Friday, October 3, 2014

Fresh Start

Dear Readers,

Thank you for taking the time to follow my experience in Japan. Special thanks to those of you who have been following along since law school. Your comments and notes of encouragement have meant the world to me and I truly enjoy interacting with you in this space and over email.

Unfortunately, it has come time to restrict the readership of this blog or delete it entirely. By way of explanation, my abusive ex-boyfriend has continued to visit this blog frequently since I stopped replying to his emails and text messages months ago. Maintaining this blog runs counter to my goal of cutting off contact with him and knowing that he's monitoring what I write (together with someone's recent, unauthorized attempts to log on to my Dropbox account) has made me fear for my safety and security. Both problems can be solved by limiting access to the blog or abandoning it.

I hate to allow him to indirectly intimidate me, but safety is a priority. I'm still figuring this out and will post an update when I choose a path forward.

In the interim, I would be delighted to keep in touch with you over email or Twitter. If you are trying to contact me at my mobile number, don't be alarmed (or offended) if you haven't heard back from me. I relinquished my Blackberry to the firm when I quit and, with it, the personal phone number that I have been using for years so I don't have access to any messages you might have left for me.

Thank you for your support.


Last Day of Work at a Japanese Company

My last day started with a nice breakfast at the Palace Hotel at 7:45am. This is a tradition among the women in the department. I've enjoyed the group breakfasts as an opportunity to hear what the female Japanese lawyers think of the gender issues in the company. They have also enjoyed the opportunity to ask me the full gamut of questions, very few of which had anything to do with the law (by way of explanation, I'm the first caucasian female secondee that has been placed in the department):
  • What is blonde hair texture like? Cannot tell you how often Japanese people asked to touch my hair once they had a little liquid courage in them.
  • How many steps does your skin care regimen have? Japanese women take skincare seriously and, from what I can tell from the advertising, have the patience to work their way through five or six step skincare systems.
  • Does it bother you that American men are so hairy?
  • Is it true that American women wax off all their hair down there? I hear from my guy friends who spent a lot of time hooking up with local women that it is popular to go au naturale. It appears there is a definite difference in cultural preference here.
  • Why are American women so obsessed with muscles?
  • Are you attracted to Japanese men? Are you attracted to any of the men at the company? Unlike our American understanding that dating within the company is discouraged, in some Japanese companies this behavior is encouraged and supported by the recruitment of two classes of women: the first on each woman's merits as an employee and the second on each woman's merits as a potential wife for one of the male employees (in furtherance of this practice, photos are attached to resumes). At my first social event with my department, the female teammates went so far as to produce pictures of the guys they considered to be the most handsome within the company and asked me who I liked best.
  • Are you willing to be a stay at home wife? To explain where they're coming from, it seems like a lot of women are expected to stay at home once they marry and, even if they want to keep working after marriage, find it very difficult to continue after having a child due to a lack of childcare resources and the practice at some companies of requiring women who return from maternity leave to "start over" as a first year employee. PM Abe is trying to address this with his so-called "womenomics" initiative. I am highly skeptical of the sincerity of this initiative, let alone the likelihood of its success.
  • Are you willing to date someone who makes less money or is less educated than you?
  • Do you think cheating is acceptable in a relationship? They also openly asked the American male secondees if they cheat on their wives. When the guys said no, the women followed up by asking (in near disbelief) "even when you're drunk?"
More than anything else, the secondment was a cultural exchange!

At the end of the work day, we had a goodbye ceremony. True to tradition, the ceremony included a speech by my GM, a speech by yours truly, and the presentation of a bouquet of flowers and a photo album. I was very touched by the photo album in particular (we take a picture at every team dinner and the pictures were compiled with hand written notes from the team in the album).

Finally, we went to dinner as a team one last time. At the recommendation of the team freshman, who is tasked with the logistics of all team dinners during his first year, we went to an oden restaurant.

It turned out to be an enjoyable day and it was very kind of the team to take the time to say goodbye in this way. Undoubtedly, as time passes my perspective on the secondment will mature. I hope I will have something more insightful to say about it all in the future.

For now, I'm enjoying time away from work and a mobile-free existence. I lost my personal phone number, which I've had for at least a decade and ported into the firm, when I returned my Blackberry on my last day. After scrambling a bit for a strategy to avoid losing the number while I waited to sign up for my next smartphone, I decided that--all things considered--a fresh phone number would be a welcome change. 

This is a fresh start. In more ways than one.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Truth and Freedom

Today is a hard day for me: it's the seventh anniversary of the due date I was given when I learned Ben and I had gotten pregnant. On the one hand, I am grateful that there is no permanent bond tethering me to Ben. On the other, I feel the loss of the child that is not here.

For a fleeting moment, I thought of reaching out to Ben because he's the only other person who might remember the significance of this day. This is an old (and bad) habit. I've given into this type of impulse in the past at times when I was not clear on malignant nature of his behavior. From those experiences, I've learned that contacting an abuser in a weak moment is a terrible choice that opens the door to manipulation and invites further abuse.

It was easy to reject the impulse to contact him this year because I have access to truth. Knowing the extent of his lies and betrayal, and recalling that he has also leveraged other women's personal misfortune or tragedy (e.g., divorce or death of a loved one) to start or attempt to start abusive relationships, made the right choice glaringly obvious. On days like this, it is easy to appreciate how fortunate I was to see Emily's text message in June. Pulling on that string unraveled his fabric of lies and provided much needed clarity.

