Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Home Sweet Home


After much packing, many farewells, a taxi ride, an express train, two flights and 4 movies, I made it back to bonnie Scotland! Even though I've been home since Sunday night, it still feels really strange not to hear cicadas screeching or see any Japanese people walking about... It's also absolutely freezing.

Anyway, it's been a while since I updated this blog, so let me give you a quick rundown of what I got up to during my last week in Tokyo. I went out for dinner with two of the interns from last year, their family and friends and my guarantor on Wednesday night, which was lovely. But it meant I had to start saying goodbye to people and think about going home, which I didn't want to do! On Thursday and Friday I was with the Japanese sakes desk - these guys sell european products to Japanese clients. On Thursday night, I headed out for a do-it-yourself BBQ dinner at the Sheraton Miyako Hotel with the CDS desk. This was very delicious and, of course, the evening was finished off by heading out for some karaoke - my last time! :(

My last day at work was no different from any other. At the end of the day, I handed out some wee presents that I had brought from home to all the people I had worked with - the Old Course golf balls were definitely the most popular!

I spent my last day in Tokyo picking up some last minute souvenirs, visiting some new areas and revisiting some of my favourite haunts. After doing some final packing, I headed over to Asakusa to grab a few bits and bobs from the many stalls and shops, and also to sample some green tea ice cream (a bit weird, but tasty). I then walked west, towards Kappabashi Dori. This street has become Tokyo's 'kitchenware district' and also an unconventional (yet quite popular) tourist attraction. The entrance to one end of the street is marked by this giant chef and building with huge teacups:

All of the shops specialise in a particular part of the catering industry - some sell shops signs and lanterns, others are filled with different utensils and pots, and many have every type of meal for sale in plastic model form. If you ever wanted to open a restaurant and were starting from scratch, this is the street to come to.

I then walked over to Ueno and hopped on the train to Harajuku. I spent the rest of the day wandering in and out of shops and watching the outlandishly-dressed Harajuku boys and girls, before winding my way towards Shibuya, where I grabbed some cha-shu ramen and then hit Shibuya 109 for the last time... I spent far too long in there, soaking it all in and eyeing up the latest trends before getting the undergound train home and trying to catch an early night's sleep.

It was pretty much a perfect way to end my two-month stay in the city that really never sleeps.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Giving up already...

Flight bag regulations:
JAL - 23kg hold luggage, 10kg hand luggage plus handbag
BMI - 20kg hold luggage, 10kg hand luggage plus handbag (I'm hoping my bag gets checked right through from Narita...)

Results of packing so far:
25kg hold luggage
7kg box of stuff to be shipped
(?)kg hand luggage that's not packed (but there's no way my laptop, camera and sunglasses weigh 10kg altogether)
And one very tired intern who can't be bothered


Saltire blog part 7

You've guessed it: part seven of my Saltire blog is up and running.

Catch up

My week in the bank was very different to the front office - it was so quiet! The office is a lot smaller and there are fewer people, monitors or phones around, which made it uncomfortably silent at times. I spent my time there learning about what the portfolio managers and real estate guys do, which seemed to me to be a mix of corporate finace and accountancy. For the last three days, I analysed companies' financial reports (so their balance sheets, income statements and cash flows) and wrote a wee report about how well Marubeni is doing, based on the info they published for the 2009 financial year.

This week I'm back in the (more exciting) front office, this time with one of the sales desks - the people who sell yen denominated products to mainly non-Japanese clients. It feels good to be back where the action is! Today there was one of the monthly JGB (Japanese government bond) auctions. Over two billion yen's worth of 10 year bonds were auctioned off and RBS were pretty successful (not acutally sure if I'm allowed to say how successful...). It was an interesting auction to witness as these were the first set of bonds to be released by the new government. As many of you may be aware, Japan had its general elections this weekend and, for the first time in over 50 years, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) defeated the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This landmark election obviously affected the markets, in particular bumping up the value of the yen (not so great for me, who is still spending sterling!) and was also expected to have an impact on today's auction. To be honest, it didn't seem to alter anything by much, but it was still a good learning experience for me to be involved in a fairly ordinary auction session.

I had a fantatic week acting as a tour guide for my friend, but she has now headed back home. Sadly, I'll be heading back soon, too. But firstly, I've got to work out how on earth to pack all my stuff! I was 2kg over the weight limit on the way out here and have been indulging in a considerable amount of retail therapy, so packing is not going to be fun...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


My friend from home is here! I'm so impressed that she made it in one piece after what was quite an epic journey. She met me after work and we headed out for some sushi and then spent ages wandering around the bright lights of Ginza.

My schedule has been sorted out now and I'm spending this week in the bank with the real estate guys and the porfolio managers. The bank side of things is a very different environment to the front office and the work I'm currently doing feels a lot more like accounting. Just now, I'm getting to grips with researching companies' financial statements in order to analyse how they are doing (i.e. whether they are making money or not). This has to be done on a regular basis and especially if a company wants to borrow money from the bank or increase/decrease an outstanding loan.

