Rachel in Tokyo

This is a blog about an American law school student studying in Tokyo for the semester.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Getting here and taking classes!

My friend, a fellow classmate, just told me about www.blogger.com, so I am going to try to recount my adventures in Tokyo thus far. I know that I have promised to keep a journal, but just did not know how to do it until now. Perhaps it’s not too late. I have only been here a little over a month. I have lots to tell! But not too much that I can’t remember.

The flight:
The flight was uneventful. Other than the very nice lady who sat in front of me and decided she wanted to sleep in my lap for most of the duration of the 17 hour flight. Did you know that you can see 5 movies on a 17 hour flight? My best advice to you in the future is not to order the same type of meat if it’s offered twice. It’s probably the same meal as before, only 10 hours older. (My roommate, Keatley, found this out the hard way…)
Keatley and I actually caught the same flight over from Chicago. The program director put all of us in touch with each other via an on-line bulletin board, so Keatley and I thought it might be a good idea to secure an apartment in advance. This we did, and much to our chagrin, it was the right choice. Other students in the program decided to wait until they got to Tokyo to find an apartment. They bunked up at “The Mansion,” which in fact, it was anything but. The rooms were just big enough to turn around in, but only if you cocked your leg up awkwardly and positioned it over your semi-twin sized bed. The bathroom was even worse. We received word that if you were a male, and enjoyed shaving in a hot shower/sink after a steamy soak, it was rather difficult, because you had to stand outside of the bathroom to be able to shave comfortably. Keatley and I found out the first day of class that we were less than 2 blocks from school. Sweet.

Airport to Apartment
Upon landing, we “winged it” as I am known to do. I think Keatley likes to have things more “planned out,” however, she thought that I must know what to do, since I exuded such confidence in the airport. I admitted I had no clue, but would rather walk than stand. I quickly found my way to one of the nearest counters with the address to the apartment in hand, figuring that we could just jump in a cab and get there quickly. Then we discovered that a cab ride would be around $200-300 US dollars. A little out of our price range. The bus looked a better option than the train, since luggage for 4 months and stair cases don’t make a good combination. $30 and an hour-long bus ride later, and we were “close.”
Thankfully the Japanese people are rather nice when it comes to airport travelers, transportation to Tokyo and money. They loaded all of our luggage onto the comfortable bus and we were off. We ended up at a random hotel supposedly near where we needed to be. We knew this particular part of town couldn’t be too bad, since we passed a Starbucks just before stopping.
Once at the hotel, the nice, friendly, Japanese bus driver and transportation assistant helped us put our luggage in a cab. And believe it or not, all of this without a TIP! Yes, in Tokyo, you do not tip the service industry! In fact, you do not tip at all! If you try, they may see it as an insult and throw your change back at you! This is OK for me, because I am a student on a budget. The fewer Yen I have to delve out, the better!

The Apartment and The SUPER
We got to the apartment after about a $7 cab ride. This $7 cab ride was much more economical than the cab fare we could have spent. We got to 2-1-12 Azabu Juban, and rang the bell at the front counter. There was a “super” who came to help us to our apartment. This was my first chance to use my limited Japanese abilities. However, I quickly discovered that counting to 10 and telling the time would only get me so far. I digressed to pointing and broken English with many “arigato gozaimus” --- which means thank you. But it only goes so far. We got to apartment 701, and found several boxes in the “furnished” apartment to go along with bone-chilling cold and no hot water. After several minutes of limited conversation, we managed to get the heater turned on and the leasing company on the phone. We discovered that “furnished” means that there are 2 beds, a table and chairs in boxes that need to be assembled. After over 24 hours of traveling and losing over a day in jet-lag, we were in no mood to attempt to assemble furniture. The leasing company then talked to the Super and within half an hour, we had the beds out of the box. In America, boxes mean “much assembly is required”, however, in Japan, boxes just mean that no one has slept on these beds before. All that needed to be done is a few legs screwed into the bottom. We felt so stupid. Freakin’ Americans. Already we’re on the Super’s bad side.
Later on that night, the heater decided it didn’t want to work anymore. And we had no bedding. It was around 35-40 degrees outside. We were miserable. And could not take a shower, due to our gas not being turned on. Our first night was a nightmare, but we were so tired, that we ended up sleeping anyway. With a pile of clothes on top of us as make-shift blankets. At 2AM, I went down to the Super to wake him up to more sign language. We saw the workings of a traditional Japanese marriage first hand. The Super and his wife both came to see about the heater. She told him what to do for about half and hour, and then in utter frustration, told him to let us borrow their space heater for the rest of the night.

Classes/ Professors

We went to orientation and gathered our bearings. On the 12th, my birthday, we had our first class. It took a few days for us to get bedding as well as other necessities for our apartment. Our walls are bare, and so is the rest of our apartment, but this is the thrill of being a student in Tokyo!