That I ever thought Ben was the only one I had to turn to for consolation about the lost pregnancy, when he was the very person who decided it must end is absurd. It speaks to how much perspective I lost and how isolated I let myself become. I'm working to make sure I never find myself in a comparable position in the future.

Recovering Expat

During the time that I was in Tokyo, I lived in a corporate apartment. The downside was that it was a small studio apartment with sterile decor that never felt like home. The upside was that utilities and housekeeping services were included, and everything (even rent) was direct-billed to the firm.

Now that I'm a recovering expat, I'm adjusting to fending for myself again. It took a decent chunk of time and money to arrange the logistics for my move and to set up services in Austin. Before ordering internet, I remembered to check with Ebates (affiliate link) and got a great cash back deal.

(With the holiday season coming up, I thought it would be worth mentioning Ebates to those of you who do a lot of online shopping. Basically, you visit and then click through to the site where you want to shop. If you make a purchase, you'll receive a percentage of your purchase as cash back in a quarterly payment sent to you by Ebates. I've been using Ebates for more than five years and it's fun to get a check in the mail every once and a while.)

In addition to setting up basic services, I'm back to driving and all that it entails--new driver's license, car registration, maintenance and gas. It's time, money and mental bandwidth that I wasn't spending before. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the return to independence, but I can also appreciate how effectively the firm tailored my life in Tokyo so I had just one thing to worry about: work.

Here's to returning to the real world!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Giving Notice

In case you are new to the blog, a little context might help with this post. I am a fourth year big law associate. My relationship with the firm started as a summer associate in 2008 and continued with a second summer associate gig in 2009. I started full-time in San Diego. Since that time, the firm relocated me to LA, sent me on a secondment in Orange County, relocated me to Tokyo, and then sent me on secondment in Tokyo. I've viewed all that moving around as highly disruptive to my professional and personal development. This is why I didn't have to think too long before accepting an offer from another employer.

The funny thing about big law is that you don't really have one boss. As a result, depending on the size of your group and the number of offices that you work with, you might end up having to say "I quit" over and over again. My process went like this:

(For obvious reasons, this is a highly restrained telling of the sequence of events.)

First, I met with the relationship partner for the secondment. This was a contentious conversation. I had assumed that because (i) the secondment is a longstanding and continuous arrangement--with a new associate rotating in each year, and (ii) the work I've been doing did not include any long-term projects, it would not be unduly burdensome if I were to give notice and quit. The partner did not share my view of the situation. I gave him a longer notice period than I had intended, but he was not satisfied.

Second, I spoke with the administrative partner for the office. This would have been the first conversation had I not been out on secondment. No problems here.

Then, I emailed the partners in LA. If I hadn't quit, I would have been returning to LA to work for them beginning in January. These are good guys who gave me a place to work when I needed it the most. Replies included "I'm terribly sorry we couldn't give you a better experience" and "we have the highest regard for you."

Next, I emailed the partners in SD. These guys aren't concerned about my whereabouts, but they were the ones who hired me in the first place so it seemed right to let them know I was leaving. Replies included "thank you for being so gracious about the... relocations" and multiple replies along the lines of "I want to apologize... for not providing... the [expected] work opportunities."

Finally, I met with my GM at the secondment. I wish I could talk about this conversation in more detail, because it was interesting from a Japanese business culture point of view. What I can say, is that:
  • Japanese companies like this one offer "permanent" employment to their employees in exchange for extreme loyalty. At-will employment is strange to them. Quitting is scandalous (for the permanent employees; I've seen many secondees quit during my time at the company).
  • My GM had to submit an application to HR, who then granted permission for me to quit. This was bizarre to me given that I do not have an employment relationship of any kind with the company. The firm has an agreement with them to provide a secondee, but I am not a party to a contract with either the firm or the company.
I struggle with disappointing authority figures so there were some pangs of guilt and sleepless nights after the conversation with the secondment partner, but quitting was the right to do.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Back to Austin

Over the course of four years, the firm moved me from San Diego, to LA, to a secondment in Orange County, to Tokyo and, finally, to a secondment in Tokyo. I hated moving frequently, but I felt I had no choice but to follow the work. I needed the opportunity to accrue experience, earn the paycheck that would pay off my loans, and build a strong financial foundation; and in those early days the job market for junior corporate associates was so bleak that I didn't see any alternative. So I put on a brave face for the firm, packed up my stuff time and time again, and made do.

I had run the numbers and knew, long-term, life would be easier if I saw this through to the end of my fourth year. By that time, I would have enough experience to be marketable as a lateral in Austin, the city where (I thought) my long-term boyfriend and I wanted to make a home together. My loans would be paid off and my down payment savings goal would be met. When the going got tough (and it often did once I was in Tokyo), I would think of how great it would feel to have everything come together at the end of 2014.

This past June, I discovered that my boyfriend had been cheating throughout the duration of our nine year relationship. Not just a fling here or there, but multiple, simultaneous long-term relationships. It was a discovery that shook me to my core and left me questioning everything. Specifically, what impact would this have on my plans to move to Austin?