More on that later!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Saltire blog part 6

It's that time of week again... The sixth installment of my Saltire blog is now up.

Look Mum, I'm on TV!

Work this week is a bit up in the air because the FSA are arriving to inspect the place tomorrow and everyone is running around like headless chickens. I'm meant to be spending a week on the bank side of the firewall, but could be heading back to RBS Securities to hang with the sales team. I don't think anybody actually wants to deal with me this week, so goodness only knows where I'll end up.

After work today, I headed over to the Kenichi Ohmae Graduate School of Business' filming studios for an interview. I had been invited to come along by someone that I met at the St Andrews Society Ceilidh and BBQ, all those weeks ago at the Embassy. She interviewed me for about an hour on my internship and how I'm finding working in Japan different from working at home, and other things like what my favourite karaoke song is :)

It was really cool and felt like it went pretty well. We looked like newsreaders, sitting behind a desk with a blue screen behind us, being filmed, and they superimposed a photo of the Tokyo skyline reflected in the windows of a skyscraper onto the screen.

An edited version of my interview will be used in new lectures and other teaching material that they are currently producing. I didn't get to meet Kenichi-san himself (nicknamed 'Mr Strategy'), which would have been nice seeing as he is one of the world's leading business and corporate strategists, apparently, but it's pretty neat to think that I'm now part of his Masters degree course!

On another note, there might be slightly fewer (if any...) blog posts this week as my best friend from home is coming over to visit and I am WELL excited. She left this morning to find out that her flight had been overbooked but got put on another one and compensated by more than the flights cost her in the first place - so she's ended up getting free flights, free accommodation and some spending money! Jammy!!

Sunday, 23 August 2009


Cute overload! I heard the word 'kawaii' (cute) so many times today that I tried to keep a tally but completely lost count within about half an hour. I started off the day by hitting two Hello Kitty Shops and then heading to the top floor of Tokyu Hands in Ikebukuro to visit the petshop. All the hamsters were napping and looked absolutely adorable.

They also have about 20 live-in cats that you can pay to hang out with. Sadly I didn't have time to do this (I will be going back another time!) as I had an appointment at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

This place was so brilliant! I was greeted by Totoro, who was manning the reception desk:

And then walked down some stairs into the best place ever - think Disneyland on a really small scale and designed by Miyazaki, not Walt. The building is garishly coloured on the outside, with the garden on the roof, and the inside it designed to feel like you're exploring the artist's house. As per ususal, I wasn't allowed to take any photos inside (they employ hundreds of people to make sure that you don't...) which was such a shame as it was magical. All the windows are stained glass, with the characters from the Studio Ghibli films, there are wooden spiral staircases and bridges linking all four floors, a cinema and plenty of smaller exhibition rooms.

The short anime film that I watched in the 'Saturn Cinema' was really good but extremely stressful! It was all about this little girl who has a new puppy, who tried to follow her to school but gets lost, who then almost gets run over by a car, and then a train (!) before having to sleep under a tree. Meanwhile, the poor girl is distraught and sets out to find said puppy. It was very upsetting, but they eventually find each other again, and the reunion was extremely emotional. It was definitely not a childrens' film!

After hitting the gift shop (stocked with exclusive merchandise at very exclusive prices), I headed back to the centre of Tokyo and stopped off in Shinjuku before heading home. I got stupidly lost in Shinjuku station (it's huge) but eventually found the two things that I was looking for.

1) The Shinjuku Eye

and 2) Grom Gelato

This time last year, I was enjoying eating ice cream from Grom in Florence, so when I heard that they had a shop in Tokyo (one of only 3 outside Italy), I knew that I had to go. The ice cream tasted just as good as it did in Firenze :)

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Exploring Hakone (by every means of transport available)

I woke up stupidly early this morning so I could head to Hakone for the day, essentially with the aim of taking a bath. Hakone sits at the top of the Izu peninsula and is surrounded by active volcanoes, which provide fantastic hot springs that you can bathe in - it is these onsen that make Hakone a famous tourist destination.

I started my journey by taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Odawara and then buying a Hakone freepass. This two-day pass set me back £27 and was well worth it. I then hopped on the 'normal' train to Hakone's Yumoto station, where I switched onto the Tozan train. This ancient old electric train winds its way up through the jungle and into the mountains, taking forever to do so but allowing for some pretty views. I got off at Chokokunomori and went to the Hakone Open Air Museum. The name is a bit misleading as this is actually a huge art gallery with expansive sculpture gardens and the largest collection of Picasso works outside of Spain. It is easliy one of the best art galleries I have ever been to.

