Monday, December 30, 2013

Day by Day

My head and heart hurt, and I had a few moments today when I felt like I couldn't catch my breath and tears welled up in my eyes while I was walking around the neighborhood.  I'm feeling incredibly frustrated by my inability to control or change the things that are happening in my personal life.  Writing or talking about it doesn't help.

The inside of the elevator at work.

To try to set the right tone for the day, I woke up early, worked out, did my hair and makeup and went out for a long walk and some window shopping.  Tokyo is very quiet the week of New Years.  Many restaurants and shops are closed all week, and people (or at least the people I know) leave town.

Oodles of poodles at the main crossing in my neighborhood
Some pretty fierce press on nails

The booty pads that I've heard so much about from the fellas in the office

I've started a new pro bono project, a new book and a new TV series, and am getting plenty of rest and exercise.

338 days to go.  I am not at all sure how I'm going to get through it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hardest Week

Living in Tokyo has been soul-crushingly lonely, but last week was the hardest by far.  My family didn't call or text (so I stayed up until 3am to call them during their morning and then head in to the office for a very early conference call).  Our office was open all week and I worked a lot of overtime (leaning on single, childless employees to stay late during the holiday season is not just an American tradition!).  As a result, I missed my dinner reservation on Christmas Eve and didn't get to sit down for a proper dinner until Friday night.

Friday had been a particularly tough day and, as I sat at dinner by myself, I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram and there were some tears looking at everyone's pictures from their family holiday celebrations.  There was some anger at the firm, for trading away so much of my PTO when negotiating the secondment that I only have enough PTO to attend my brother's wedding this spring and couldn't go home for the holidays (despite having months of PTO accrued!).  There was some fear that my personal life will always be this empty.

But I got through it.

Next week will be better.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

33rd Birthday

I turned 33 over the weekend. After a bonenkai held my new workplace, I met up with some friends from the firm for drinks at a couple of different bars.  The rest of the weekend was quiet.  I read a book, went to the grocery store, and stayed up late to call my family in the States who casually mentioned that some reproductive endocrinologists family friends of ours have started to suggest that I pick a donor and freeze some embryos.

Good times.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!

I'm seeing Christmas trees pop up in the office buildings in central Tokyo.  Here's what Izumi Gardens has on display:

On Christmas day in Tokyo, we'll go to work and some of us will get festive by eating KFC for dinner.  (Yup, KFC for Christmas dinner is a thing; read all about it on the Smithsonian blog here.)

Like last year, I will spend Christmas in Japan.  This is because the firm cut the amount of PTO that I'm allowed to take during my secondment year down to 10 days.  I have to save a few of those days in case I get sick and the rest will be spent on participating in my brother's wedding in the spring.  On the bright side, I expect the office to be slow.  No repeat of last year, when we were in the middle of an outrageously busy auction process for a M&A client that included a huge Christmas day deadline.

I have been in much better spirits lately.  I attribute this to my visit home, the excitement of the secondment, and getting to leave work before 9pm on a regular basis, which leaves time for workouts at the gym and a full nights rest--amazing stuff, that.  Still, I know it will be hard being alone on Christmas (and my birthday) so I need to plan something special for myself that week.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Japanese Mobile

By now, you've probably figured out that I make things harder than they need to be.  You know, like how I spent my first year in Tokyo stumbling around lost or holed up at home because I was afraid of getting lost.  All this getting lost business had a lot to do with the fact that I didn't have a smartphone with a functioning map app.

Trying to find a Tokyo location by address is pretty rough without GPS.  Don't believe me?
Tokyo has a very old and chaotic street-numbering system. Generations ago, the first building in a neighborhood was numbered 1. The second, now perhaps blocks away, was numbered 2. And so on.
And this, friends, is why even the cab drivers get lost from time to time.

But I still had so many excuses for not springing for a phone:
  • I'd probably need to bring along a translator to complete the transaction;
  • The upfront cost would be too much considering that I would only be in Japan for one year;
  • I wouldn't be able to read my bill; and
  • I'd get better at navigating Tokyo over time.
Roppongi Crossing
And that was okay for a year, but the day I found out I would be staying in Tokyo for a second year, I marched myself down to the SoftBank store at Roppongi Crossing in Minato-ku.

