In the latest in our Postcards from... series, Lovells partner Anthony Raven discusses life in Japan and how Tokyo avoids many of the pitfalls of urban life in other countries.
Tokyo has a reputation for being vast, overwhelming and frantically busy. It certainly is all of those things but it is also fascinating, exhilarating and a great place to live and work.
I live in an area called Akasaka which used to be renowned as Tokyo’s business entertainment district, but has undergone a recent facelift and now houses some of the best executive apartments and offices in town. I live on the 15th floor and have a wonderful view of the city. It takes me about 15 minutes to walk to work as I join the sea of suits each day which is intermingled with the odd kimono-clad woman on her way to a tea ceremony at one of the local five-star hotels.
I don’t need a car and when I’m not walking I rely on the city’s efficient metro system or just jump in a taxi. The taxi drivers may not have the same knowledge of the streets as London drivers, but the automatic doors and the driver’s chauffeur hat and white gloves always make for an amusing experience. (They like a chat like London cabbies, too).
The Lovells office is situated on the 15th floor of a skyscraper in Kasumigaseki, where most of the government offices are based. Tokyo Tower – the world’s largest steel structure which looks like a red version of the Eiffel Tower – is on one side and one of Tokyo’s many parks, Hibiya Park, is on the other.
We have 26 lawyers who work in our finance, corporate, projects & energy, construction and IP teams. My energy & projects team is made up of expatriate lawyers and we advise Japanese clients on their worldwide energy and infrastructure projects. The IP team, on the other hand, is staffed by a mix of Japanese and expatriate lawyers who advise on domestic and international matters.
The mixture of Japanese and expatriate lawyers from various countries creates an interesting variety of cultures in the workplace. Business etiquette requires you to offer your business card with two hands and to bow lower than your seniors. In reality, most of my clients give me their cards with one hand and shake my hand with the other. I don’t have a regular place to entertain clients, and I usually choose one of the 150 restaurants in Tokyo that have been awarded Michelin stars.
At weekends I tend to visit the same restaurants and bars that I would take clients to in the week. I also enjoy Sunday walks in Daikanyama (a futuristic version of Camden), exploring the art galleries of Nakameguro or escaping to the nearby countryside. Japan is such a diverse country that I can be skiing on the slopes within an hour on the bullet train, or relaxing on a tropical beach in Okinawa after a two-hour plane journey.
One thing I really like about Tokyo is the weather. Japan has four distinct seasons, each with its own separate character. The spring is lovely and warm with the famous cherry blossom, whereas the autumn is cool with beautiful leaves falling from the trees. The winter is bright, fresh and snowy, and the summer brings hot weather which is ideal for heading to the beach.
I have been here for five years, on and off, and I never tire of the place as there are still things that intrigue me. Japan is technically advanced, yet Japanese people still hang on to their traditional culture. For example, you can use your mobile phone to pay for food in a restaurant, and yet you will always be thanked by staff with a polite bow.
People respect their surroundings and their wider social community and so everything is spotlessly clean and safe. It still astounds me that a city so dense can be so clean and the people so well-mannered.
Anthony Raven is an energy and projects partner in the Tokyo office of Lovells.