The whole site is landscaped beautifully so that you keep stumbling across new areas by accident. I could have spent all day just walking around, wishing that I was under the age of 13 so that I could play on the kids areas, which were so awesome!

I really like the way that they used the surrounding scenery to enhance the impact of a lot of the outdoor sculptures:

Here are a few of my other favourites:

It hasn't come out too well in the photo, but the giant head in the pond was actually crying...

After spending far too long looking at art, I hopped back on the Tozan train to Gora to get some lunch. My boss had recommended a tonkatsu restaurant and now I know why - the hirekatsu was delicious!

I then took the funicular train up the side of Mt Komagatake to the stop at Sounzan, where I got on the cable car. This goes over 'death valley' (a very friendly place...) where the mountain (it's actually a volcano) lets off steam through loads of vents and also deposits lots of sulphur.

The overpowering smell of egg is not the nicest thing, especially when I don't even like eggs. A local delicacy are eggs that have been cooked over the sulphurous vents - this makes the eggs cook from the inside out and they're eaten when the whites are still a bit runny. I just took people's word for it when they told me that they tasted good...

From up the cable car, on a clear day, you can get fantastic panoramic views of Mt Fuji. This is what it should look like:

And this is what I could see:

I swear that they just photoshop Mt Fuji into all these photos and that it doesn't actually exist - I have been living next to it for 6 weeks now and still haven't managed to see it!!

At the end of the cable car at Togendai is the massive Lake Ashi that sits in part of an ancient crater at an altitude of over 700m. It's pretty cool and the scenery is beautiful. I decided to get to the other side of the lake (and back to Hakone) by taking the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise, as this sounded like a good idea. It turned out to be a fantastic idea; check out the boats!

To be honest, there weren't that many 'sights' to be seen (although the audio tape came up with a few dubious ones...) but the faux pirate galleon more than made up for it. It was definitely one of the 'only in Japan' moments that I experience regularly!

I then caught the Tozan bus to Tenzan onsen. This complex of buildings and outdoor hotsprings was just fantastic. All the buildings are traditional Japanese ones, inside and out, and there were lots of different types of onsen to choose from. There were huge reading/relaxation rooms to chill out in before and after you bathe, as well as a bar and a few restaurants. The onsen themselves were amazing - they are all set into the hillside and surrounded by lovely plants and trees. There was one that went into a wee cave and another that was all cloudy because the water was full of some combination of minerals. After considerable showering and soaking, I can honestly say that I have never felt so relaxed. I only wish that we had onsen at home! Although then we would have to have volcanoes too; so maybe I'll take back that wish...

It's matsuri time!

I spent Thursday and Frday with the structures desk again, this time looking at the products in more detail. I spent a lot of time working out how to make different pay-out structures using combinations of simple put and call options and then establishing the range of delta and gamma for different moves in the spot price. This was really interesting or me to practice doing and it made it a lot easier to understand the whole process of hedging individual trades by analysing these so-called 'Greeks'.

Unfortunately, I found out on Friday morning that I failed my JSDA exam. I felt pretty crap about this for a while (I've got over it now) as I had worked quite hard for it, was doing well in the past papers and thought that I'd answered enough correctly on the day to pass it. Oh well... It's all still good experience and will be making an appearance on my CV.

After work on Friday, me and the guys on the structures desk headed over to Azubu Juban to check out the 10-bang matsuri (no idea why it's called that, but 'ju' is 10 in Japanese, so it sounds kind of like Juban, and matsuri is just a word for a festival). It was really cool - loads of stalls selling different food and drink and also a few with the usual funfair games. The food was great, especially the stuff on sticks:

In the main sqaure, there was a stage set up with a samba band and lots of dancers from the local samba school. The music was good and the costumes were brilliant:

All in all, I thouroughly enjoyed my first matsuri. I only wish that I lived in Tokyo so I could go to more - each district throws its own every summer.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Vending machines

These electronic dispensers are absoutely everywhere you go (I go past 7 soft drink vending machines in the 100 yards I walk along my street until I get to my apartment!) and are super convenient. I have seen some really weird and wonderful vending machines recently, so I thought I'd make a list of some of my favourites.

At number 7, we have the vending machines that surround an unsuspecting tree in Yokohama:

Sticking with the theme of nature is this floral drinks machine in Kyoto, at number 6:

I wonder how long this beer vending machine would remain in one piece in the UK? Machines that dispense alcoholic beverages come in fifth place:

In fourth position is this beast that dispensed hot pot noodles at a temple in Kyoto:

Third place is awarded to the every-so-handy umbrella vending machines that can be found in most train stations:

The final two places were hotly contested, but, slipping behind in second is this one in Akihabara:

I'm pretty sure (but not enirely certain) that the cans contain some sort of Japanese stew; by inspection of the picture on the front:

First place had to be awarded to the oh-so-strange 'canned bread' vending machine, also spotted in Akihabara:

For all those times that you're really desperate for some flavoured bread that's been sealed and cooked in a can. Honestly, what will they think of next?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Studying in the summer holidays?

