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Pious Cant
9 April, 2010  
It's better to self-prune than to blow away

Life at Big Law in Japan has parallels with the chimera of the cherry blossoms … All very delicate … Awkward questions take hold in the middle of the night … You’ve arrived on Sugar Mountain, so why the thoughts of kamikaze?

imageCherry blossoms, or sakura as they’re known here in Japan, hold a special place in the hearts and minds of most Japanese.

Of course, cherry blossoms aren’t necessarily unique to Japan – not much ever is once you scratch the surface.

Apparently, they can also be found in parts of North America (an old gift from the Japanese) and the Philippines (indigenous) of all places.

That said, details of the Carboniferous era aren’t my strong suit, so feel free to leave a comment about where cherry blossoms come from and why, or whatever.

My point is that Japanese are really into their sakura in a big way specially right now as hanami (or cherry blossom viewing) parties are being held from bottom to top of the Japanese archipelago.

Not that it’s all pretty in pink. There’s quite a lot of vomiting and other yobbo behaviour not typically associated with the Japanese that takes place under the pink and white canopies, but otherwise it’s a serene time of the year to be outdoors.

It’s been ages since I cracked a book about Japanese culture or read anything more significant about the place than a tweet or two.

Though, picking over the remnants of my dilapidated Japanese literacy, I believe that a litany of yin-yang type things have been written about how the Japanese appreciate sakura for their fleeting, fragile beauty – qualities that resemble life itself.

Their romantic beauty must be enjoyed now for almost as soon as they first appear their pink and white snow-like petals fast fall away to be replaced by green shoots. Melodramatic hey?

Aside from more natural conceptions of mortality, apparently sakura also conjure up somewhat morbid notions of self-sacrifice among the Japanese.

Then again, they have a knack for seeing most things in an even darker light than nickel-phosphorous alloy.

If you want to check out these fragile, fleeting flowers you need to be alert about your flower viewing game and get in quick while they’re in full bloom (or mankai).

imageThe cherry blossom themed beers from Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory also come and go quick, so you need to have one eye on the tree-line and another on the shelves of your local bottle-o or supermarket, otherwise you’ll miss the chance to get drunk while thinking florally thoughts.

What has any of this cherry blossom stuff got to do with the practice of big law?

Fine question. Nothing and everything – yin and yang – depending on where your headspace is which, I suspect, is in a galaxy far away from mine.

Life in big law in Tokyo (LIBLIT) has discernible parallels with the bust and bloom cycle of sakura.

As a newly uncurling petal you arrive here full of expectation, bright, fresh and ready to impress all onlookers.

No sooner have you got comfortable in your designer office chair and views of the metropolis than thoughts of your own mortality come rushing in and around you, cutting off the aqueous vapour circulating in your root system.

These are considerations that are initially brought to your attention care of your equally perturbed predecessors in this game of international legal career roulette in the form of direct questions that are asked weekly, daily, hourly.

“Is the quality of work equal to that which I would get back home in the ‘Sydney litigation vortex’?” you ask yourself in the depths of the night.

“Are your skills developing in tandem with that of your peers?” is a question that you don’t instinctively ask yourself as an Australian lawyer, but rather find yourself being asked by concerned American colleagues, who tend to monitor such matters with disconcerting precision and interest (see Surface Ripples, March 2).

“Is that really the best way to draft an intercreditor loan agreement?”

(Actually, no one asks this question.)

Fall behind your year group and you may as well get a job at Wendy’s, or so their anxious comments imply. Ha!

What kind of a naïve little petal was I to have ever considered that law is a profession to be plied over many years while picnicking under the cherry blossoms.

It’s a much harsher, less leisurely calculus than that if you drink from the North American cup of life.

So what do you do about all these sharp-ended questions: all these messy known knowns (I could probably draft an intercreditor agreement if my life depended on it), unknown knowns (Square, Esq. will murder my first draft, but precisely when I will receive his comments is anyone’s guess) and unknown unknowns (ask Donald)?

There you were thinking that you had arrived on Sugar Mountain – big law, big money, big matters all neatly laid out on your big blue tarpaulin – only to realize, or rather be caused to realise, that it’s a chimerical cherry blossom’s life that you’ve scored for yourself.

Do you go the way of the kamikaze and self-sacrifice?

Here, take my multijurisdictional licenses and multilingualism for I’m going to torpedo headfirst back into the land where wattles grow wild and junior lawyers lead BlackBerryless, yet otherwise fulfilling lives.

No more cross-border deals for me – the only crossings that I’ll be making will be on the pedestrian strips from George Street to Phillip Street while pushing a trolley.

Or do you simply wait until a sudden gust of wind sweeps you away and allow green shoots to appear elsewhere?

There’s always Hong Kong, right? New York too (assuming non-farm payrolls continue to trend upwards)? Surely London’s weather isn’t all that bad? Are there sakura at these situs?

Yep, LIBLIT is a blessing and a curse.

The questions of when and where and how best to come into bloom remain unanswered.

I’m not sure whether I’ll reach mankai before an urge to self-prune takes hold or whether a springtime typhoon will get me in the end.

So for now, I’m going to enjoy my cherry blossomed beer before heading back to the office to markup my markup of a markup with the kind of vigour and professionalism that would equally impress Chief Justice Hirobu Takeshi as much as Chief Justice French.



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