It took time to clear my head. When I was ready, I sat down with family and friends and talked through the idea of continuing with a move to Austin. I started out convinced that I had to give up on the plan out of fear that our paths might cross by coincidence one day. Numerous friends pointed out that it made no sense for me to banish myself from Austin when he was the one at fault. Hehad been just one of many reasons I had wanted to return to Austin. No need to change my plans on account of him.

I submitted my resume and deal list to three firms. The first submission was met with silence. The second led to a phone interview. While the second firm was deliberating, the third led to an offer that I accepted.

It's been a long time coming, but I'm finally headed back to Austin!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Signing up for Barbri

For reasons I'll explain in greater detail in a future post, I'm taking the bar exam in a new jurisdiction this February. Someone else is footing the bill for my exam preparation, and that someone wants me to take Barbri's course. Problem is, I don't know much about Barbri because I took Kaplan's complete course to prepare for the California bar exam.

To the other attorneys out there: do you think it's necessary to supplement Barbri with the PMBR course or any other material? I have foggy memories of folks complaining about Barbri's multiple choice practice questions, but maybe that's just the KaplanPMBR kool aid talking.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Baseball in Tokyo

Generally, Japanese people love blending in and being part of the group. In the Japanese company that I worked in, we were encouraged to wear dark suits with white shirts (no bright colors or bold shirts lest you stand out!), and we went to lunch together (daily), ate dinner and drank together (often), and even did a little group cheer at the end of a night out (seldom). It's so different from American culture, where many of us are raised to try to stand out, be unique, and deserve a gold star.

A byproduct of the focus on supporting the group is that (generalizing again) Japanese people make amazing fans. At baseball games, I'd heard that the fans sang songs and had special coordinated cheers. It was something I wanted to see.

So I went to a Yakult Swallows game. The team is named after its owner the Yakult Corporation, which is known for selling probiotic dairy products. Baseball and probiotics strike me as unlikely bedfellows, but they make it work: one of the swallow mascots runs around with a big yogurt container strapped to its back (I thought it was a jet pack at first, but that doesn't make sense... why would a bird need a jet pack?).

Swallows swag!

The game was at Meiji Jingu stadium, in Shinjuku. They started building the stadium in 1925--Babe Ruth played there in 1934! Check it out:

Meiji Jingu Stadium

On this particular night, the Swallows were playing the Yomiuri Giants. The team is named after (you guessed it) its owner the Yomiuri Group, a media conglomerate. Both the Swallows and the Giants are based in Tokyo so this match up was a bit like the Freeway Series or any other crosstown rivalry in the US.

The fans were as diehard as I hoped. There were self-organized brass bands in the stands; but the best part was when the Swallows scored a run, all the Swallows fans got out their umbrellas and waved them around while singing a song.

There was a lot of food and drink for sale. Beer girls in short skirts with kegs strapped to their backs hiked through the stands. There was ice cream, BBQ ribs, pizza and a substantial sausage platter.

There were cheerleaders too although their uniforms were much more tame than what we see at pro sporting events in the US.

After one of the innings, these ladies in full kimono took the field:

To announce the fireworks:

It was a lot of fun watching the spectacle. The actual game wasn't too bad either!

PS: You can buy your tickets from the copy machines or ticket machines inside 7-11 or Family Mart.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Bear with me, guys. I have a handful of Tokyo posts left in me.

This one is about omiyage, the gift of food that you're expected to bring back for your coworkers when returning to the office from a business trip or vacation. You can read more about it in this WSJ blog aptly titled "Thinking of Work While on Vacation."

During a typical week at the Japanese office where I was seconded, I would receive two to three omiyage. There are about 100 attorneys in the department and our practice was not only to bring omiyage upon return from vacation or business trips, but also to bring omiyage on our last day of work. Given that the company is constantly rotating permanent employees to and from other departments or subsidiaries, and that the secondees (roughly 1/4 of the department) are always coming and going, there is cause for lots of omiyage.

Here's a picture of my favorite omiyage from the entire year, a chocolate in the shape of Mt. Fuji (or Fuji-san, as they call it).

After a trip to the US, I brought the team Reese's Peanut Butter Cup minis because they are one of the few American sweets I've never been able to find in Tokyo. Turns out they aren't sold in Japan for a reason--my Japanese coworkers didn't seem to like them at all! If I were to do it over again, I would just pick up some Japanese sweets from the stores that carry omiyage boxes in the airport. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Down Payment Savings: Goal Met

I'm going out with friends tonight to celebrate meeting my down payment savings goal!

I've been looking forward to having a place of my own for many years. When I was in my early twenties, all of my friends seemed to work for builders and mortgage banks so we spent a lot of time talking about home ownership. Thanks to free flowing capital, help from family, spouses and trust funds, and relatively affordable new housing in Ladera Ranch and Talega, it seemed like everyone soon had a beautiful new place to call home. Meanwhile, I was living in an apartment saving for law school. Oh, the envy!

It wouldn't have been possible to meet this savings goal so soon, while also paying off my student loans and meeting retirement savings goals, if it hadn't been for the opportunity to work in Tokyo on an ex pat package. The generous currency supplement and company housing enabled me to send a large amount of cash to my down payment savings account each month. This (together with relatively frugal living) is how I was able to meet this savings goal with no help from family or a partner in less than two years.