  • Good news --> they've got English speaking staff.  (Minato-ku is full of expats.)  
  • Great news --> you can sign up for automatic payments and don't have to deal with trying to read a Japanese bill.  
  • Better news --> my monthly bill (including unlimited data) is half what it was in the US.

(In fairness, I think my monthly bill is low because I paid for my iPhone up front.  If you want to pay for the cost of your iPhone in installments you will need a visa with at least 25 months left until its expiration.  My three-year visa had less than 25 months remaining so I couldn't take advantage of this option.)

Having a smartphone has really improved my quality of life in Tokyo.  I get lost far less often and I have a phone full of apps that help make navigating a foreign country and language a little bit easier.  Money well spent.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Looking Forward

Lately, I have been better about being hopeful about what the future holds, but I can't seem to help missing parts of my past.


This isn't intended as a review of the restaurant.  If that's what you are looking for, please consider a very informative and much more articulate post available here, which describes a largely different menu, but is consistent with my experience.

The last year in Tokyo has convinced me that the Japanese take the quality of their food and its presentation very seriously.  This just from visiting grocery stores and casual restaurants.  Can you imagine what the fine dining must be like?

So, when the opportunity to join some friends for a special dinner at Narisawa came up last week, it didn't take much time for me to decide to set my budget aside.  Looking at the seasonal tasting menu, we weren't entirely sure what to expect from many of the courses.  Essence of the forest with Satoyama scenery?  What does that mean?  Even after eating it, I'd have a hard time describing it to you.  (On the website, Narisawa explains that the menu lists just the idea and main ingredient of each course so that you can enjoy it with an open mind.)

The dinner was delicious.  I tried many things I've never tasted before (or might even refuse to taste under different circumstances, e.g., cod's milt) and enjoyed the thoughtful details.

A friend put together a collage of some of the courses and I've included it below.  Top center is the cod's milt.  Middle left is one of the desserts (the bowl was so pretty!).  Middle right is the duck.  Bottom are the other bite-sized dessert options.  From the dessert sampler, I had a macaron or two, a cream puff filled with whiskey cream and topped with toasted nuts, a pecan tart, and a strawberry with cream and a tiny shortcake round underneath it.

I wish I had a picture of each course to share with you (the mackerel, in particular, was beautiful) or the vocabulary to adequately describe the wine.

P.S.  I'll be the first to admit that my gut reaction to this sort of fine dining has typically been negative.  It seems pretentious.  How much better can the food be?  Why pay so much?  And so on.  After dinner at Narisawa, I would describe fine dining as an artistic performance that engages all of your senses.  In the same way that I appreciate a good ballet, I can appreciate this.  It's hard to imagine that I'll ever indulge in a meal like this again, but what an experience!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What's a Secondment?

This post started out as a reply to CP's comment, but seemed long enough to be a post of its own.  So here it is!
In this case, secondment means that my firm is loaning me out to one of our clients for a year.  I will remain an employee of the firm (I still receive my salary and benefits from the firm), but I report every day to the client's office where I work alongside the in house team and am supervised by their manager.  I've been seconded before: I covered for one of our domestic clients while an Asst. GC was out on maternity leave for three months.  This secondment is different in that it's focused on relationship building.   
I have a lot to gain from this.  There's no faster way to learn what the client wants and needs than by putting yourself in the clients' shoes.  If I go back to the firm next year, this will make me a better associate.  If I want to apply for in house jobs instead, this experience will round out my M&A and Capital Markets experience significantly while differentiating me from other candidates.  (I think this will be particularly true if I apply to in house positions in the American divisions of Japanese companies.)
On another note, because the company I'm working at is a traditional Japanese company, I'm getting immersed in Japanese business culture in a way I never thought possible for someone who isn't a Japanese speaker. This is interesting to me because my favorite moments in b-school revolved around learning about management of cross-cultural teams.  In a dream world, I would love to be a professor in a MBA program teaching legal environment of business classes.  I am optimistic that the experiences I'll collect this year will bring me one step closer to making that dream job a possibility. 
The last year in Japan was tough, but I'm hopeful this year will be easier because (i) I'll be working more reasonable hours (more on this in a future post); and (ii) I feel like I'm doing something that will help me progress, if not accelerate, my career possibilities outside of the firm.

Fall color in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Stick a Fork in It

November marked my last week in the office for about a year.  I'm apprehensive about the secondment, but very much looking forward to a change of pace (and scenery).

Cutlery cabinet at the firm: four forks and a lot of chopsticks.