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.