Today, I am filled with gratitude for the earning power that law and business school provided, the good fortune that enabled me to obtain and maintain a big law job in a tough economy, and my financial discipline. There were a lot of sacrifices along the way and I always imagined I'd be buying my first home in a different context, but I want to keep the focus on the positive. I've been enjoying the process of working with a realtor and loan officer and am so excited to find a place to settle down and call home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Me Before You

I just finished reading Me Before You by Jojo Moyes on MC's recommendation. (Thank you, MC!) This is light reading for a weekend or holiday. Do yourself a favor and tuck some Kleenex in the back cover before you get started.

I liked this image:
"The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life--or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else's life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window--is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are."
Been there. It makes no difference whether what I see is beautiful or horrifying, I can't help but change.

This book made me think about who I was before, during and after I met B. While with Ben there was something about his behavior that was off--that I couldn't pinpoint. Now I know the reason I felt that way was because he was maintaining secret, separate lives with other women throughout our nine year relationship. I had no clue how pervasive the narcissistic and emotional abuse, and resulting anxiety was, or how far-reaching its effects, until it was all over.

In the last 20 days or so, I have felt an incredible calm, a clarity of mind, and watched in surprise as many elements of my life have fallen into place with minimal effort. What a welcome change! My friends have observed that I seem relaxed. I'm sleeping better than I have in years. My mind feels sharp.

Said another way, I feel like myself again. I am so relieved. So happy. I had gotten to a place where I thought I had lost any connection to this version of myself. I'm lucky to have found my way back.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Farewell Sushi

Last week, I had some fantastic sushi at a farewell dinner. Pieces were served one by one, each perfectly seasoned. (I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo, but there is already some soy sauce in the rice in this piece.)

At one point (vegetarian readers, please avert your eyes) they emerged from the kitchen with a fish that was still flopping around on the plate. When the fish died, it's skin quickly changed color from dark gray to nearly white. The fish was flayed and we each had a beautiful piece of sushi on our plates in a matter of minutes.

This next picture shows the dining area. All of the food was prepared right in front of us. As you can imagine, the chef's knife skills were incredible. 

And the sake.... With each sake they brought out a tray with a selection of little cups made of different materials to choose from. They say the taste of the sake varies according to the vessel.

I love the American version of sushi, but I loved this too and know that this meal will never be topped. It was the perfect way to say goodbye!

For the restaurant's details, see this link.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Sephora is looking for Senior Counsel to work in its San Francisco office. Sounds great, except they're looking for someone with 7-10 years of experience. Maybe one of you fit the bill?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dog Days

B camping out on the couch.
National Dog Day?

Never heard of it, but was not disappointed when it took over my newsfeed. It was fun scrolling through the photos; and it reminded me that I'll be back under the same roof as C and B very soon!

Speaking of which, I've been spending a lot of time looking at places to live, pinning design inspiration, and getting excited about replacing some of my furniture. I've also been browsing dance class schedules, plotting running paths, and making lists of all the things I want to do once I'm moved in.

Life has picked up some positive momentum and I am excited about all of the great things slated to happen between now and the end of the year. Looking forward to sharing specifics soon. After all the doom and gloom lately, I hope it will be as nice for you to see things come together in a positive way as it has been for me to experience it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Twelve Novels in 2014

Mobile bookstore at a Tokyo swap meet.

This seems anticlimactic after having just read Lag Liv's post about her awesome family adventure to Palo Duro Canyon, a Texas State Park, (if you are into hiking you must check out her post and pictures!), but I've reached my goal of reading twelve novels in 2014 and so it's time to post the list. Here they are, in the order they were read:
  1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  3. White Fang by Jack London
  4. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  6. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  8. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  9. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  10. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
  11. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  12. The Giver by Louis Lowry
(Thanks to Daisy's book club for suggesting books 5-7 and 11, which was also recommended by MC.)

I'm partial to non-fiction, but, when I set my 33x33 goals at the beginning of the year, I thought I should make room for novels too. Good call. It was a sweet relief to get lost in a book every now and again as my personal life turned into a nightmare over the summer.

I'm glad I brought my Kindle with me to Tokyo. You can log on to Amazon's US site from Japan and whispernet will deliver the title you've purchased to your Kindle just as if you're back home. Brick and mortar bookstores are alive and well in Tokyo and they do carry books written in English, but the selection is limited.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Finished reading the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. This Honest Trailer is on point:

The parallels to Hunger Games don't stop there--it's downhill after the first book.

Which faction would you choose?

(Balancing out the young adult fiction with some Margaret Atwood that I just downloaded to my Kindle.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cutting for Stone

For most of the last couple of months, I've felt distressed. It's like a fight or flight reaction that's been drawn out for weeks. It's taken a physical toll, but there are little reprieves: when I spend time with my dogs, go to the gym or get lost in a book.

In July, I read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese at the suggestion of Daisy's book club. There is a lot of medical jargon here. That's what makes it just the book that the child of a physician, particularly an OBGYN, was raised to read. What others might see as tedium made me feel right at home--it was like sitting at our family dinner table.

At a time where I'm struggling to find the value in recent, difficult personal experiences... to find the the meaning... it was nice to read a novel that tied the bitter and the sweet together for its characters. The end of the book raised some questions that have been very much on my mind lately. Should our compassion have limits where malignant behavior is concerned? Does compassion enable an abuser? Are there some circumstances where forgiveness should be off the table?