After about 3 days, it was very clear. We looked out of our apartment and saw Mt. Fuji! From the back side of our apartment, we can see the Mountain. The apartment is situated on the back corner of the 7th floor of our apartment. We can see some large buildings in Roppongi Hills out of another side window, and also the Tokyo Tower out of another window. Our apartment is in the “embassy district” of Tokyo. Thus, many of the side-streets and neighborhoods cater to the expat community. I’ve even found a “NISSIN”, which is an international food store. It has many of our comforts from home, including an incredible wine selection! (They have Twomey, Turley, Duckhorn, Frog’s Leap, Caymus – even the Conundrum line, as well as many others from California. They even had a “GRACE FAMILY” cabernet selling for around $750 US. I don’t remember Grace Family Vineyards, but will be keeping an eye on it from now on, because that seemed really high! I even looked for a Screaming Eagle but did not see any…They had a prized- Petrus for around $1200. I would have been really happy to spend $60 on the Turley or $65 on the Twomey, but alas, I need to pay rent in a few weeks. Not a wise choice on a student budget!)
From my travels to Napa, I became quite the wine-o. As anyone who knows me and reads this blog will know about me. To be honest, I’m a little “lost” with Japanese wine. I’ve tried a couple of reds and whites since I came here, but just can’t get a feel for the varietals. It seems to me that they try to make a cabernet, but it’s very dry. (many say that’s what a Cabernet should be: dry…), however, the Japanese Merlot and Cabernet that I tried were both so incredibly dry that I could hardly drink it. Perhaps there are some really good ones that I haven’t tried yet, but when in Japan…try the freakin’ sake!
So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been taste-testing the sake, and have been getting more and more comfortable with it. but not the “one cup sake” they sell in the vending machines. I don’t think that even I would be into that. And beer? Well, of course you have Asahi and Sapporo here, but beer is actually very expensive! The Japanese government puts a rather high tax on HOPS, so, beer is expensive due to the additional taxes. This is fine for me, since I’m not much of a beer person anyway. However, there are many pissed off law-students in my program who are angry about the fact they can’t get drunk off of $10 and a couple of beers from the convenience store.

Classes and Professors

My classes are great. My teachers are local professionals who are expats themselves. For instance my Securities/Regulations professor works for Citigroup/Nikko. The largest financial services company in the world, and the 5th largest company overall. They were actually the underwriter for the NTT/Docomo IPO a few years back. The largest IPO in history: $18Billion dollars! Obviously, he knows his stuff. I’m enjoying learning about the industry and about securities overall.

Professor Wilson teaches Japanese law. He’s the director of the program, and a pretty amazing guy overall. He’s been here for 14 years. At 18 he came over as a Mormon on a missionary trip. Needless to say, it’s not a good idea to be too risqué around Professor Wilson. He’s very down to earth, however. He’s quite brilliant. He knew everyone’s name in the program on the very first day of orientation! I was impressed by that. Very accessible. It’s scary coming to Tokyo alone for the first time! He showed us all of the ropes, how to live on the cheap and more. He even gave us his cell phone and home number on the first day, as someone gets “in trouble” every year and he has to “bail” them out…(literally.)

I'm also taking an international commercial arbitration class. Our professor believes in guiding the students along through questions in the book. I guess it works? It's a truncated class, so it will be over by Spring Break- then only 5 classes to go!

International Commercial Transactions is a great class. We're learning about the world economy and how foreign currencies around the world "float" against the US Dollar. Did you know that there are more than a mere handful of countries around the world whose sole economy is based on the US Dollar? Isn't it strange to think that our US Mint not only prints money for use in the United States and by US citizens abroad, but they actually supply monetary currency for other nations wholly independant of the US? We discussed at length how Japan's Yen has a tendency to appreciate. This is good for Japanese expats abroad, but bad for their export economy. Thus, the Japanese government infiltrates the economy with more Yen, whenever it feels that the Yen is starting to become too strong.

I am also taking an International Tax class. My professor, is quite the looker. But then again, I think it must be his accent. I'm a sucker for foreign accents. Especially British ones. Australians hold a close second. Of course, we americans have no accents! The Japanese always smirk when I attempt to speak their language in my southern accent! It's interesting learning about international taxation law, based on the Japanese and US taxing authorities- all from a professor who is licensed and trained in Australia. He was kind enough to take me to a local BAR event: The Roppongi Bar Association-- a group of foreign attorneys (mostly US), who meet once a month for the sole purpose of promoting the practice of law in Japan by "GAIJIN"...Actually, it's pretty much just an excuse for a bunch of young professionals to get drunk. I went there with the intention of meeting some people who might want to hire me as an intern. I came home with 10 cards in my pocket and not much of a memory as to who gave them to me.

East/West Negotiations is my 6th class that I'm taking this semester (my Japanese language class doesn't count, since it's not for credit...). I have 2 professors for this class. One is a Japanese/American from Hawaii. He is very entertaining. He works hand-in-hand with another professor who is general counsel for Apple. We're having a blast in the class.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh rachel...I am so glad that you reached there in almost one piece. I though (for some reason) that you weren't going for a couple of months..how wrong was I?
keep me posted!!
I, too am not very technologically advanced so I wll sign off as sally (since I can't figure out how to do it the right way)

6:02 PM  
Blogger sally said...

p.s. apparently I cannot spell

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul and I are jealous!!! Make sure you get a post there after graduation so we can come for a visit.

Have fun while you're there. Miss you.

Cyndi & Paul (and girls)

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey i just realized how to do this because i just got my computer. I can't wait to hear more about this professor...Krystle

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rachel,

Krystle just showed me your blog. I love it. I'm so jealous of you being in Japan. Thanks for sharing these pictures with us. It makes me feel as if I'm experiencing the trip with you. I can't wait to go myself. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your wonderful trip.


2:59 AM  

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