Chasing Japan

For three years in law school I toyed with the idea of spending one semester in Tokyo at the Temple Japan Law Program, a specialized study abroad program through Temple University in Philadelphia. I requested the application more than once. I personally reached out to the director of the program and made sure I met him when he was in New York promoting the program. I spoke with others who had spent a semester in Tokyo at the program. I wanted to do it, but it never worked out. I never even sent in the application. There were other matters to considers, such as my family. As such, I couldn’t just pick up and move to Tokyo for a semester.

But what if I could have? What would I be doing now? Would I be any happier as an attorney? Would I be happy with my law firm, whether it is in the U.S. or Japan? How much better would I speak Japanese, if at all? I can’t help but ask these questions since moving to Japan to pursue a career has been in the back of my mind for the last eight years. And for eight years, I have made decisions that I have benefited from, notwithstanding the fact that I am not any closer to fulfilling an aspiration than I was a few years ago. Did the decision to not wholeheartedly pursue the Temple Japan Program lead me down a road in which finding my way back would be extremely difficult. Time will tell what is in store for me, but I can’t often help but wonder where Temple Japan would have taken me.

Doing it Right the First Time

A year ago my wife and I were trying to agree on what we would name our first child. We chose a name for her and think we made the right choice. Now, twelve months later, I am trying to agree on the right name for another baby of mine, my first company. Who would have thought that I would be entrepreneurial? I was the one that had always wanted to work at the large established company (although a personal goal of mine is to one day work at an institution that people have heard of rather than one that that I have to explain who we are and what we do). But for now, I am enjoying the process of strategic thinking with a good friend as we brainstorm our LLC name, company slogan, the service we’ll provide, the market we’ll target and the best formation and approach to take in the crucial early stages. Sure, we know that most start-ups fail and/or lose money. But for the right people, failing can be a valuable experience. That is the attitude we have, for success only comes to those willing to take risks. A risk-averse life is a boring life, and with the right planning and knowledge, the risks can be substantially mitigated if not turned into stepping stones to later success. 

Manhattan Unleashed

Manhattan’s greatest achievement may also be its greatest downfall. Bordered by two rivers (the East River is actually an estuary or tidal straight, but whatever) and set back in a protected harbor, the island’s geographic location helped it become one the world’s foremost centers of business, finance, art, design, publishing and almost everything else. In the early twentieth century as expansion on the island continued to move northward, there was soon no where else to build but up. The end result is one of the most vast and recognizable skylines in the world. But has Manhattan’s inability to expand horizontally limited the city’s greatness or potential? Sure, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey are visible at all times from the east and west shorefronts, but in many respects, they are also a world away from Manhattan.

Think about the city’s potential if there was no East River. The city in the twentieth century would have rapidly expanded eastward, with economic centers of clustered high-rise buildings sprouting up throughout the city. Take Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai, for example. Each are massive cities fundamentally based on its geography near the water, but have grown into what they are because they have not been limited. When Hong Kong outgrew Victoria Island, it took over Kowloon and the New Territories and kept growing. Shanghai has reenergized Pudong across from the Bend to be one of the fastest growing economic centers in the world. What has New York done with Long Island City or Downtown Brooklyn?

Let’s face it, New York City is Manhattan and Manhattan will always be limited to the island. New development means tearing down what’s old and building anew or gentrifying a new neighborhood, both of which New Yorkers do very well. But world-changing economic and high-tech centers (like what is being done in Pudong) will not be built in New York, for where would they build? I love New York, don’t get me wrong, but I feel that its geography somehow limits it in the future even as much as it was helpful in the past.

Blogging to Write

There is nothing more annoying than checking a blog and finding that the most recent post was six months ago or more. Like anything else, one must write to maintain his or her writing skills. Since the life of a corporate lawyer does not provide as many opportunities to write as a litigator (except for the occasional email that must be crafted perfectly), I have turned to the world of blogging to express myself and to force myself to write. Knowing that there are people that may read what I write forces me to review and edit my posts prior to posting them. Blogging also provides me a forum to digitally put pen to paper as I recall memories, explain ideas, reveal frustrations and point out the enjoyable moments in life. In short, I write for no one but myself. But the point is that I write, even on the days I can think of nothing else to write about (like today, if you haven’t guessed yet).

A Shift Eastward

I read this morning that the New York metropolitan area, according to 2007 statistics, contains approximately 19 million people. This is far short of the 35.7 million people Tokyo now is estimated to encompass, but is significant nonetheless because it represents a growing population in the New York area. Yet, numbers can be deceiving. Sure, New York is full of people. I live here and commute each day and deal with the delays and hassles of mass transportation and large numbers of people. But the reality is that the United States only has eight or nine cities whose city limits include more than one million people, with, of course, New York being the largest.

Compare this to China, where there are over 100 cities with populations of 1 million or more, most of which Westerners have never heard of. In fact, there are more cell phones in China than there are people in the United States. The percentage of the world’s high-rise construction cranes located in Dubai or Shanghai dwarf that of the United States, whose infrastructure is slowly deteriorating and is more fitting of the 1970s than of today. Many of the technologies that were engineered and initially constructed in the United States have been improved upon and are now being utilized in parts of urban Asia. If you ever have the chance to experiment with each, try taking the A Train from JFK International Airport to lower Manhattan and compare it to the 200mph maglev train from Shanghai’s International Airport to Pudong (constructed with German technology, notably). There will be no doubt in your mind which city is second rate and is positioned to lead world in the years to come.

The world’s true global city is shifting east. Since 1980, the U.S. has spent less than 2 percent of its GDP on infrastructure and we are paying for it now. As much as I do not want taxes to increase, I realize that they must. The future of this great country depends on keeping up with the rest of the world, a world where we are no longer in the lead.

Cherry Blossom Reminisces

The first week of April in Japan is a big deal. Millions of people flock outside to the warming weather for a stroll or to enjoy a picnic lunch while under the pinkish-glow of the sakura, or cherry blossoms. Hanami, or flower watching, is a national pastime in Japan and provides a boost to the economy each year at this time. The national news tracks the blossoming of the cherry blossom trees as the blooming begins in southern Japan and works its way northward like a wave. The sweet scent of cherry blossoms lingers in the air and the streets are lined with the blossoms that have displayed their beauty and have since broken from their branch and have withered away. Sakura have become a national symbol largely because they demonstrate more than anything that beauty and life is only temporary, a prevalent theme in Japanese culture.

Two years ago, my wife and I went to Washington D.C. during the first week of April and spent almost a full day around the Tidal Basin and the blooming cherry blossom trees that dominate the area. Given to the United States in 1912, the cherry blossom trees around D.C. have now become as much a symbol of spring to Washington as they are to Japan. While the sakura’s beauty is fleeting and short lived each year, the reminder that nothing is permanent is welcome.