Do you have any suggestions for summer reading? I'm working my way through the Divergence series now (yeah, one step away from Twilight, but a light read was in order), but will looking for something new soon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Checking In

At the end of the week, I'm headed back to the States for a bit. I planned this trip very shortly after I sent Ben packing. On hard days, I've been telling myself that if I can just get to the airport on Friday night, everything will be alright. Only three more days to go!

It's going to be wonderful to see some of my family and be with my little dogs. There are some doctors' appointments, a haircut, a pedicure and a few job related things on the calendar. Otherwise, I just want to relax, soak up the sun, enjoy the companionship of my family, and revel in the English speaking environment.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July in Tokyo

No fireworks. No BBQs. Don't expect any Americana!

It was just like any other day except:
  • One of the other American secondees wore American flag socks to work.
  • We made a special effort to go to a burger place for lunch.
  • The firm planned a beach party for the summer associates, but it was cancelled due to rain.
Really, the American flag socks were the best part! I'm most homesick on American holidays like this one. There are so many pictures on Facebook and Instagram of my friends with their spouses and kids at the beach or pool or park or even just the backyard. It makes me happy to see everyone together. I just wish I could be a part of it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dinner in Ginza

Just for fun, a couple of pictures from dinner in Ginza tonight:

Bonito and Eel


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Last weekend, Ben and I made the 817km trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima. It took just over four hours to get to Hiroshima station using the shinkansen, Japan's bullet train that travels at 200km per hour. It's a smooth ride and a nice way to travel--wish we had a train this efficient in California!

Shinkansen ready to depart Tokyo Station

A few additional tidbits about the shinkansen:

  • It's not cheap. The roundtrip cost for one person from Tokyo station to Hiroshima station on the Nozomi shinkansen was more than $300.
  • Tickets are available at the station. Please arrange your tickets in advance--Japanese people plan ahead and hotels, trains and planes seem to book up fast. Travel agents are able to book shinkansen tickets on your behalf.
  • If you are in Japan as a foreign traveler with "temporary visitor" status, consider a Japan Rail Pass. It will save you a fair amount of money if you intend to travel between the major cities. Lear more about it here.
  • There are reserved and unreserved cars on the shinkansen. I arranged for us to have assigned seats, which costs extra, but I didn't want to get caught standing for four hours.
  • Power outlets are available in each row in the reserved cars (maybe in the unreserved cars too, but I can't vouch for that).
  • A snack cart will pass by a few times during your trip, but it's perfectly acceptable to bring food aboard.
Shinkansen ticket.
64 is the train number. 16 is the car number. 9 is the row and D is the seat.

We arrived in Hiroshima around noon and dropped our bags at the Sheraton, which is conveniently located adjacent to the station. I chose the Sheraton because the rooms are American-sized--I was traveling with a particularly tall person and wanted him to feel comfortable. Also, if you are traveling with someone who might have a hard time with Japanese foods, the restaurant at the Sheraton had very American options (and a nice breakfast that was included in the cost of our room).  You will certainly save money if you stay elsewhere, but expect very small rooms.

From the Sheraton, we walked to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The walk is doable for adults, but as the weather gets warmer or if you have little ones with you, a ride on the street car is a better option. You can buy a street car pass from the conductor for a reasonable price. (The one-day trip card costs either $6.50 or $8.00 depending on whether you want to be able to take the JR ferry to Miyajima. More information available here.) 

The main sites to see at the Peace Memorial Park are the museum, memorial, and A-bomb dome. I took the below picture while standing in the museum. You can see the memorial and the A-bomb dome in the background.

Peace Memorial Park

Entry to the museum is a reasonable $0.50 per person. There are some friendly, English speaking guides available in the afternoons if you want to be able to ask questions. Signs and placards include English translations. As you would expect, some of the photographs and displays are difficult to process, but it's not so gruesome that kids need to be left at home. Overall, I was expecting the museum to present an anti-American bias, but it didn't seem hostile.

Even though we were at the park on Saturday, there were many school groups around and about. A group of what looked to be high schoolers gave a short concert on the bank of the waterway across from the A-bomb dome.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall,  now referred to as the "A-bomb dome", is the most visible, recognizable landmark in the park. The promotion hall was 160 meters from the hypocenter of the blast. We walked all around the dome and, from the back, you can see the remnants of the metal spiral staircase. Everyone who was inside the hall at the time of the bombing died instantly.

If you're reading this prior to your own trip to Hiroshima, be assured that an afternoon will be enough to visit all of sites at the peace park. (This coming from someone who likes to read as many signs and placards as possible!)

Genbaku A-bomb Dome
After we left the dome, we took a short walk to the hypocenter, which is down a back alley and off the main street. The hypocenter is marked by a granite pillar and easy to find.

Hiroshima Castle is nearby. This, like many "historical" sites in Japan is a reconstruction. The original structure was destroyed in the bombing.

Hiroshima Castle

As you wander around town, you will come across a number of temples and shrines. I forgot to make a note of the name of this shrine, where we stopped to get a few pictures.

