would point out that the firm never sat me down to hint at the possibility of a layoff.  That's true. But I don't think I've been wrong to worry and strategize.  By my willingness to volunteer or agree to "take one for the team" and the firm's willingness to move me around, we have avoided that conversation.

It has been enough to get me through my junior associate years, but I was convinced it wouldn't be enough to propel me to midlevel status here or at another firm.  So I came to Japan, to protect my investment in my law degree by catching-up on experience and booking a strong 2013.  And it's working.

The last few months of 2012 were busy enough that I met my hours obligation (by the skin of my teeth).  I still didn't expect a bonus--assuming the firm would back out my travel time to and from the client's office, which would be enough to disqualify me.  But the firm surprised me.  Today, I got a pay stub indicating that the standard firm bonus for an associate of my class year would be deposited into my account on Friday.

I am surprised and grateful (in a refresh the pay stub screen multiple times because I just can't believe it kind of way).  All of the bonus money will go to the Department of Education.  I am still paying off my loans, which is one of the big reasons that staying on track and staying employed at a big firm are important to me.  With each loan paid in full, I feel a little less stressed and a little bit closer to the day when I can choose to lead a more balanced life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

First Vacation

Since I started at the firm, I have taken a random day off here or there, but have not taken a vacation.  As a consequence of my transition from Beach City Office to Big City Office to International Office I found myself always the new associate trying to build up some cred by covering for other junior associates on vacation or paternity leave.  As a result, come May, I will reach the firm's maximum vacation accrual threshold.

After you reach the maximum vacation accrual threshold, you stop accruing vacation time.  It's not paid out or put into a reserve account.  It just disappears.  I like the idea of having a large vacation accrual--if I quit or am let go, the earned and accrued time will be paid out--but I will not allow earned vacation time to disappear into thin air.  So, in May, I will be taking my first vacation.

Where will I spend my time off?  Adventure in Australia?  Skiing in Switzerland?  Pastries in Paris?  Not in the cards.  I will be returning to California for a family wedding and relieving the family members who have generously been taking care of my pups the last few months.

It's not the way I envisioned spending that hard-earned vacation time, but I never thought I'd be sent away to Japan for a year either!  It will make my family happy.  It will be nice to see the pups.  It will be nice to be able to read signs and understand what folks are saying.  It will be nice to eat American food.  It will be nice to have a break.  It's the right vacation for right now.

Looking forward to a snuggle with Little B!

So I'll shelve the more adventurous vacation plans for now.  Hopefully, in the meanwhile, I'll find a friend who is able to join in on that sort of trip.  While vacationing on your own isn't the end of the world (New Zealand was fun!), it's a bit depressing and lonely, and I've had enough of being lonely lately!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Divorcing Yourself from Deal Outcome

Deals die.  They die for any number of reasons.  Something egregious is uncovered during diligence.  The parties can't come to an agreement on material terms and conditions.  The seller is outbid.  Market conditions change.  Financing dries up.  Whatever the cause, deals die.

Prior to that nasty turn of events, you've probably reviewed hundreds of documents, participated in diligence calls, and made charts to summarize the charts that summarized the memo that you wrote to summarize your research....  You've swapped endless emails with the investment bankers.  You've billed a month of hours in less than two weeks.  This is to say that you've missed a lot of dinners at home.  You've cancelled plans with friends.  You haven't gotten much sleep and probably look like hell.  You may have even stayed at the office all night on Christmas Eve with a quick nap on the floor.  (What, am I getting too personal?)

And then... pencils down.  The deal dies.

One day, when I'm a mid-level associate, I will meet this news with grace.  I envision powering down my laptop, scooping up my bag and coat, and proceeding to the nearest day spa for a glass of wine and massage.  I'm just not there yet.

I'm still fixated on the fact that I spent the holidays away from my family for a deal that didn't happen.  I get it, it's a sunk cost.  I also get that we sometimes serve the client best by providing the client the information and analysis they need to conclude that the deal isn't worth doing.  But it's just not as satisfying as swapping signature pages and finding the press release online the next morning.

It also makes me think twice about this job, what we're doing, and what we give up to do it.

[Y'all, I'm in need of a good yoga class--I need to let this go!]

Monday, February 11, 2013

National Foundation Day

I've been enjoying a three day weekend thanks to National Foundation Day, a February 11th holiday celebrating the foundation of Japan and the accession of its first Emperor.  I noticed some restaurant closures.  Otherwise there didn't seem to be much in the way of public celebration.

On Saturday, I took a leisurely two hour walk through Azabu.  I've been told that this is Tokyo's most expensive residential district--a fact I never would have guessed strolling through the main roads.  (I'm not sure I'll ever shake my suburban bias!)

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised.  One of the things I've noticed in Tokyo is that the best spots seem to be tucked away, off the main roads and above street level.  Even if you find one of these hidden gems in a guidebook, it can be difficult to locate.

This has something to do with the fact that addresses are not as handy here as they are at home:
Finding a place from its address in Tokyo can be difficult, even for locals.  The problem is twofold: first, addresses are given within a district rather than along a street (only major streets have names or numbers); and second, building numbers are not necessarily consecutive, as prior to the mid-1950s numbers were assigned by date of construction.  (Tokyo City Guide by Lonely Planet, 8th Edition)
On Sunday night, another visiting attorney and I made reservations at a restaurant we had found online.  We noted the address and provided it to our doorman, who instructed the cab driver in Japanese.  I watched the cab driver input the address into his GPS device, which he followed faithfully.  And, yet, we were delivered to a gas station.  The restaurant was nowhere in sight!

There was an Italian restaurant nearby that was able to seat us.  They had red wine.  All was not lost!

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It might be a little hard to sort out this picture (Blackberry camera's inability to take close up pictures strikes again!), but that little packet has roasted soybeans inside.  

February 3rd is Setsubun, a bean-throwing festival that marks the beginning of spring in Japan.  I'm told that fathers run around family homes wearing a mask that resembles the angry red face on the packet in the picture and their children throw beans at them--driving evil spirits out of their home.  This Time Out Tokyo article describes the ritual as spiritual spring cleaning.

I didn't witness any actual throwing of beans, but I did have a nice, American-style brunch (breakfast burritos in Tokyo!?!) at Sujis.  There are so many excellent places to eat in Tokyo, but a lot of the restaurants are tucked away off the main roads and finding these places can be a real challenge if you don't have any Japanese language capability.  That's why it's so nice to tag along with co-workers!

Other culinary adventures this week:
  • Okinawan restaurant in the office building.  The staple of the dish I had was goya, a bitter melon.  I think some people love this flavor, but it wasn't for me.  That's not to say that I don't think about visiting Okinawa.  Check out this awesome blog by an American expat living in Okinawa who cooks up a storm and takes the most beautiful pictures.  I'm blown away by the fresh produce she has access too!
  • Yakiniku restaurant in Hiroo.  The cuts of beef were high quality and delicious (apologies to my vegetarian friends).  They source their satsuma meat from Kagoshima prefecture and are very proud of that--there was a detailed supply chain diagram posted in the ladies restroom.  We were able to get a reservation for a private room and our waiter was exceptional (which is saying a lot because the level of service in restaurants here is very high--so long as you have at least one Japanese speaker in your party).
All in all, I had a great week.  I didn't have to spend the night at the office--it's a miracle what a difference sleeping in my own bed each night makes for my attitude--which left me in the right frame of mind to appreciate some of the great things about Tokyo.  For example, I love that this is such a safe city and that the metro makes it possible for me to live here without a car.