Not cool! I have not got a huge amount to report on as I was stuck inside revising all weekend and on Monday AND on Tuesday. This was not what I signed up for! I did try to get outside and study in the nice weather - I went to Yoyogi-koen (the big park in Harajuku) to sit in the sun and work but gave up after about two hours as the insect world kept invading my personal space. There were so many ants that kept crawling over my books and myself (I thankfully didn't get bitten), and this guy got far too close for my liking:

I had the JSDA Sales Representative Class 2 exam this morning. It could have been worse but, unfortunately, the questions that I found the trickiest also happened to be the questions that were worth the most marks. Bummer. Major bummer. Hopefully I've answered just enough correctly to pass (I need 70%...) - I find out my result on Friday, so fingers crossed! I wasn't nervous before as I didn't care enough about a qualification that was going to lapse in 90 days time, but now that I've gone to the effort of actually sitting the thing, I would quite like to pass and be able to put it on my CV. We shall see... To celebrate the end of having to study obscure corporate law, I went and got myself a manicure. I am now the proud owner of some glittery, lilac nails.

Anyway, being stuck inside for four days did have its perks: take out food :) Here is a sample of some of the things I have eaten recently.

A lemon green tea frappuccino and raspberry macaroon from Starbucks (much better than the Starbucks at home).

A delicious selection of gyoza and sui mai.

Pancakes sandwiched together with custard.

Strange fried batter-balls with chunks of octopus in the middle. This sounds unusual but street vendors sell them all over the place and there is a bar/take out joint down the round from me (where I got these ones from) that only sells beer and different flavours of octopus balls.

And a tasty chocolate and orange mousse from the posh hotel patisserie that's down the road.

I did have an absolute FAIL moment one morning when I went to the coffee shop on the corner to buy a mocha and ended up with this instead:

It's a matcha latte - powdered green tea with sweetened boiled milk. It smelled and tasted exactly as disgusting as it sounds. This lurid green concoction was not a good way to start the day and I ended up pouring it down the sink :(

On one of my many coffee runs, I saw this lot being taken on a trip from (presumably) the local nursery. What a clever way to ferry toddlers around a city!

(For those of you with too much time on your hands, I have eventually uploaded all my photos onto my flickr account.)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Saltire blog part 5

I've just posted the most recent weekly round up on my SaltireFoundation blog.

I don't have much time to blog today as I really need to knuckle-down and get some work done for this exam. I just wish it would stop being so nice and sunny outside!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

And now for something completely different

I know that this isn't meant to be a cat or a food blog (and is almost turning into one...) but a friend just sent me this and I still can't stop laughing. This cat is even funnier than Maru.

More Comiket

I decided to take a break from studying this afternoon and headed back to Comiket to see some more cosplay and actually walk around the inside arena too. In what turned out to be an inspired idea, I took the Yurikamome monorail there but this time, stood at the frint of the leading train section. The monorail is completely electric and has no driver, just a massive window at the front, so it felt like I was driving it! (Admittedly, I was standing with lots of small children who actually pretend to drive the train and I got a few odd looks for being the only person over the age of ten standing so close to the front...) I was treated to even better views of the Tokyo Bay area and Odaiba from the front of the train compared to when I took it before and could only look out the side windows. (If you look closely, you can see Gundam poking out the top of the trees.)

I thought that I was being clever by going to Comiket in the afternoon this time, to avoid the crowds. I hadn't factored in the fact that it was Saturday today and also everybody else would have had my 'good idea' after heading along yesterday morning. It was even busier today! I didn't think that it would be possible, but I swear there were ten times as many people! Especially in the cosplay area outside - I could hardly contain myself and took far too many photos. The costumes this afternoon were even more impressive and lots more people had turned up in themed pairs or groups. I only spent an hour wandering around, but could have easily spent a whole day there watching everyone. Here are a few photos but, seeing as I loved them all, I'll upload everything onto my flickr account (eventually...).

(This Mario was definitely one of my favourites!)

Inside was just as crazy as outside (but thankfully air conditioned). Here, they employ people to dress up to help sell comics and merchandise:

But just about everything was already sold out by this afternoon anyway. There seemed to be quite a few interviews with writers/film directors going on that people were crowding around, and apparently you're not meant to take photos of them. Here is what happened when I tried:

I headed back home to do some more past paper questions, got bored, so went out for some okonomiyaki.

I've been told that this is Japan's version of a pizza, but it's more like a cross between a crepe and an omlette with lots of stuff inside and sauce on top. Yum yum! Anyway, I have been trying to work but I seem to have the attention span of a hamster and have ended up blogging instead.

Must. Study. For. Exam...