Both sides of the road were lined with these stone lanterns.
While in Hiroshima, it's easy and worth the extra time to visit Miyajima. Miyajima is accessible by ferry. I recommend you take the streetcar to Miyajimaguchi then take the reasonably priced JR ferry across to the island. You can read about it here. Due to poor planning on my part, we took a much more expensive ($20/person) water taxi from the peace park to Miyajima. Avoid that if you can!

On Miyajima, you'll find the scenic Itsukushima Shrine. It's right by the water so that at high tide, it appears to be floating on the sea. At low tide, it looks like this:

Itsukushima Shrine at low tide
Admission to the shrine was a reasonable $2 or $3. There was some sort of sword fighting demonstration going on while we were there, but I didn't take any pictures since Ben was snapping away on his Nikon.

There are also some promising hiking trails on the island. I regret that we didn't take advantage of the trails. It was my fault as I was feeling overheated on account that I was wearing jeans--please bring shorts and bug spray as there are a lot of mosquitos around.

Otori gate at Itsukushima Shrine
In addition to mosquitos, there were lots of deer that wandering around. They aren't shy about taking a bite of any food or paper goods, whether you offer them a taste or not. Be on guard!

Miyajima deer
It was one of the best weekends I've had since I've been living in Japan. Nothing against Tokyo, but it's great to escape the city from time to time. We had been thinking about going to Hakone or Nikko this weekend, but those plans were cancelled due to the personal events described in my last post.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Taking Vacation While Employed by a Japanese Company

Bloomberg recently published an article entitled "Japanese Men Bringing Up Babies Aim to Send Wives to Work" that touches on the difficulties of taking leave from a Japanese company (parental or otherwise). Here are a few key points from the article:
  • Just 47% of Japanese employees take an annual paid vacation.
  • Japanese employees, asked why they don't take vacation days they're entitled to, cited embarrassment "because others don't take them".
  • An evaluation system weighted toward seniority and time spent in the office rather than productivity and merit discourages leave.

From Niall Murtagh's Blue-Eyed Salaryman
(his account of working as a permanent employee at Mitsubishi)

Before I started my twelve month secondment with a Japanese company, I asked for and received my managers' written agreement that I would be able to take vacation on certain dates to attend an important family event in the US. It seemed important to make sure we were all on the same page regarding my vacation plans because (i) the vacation would take place just before Golden Week, a string of national holidays, and (ii) the vacation would use nearly all of the 10 vacation days I would be allotted for the year. In reliance on this agreement, I stayed in Japan by myself during the year-end holidays. This included working on Christmas Day, a day that I much prefer to spend with my family.

A couple months before the planned vacation, I touched base with my managers about completing the formal vacation approval process so I could purchase international airfare. For six weeks, while the price of airfare steadily increased, my managers and I engaged in a confusing (to me) exchange regarding my pre-approved vacation. They asking me to shorten my vacation. When I asked why--assuming there must be a big deal coming in--they were unwilling to provide an explanation. I pointed out that the company manual for contract employees clearly stated that vacation requests could only be denied if the vacation would disrupt a project and all of my projects were scheduled to end prior to my planned vacation. Ultimately, they asked me to tell them my plans for each day of the vacation so they could evaluate whether my plans were "important" enough to justify the use of vacation days. (I've since been told that it is illegal, under Japanese labor law, for managers to ask employees questions regarding what the employee plans to do with their vacation time.)

To make a long story short, my request was denied and my vacation was shortened, so much so that I only spent three days in the US. While I'm grateful that I still made it to the wedding, this was not an adequate amount of time to catch up on doctors' appointments, visit with my family (and my dogs), or--dare I hope--recharge my batteries.

As any big law M&A associate knows, vacations have to be cancelled when the deal is on. I get that and I can live with it. In this case, however, there was virtually no work to do. When I returned from my vacation, I was caught up on email and requested work product just 20 minutes into my work day. I asked my managers for work, but they had nothing for me to do that day or for many days thereafter. (For the rest of the week I had requested off, I was given a cumulative two hours of substantive work to do.)

My managers never explained why my request was denied other than to say it gave the appearance of being away from the office for too long. Ironically (and perhaps tellingly), my team leader left for vacation the day before I did and has yet to return two and a half weeks later.

Despite my team leader's long absence, it appears that it's generally difficult to use your vacation days while employed by a Japanese company. I notice that other employees in my division use just one day at a time--usually with no notice after calling in "sick". From a western point of view, I cannot for the life of me see why the company prefers unexpected absences to planned vacations, which are presumably less disruptive to the work of the company. Also, if you are going to rely on foreign, often unaccompanied, secondees, how can you not see the tremendous value in allowing them one home leave per year to visit their families back home?

I look forward to using a big chunk of my nearly two months of accrued vacation time between the end of the secondment and my return to the firm.

Views are my own.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meguro River

I've lived in Tokyo for nearly a year and a half, but I'm still discovering new hidden treasures on a regular basis.  The Meguro River is a popular sakura spot that I've never visited (in any season).  Both sides of the river are lined with cherry trees that lean towards the water.  (Search Instagram for some amazing photos of this spot.)  As luck would have it, I had the chance to walk along the river after a housewarming party nearby--both the new apartment and the river area were gorgeous!

Lanterns everywhere!

Meguro River

We walked around Nakameguro afterwards.  This is an area I'd like to come back to on my own so that I can wander more slowly and really poke around.  There were some street vendors, but I have a feeling that was only because everyone was out for hanami.

Also this weekend, my neighborhood played host to a festival.  I grabbed some food at one of the stalls, sat by our huge waterfall (not pictured) and watched all the families while soaking up the sun.  There were so many babies and poodles about!  (Poodles are Tokyo's dog of choice... or maybe just Roppongi's dog of choice.)

Ark Hills Sakura Festival

Festival Food
(You can see the western influence - lots of foreigners live in this area)

Tokyo and I are at our best in the spring.  Growing up in California, I never developed much of an appreciation for the significance of the changing seasons.  Living in Tokyo where we have a very gray winter (with a touch of snow) and hot and humid summers (worse than Texas, I think) has taught me how completely the seasons can change my mood.  I've been exercising more, eating differently and finding energy for extras like my first class on Coursera.  It was another good week.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


I spent some time practicing my Excel skills this week.  I'm the first to admit that my Excel "skills" are totally remedial by b-school standards, but other lawyers--especially the senior ones--seem to think I'm some sort of Excel ninja so I'm doing what I can to keep up appearances.  I started out by running a few annuity calculations and setting up some amortization tables.

This reminded me of the MBA core finance midterm that tasked us to calculate how much we should save monthly for a newly born infant to attend college.  So I ran those calculations again, assuming tuition and living expenses for one child, born in twelve months, who would attend my alma mater; and, to complete the grim picture, also ran some calculations to check whether my current retirement savings are on track.

The numbers were sobering, but it turns out that accomplishing my big financial goals is within my grasp if I can maintain my current income.  What are those big financial goals?  To be able, by myself, to buy a modest house, pay for one child to attend daycare and college, retire comfortably and take a couple of vacations along the way.  How do I know I can meet these goals?  When I had some spare time as a first year associate, I modeled the next forty years of my personal finances and I've updated the model every month since.

It is reassuring to know, in theory, that I am capable of meeting my goals, but maintaining my current salary will be a challenge, if not impossible.  This is why I'm trying to make the most of my time on an expat package by socking away extra money each month.  This month was a particularly good one: I contributed 12% of my pre-tax income to my 401(k) and 86.5% of my post-tax income to savings and investments.  When I have a particularly lonely week, I remind myself how incredibly lucky I am to have this opportunity to build a strong financial foundation.

Speaking of college tuition, do you know someone who started making contributions to a 529 plan before they had any kids?  How did that work out for them?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cherry Blossoms

After much anticipation, the cherry trees are finally in full bloom.  I spent the entire day wandering from one sakura spot to another and taking tons of pictures along the way.  Unfortunately, the internet connection at my apartment hasn't been working properly (for two weeks!) so I won't be putting myself through the frustration of trying to upload all those large files right now.  In the meanwhile, here's a peak at what I posted to Instagram.

Top left: Chidorigafuchi; Bottom left: Imperial Palace Gardens
Both right: Yasukuni Shrine

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wandering around Roppongi Hills

We're finally seeing signs of spring, so I decided to take a long, aimless walk around the neighborhood today.  Here's the photographic evidence:

Tokyo Tower

We're still waiting for the sakura to really start, but there are some early bloomers.

Maman by Louise Bourgeois creeps me out every time.

Mori Tower

Communal space below Keyakizaka, one of the Roppongi Hills residential towers.

Just down the street from Lauderdale, a western brunch spot.

And spotted in Roppongi (the dodgy part, not the Hills):

The apartment I stayed in during my 2011 assignment.

Technicolor roses -- because we can.

There was enough sunshine to justify sunglasses.  Finally!  I cannot remember the last time I experienced direct sunlight.

March has been a slow month.  I filed my Japanese tax return, which is a bit scary because it involves signing a return written exclusively in Japanese.  I worked, which involved finally signing a deal that's been in the works since before I started the secondment.  I ate out with co-workers, which involved a nice steak at Chaco (where I burnt my hand by absentmindedly touching my piping hot plate), hole in the wall bbq (where I tried beef tongue for the first time), tasty crab at Andy's (under the tracks in Yurakucho, popular with expats and highly recommended for a casual dinner), and oden (where everything was a fish cake in one form or another).  I started using a Japanese skincare regime that all the ladies in the legal division recommended.  As with most things Japanese, it's a bit tedious and has many steps, but good results.  I went out to an expat bar with American friends.  I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  And I logged a lot of time on the treadmill.

In short, I was a normal human being.  The secondment has a regular rhythm that makes it possible to plan in advance, avoid cancellations and sleep regularly.  It's a wonderful thing.

I still have days when I feel low because I miss family and friends, my pups, my hobbies and my belongings, but I've been doing a better job lately at keeping the blues in check.

Friday, March 21, 2014


I first learned about tonkatsu (pork that is breaded and fried) from my Japanese tutor. She was surprised that I hadn't tried it yet (this was a year ago) and I didn't get around to it until just last week. (Last week's culinary adventures included tasting oden and beef's tongue for the very first time.)

It's good. We went to Wako Tonkatsu, a chain, during lunch and it was easy to get in and out and back in front of our computers within our strictly timed lunch break.  I had the Wako Gohan, which is a lunch set that costs less that $10USD and comes with a pork loin cutlet, rice, unlimited cabbage, and a miso soup with little clams.  They provide a spicy mustard that I loved, even though it brought tears to my eyes!

I didn't take any pictures, but check out their website if you want a closer look.

PS - This is one of the best English websites I've seen for a Japanese restaurant!

PPS - Just realized they have a location across the courtyard from my apartment building.  Looks like there will be more tonkatsu in my future.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

50 Days w/o Coca Cola

I have had a bad soda habit for a long time.

I love the full calorie stuff and got in the habit of drinking a lot of it (3 cans on a typical day).  It's an easy habit to continue when you don't drink coffee and work long hours in an office that offers a free soda machine.  I've been worried about the impact on my health so, when the new year rolled around, I decided it was time to try to go 100 days without a full-calorie Coke.

100 days.  It didn't sound as intimidating as quitting cold turkey, but I hoped it would be long enough to lose the habit.

Here's how I'm feeling now that I'm half way there:
  • sleeping better at night
  • improved energy level
  • lost three pounds
  • but still find myself wanting a Coke when I'm stressed
I'm relying on water as a substitute because I am hoping to use this change to lose some weight.  I haven't seen a Diet Coke since I arrived in Tokyo, but Coke Zero is readily available and I pick one up when I find myself having a really strong Coke craving.  Diet soda doesn't taste good to me so I haven't swapped one habit for another.

All in all, it's been a change for the better.  Happy I've managed to stick to it and looking forward to hitting the 100 day mark.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Yokohama on Saturday

I made plans with a friend to meet for breakfast and spend some time at the art museum.  Breakfast was yummy, but suspiciously resembled dessert.  I present to you, cold strawberry banana pancakes (with caramelized sugar on top of the pancakes and whipped cream and ice cream (!) between the strawberries and bananas):

J.S. Pancake Cafe
The art museum, it turns out, is closed until March 1st--a minor detail not mentioned on the English version of their website.  I spent an hour and a half commuting to Yokohama for pancakes I could have eaten in Tokyo (they have multiple locations in the city).  Good thing the conversation was great.

Living in Japan without fluency (or literacy) in Japanese is manageable, but you have a lot of moments like this.  We pay a premium for not being able to read Japanese.  The premium is paid with money (grocery stores with English labels charge a premium) and time wasted.  It also helps to never expect things to go as planned because, well, they usually don't.

(For the record, I don't think this is a Japan problem, it's an expat with no language capability problem.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Skiing at Hodaigi in Minakami, Japan

On Friday morning, I arrived at the office with my suitcase so that I would be prepared to head directly to the train station in the event of a last-minute meeting or work emergency.  This turned out to be a good idea because I made it out of the office just in time to head to Shinjuku and catch the bus.  As anticipated, Shinjuku was very busy and difficult to navigate while toting even the smallest of suitcases.

(Tip: If you're planning on skiing in Japan, you can use Takyubin to ship your luggage or gear in advance.)

The trip was organized by the Tokyo Snow Club, which means that they arranged the bus, accommodations, lift tickets, rentals, onsen and some meals.

The bus delivered us to the Blue Monkey Lodge in a surprisingly short amount of time.  (Let me be clear that I do not recommend this accommodation to anyone looking for a place to stay in Minakami during the winter months.)  There were six women assigned to my room.  A space heater was provided, but it was so cold that we could see our own breath (this was true both that evening and the next morning, after the space heater had been running all night).  You see, the Blue Monkey hadn't turned on their central heating and there were even windows wide open on our arrival!

Our room at the Blue Monkey Lodge

The next morning, I skipped a shower because there were only two working showers for the thirty-nine people staying at the lodge.  The provided breakfast included two pieces of bread and a glass of water.  Not what I had in mind, but the trip got better from this point out.

We arrived on the slopes shortly after nine o'clock.  Our rentals had been arranged in advance by TSC, so pick up was very quick.  I just walked up to the skis, boots and gear labeled with my name, scooped them up, and walked out.  It doesn't get much better than that!

Welcome to Hodaigi!

The slopes were great and the quality of the snow was excellent.  It turns out that, even after a ten-year break, I can still ski pretty well.  This was my first time on parabolic skis and, wow, do those beauties make skiing a lot less work!

A look at one of the lifts up to one of the beginner runs.

Here's a slightly better look at the base of the resort.  It's a pretty small place, but there were enough runs to keep us busy on this weekend trip.


So how was skiing at Hodaigi different from skiing at a comparably sized U.S. ski spot?  One downside was that other than the couple of cafes on the slopes there weren't places to eat within walking distance of our accommodation.  This means there wasn't an alternative place to grab breakfast or dinner on our own.  But it wasn't all bad.

For starters there was this giant, cute snow kitty at the base of the slopes near the kids' area.

Sno-llo Kitty

The beer selection looked a little different.


And, best of all, the lift tickets were very reasonable.  

This 2 day lift ticket cost JPY 5,300 or USD 52!

Skiing after so many years away from the slopes brought back a flood of memories of skiing with my family as a kid.  It is a wonderful thing, as a very homesick and lonely adult living abroad, to be reconnected with those types of memories.

The rest of the trip consisted of onsens and a few more hiccups with the provided meals and the accommodations.  We arrived back at Shinjuku at a reasonable hour, which was an accomplishment given that while we were away Tokyo had received the largest snowfall of the last 45 years.

Tokyo neighborhood on Sunday night.