July 2015 Bar Bulletin
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July 2015 Bar Bulletin

Emerald City for Five Minutes

By Kiyoko Kamio


It's 7:05 a.m. at Tokyo's Yurakucho Station. Every morning I brave a sea of dark suits. I find myself surrounded by legendary Japanese kigyo-senshi ("corporate warriors"). I myself have been transformed into one of them. White-gloved platform attendants push us onto an already overflowing train. It transports us to the same destination called Japan, Inc.

I am a Japan-born, U.S.-qualified lawyer. As a young adult, I left Japan and carved out a new life in the Pacific Northwest. I attended law school, took the bar exam, gave birth to two children and practiced law in Seattle. Three summers ago, my family and I embarked on a new chapter in our life, settling in the heart of Tokyo.

I jumped at the opportunity to revisit the landscape of my childhood. This homecoming, however, proved a mixed blessing. I suffered through reverse culture shock. The open office filled with rows of desks. Obligatory drinking sessions. And the expectation of conformity. I was an alien grappling with the realities of her own country.

At 8:20 p.m., I squeeze myself onto another packed train. Dazzling skyscrapers soar into the sky. Luxurious boutiques punctuate the streets. The world's most populated city never sleeps.

Yes, life in corporate Japan is stimulating. But perhaps too stimulating at times. Navigating the urban landscape, still somewhat awkwardly, I set my eyes on the distinctive green logo and walk into a Starbucks, or sutaba as they call it in Japan.

A Seattleite at heart, I am a product of espresso culture. I relax with a cup of caramel macchiato. Engulfed in the smell of coffee, I think longingly of life in the Emerald City. Leisurely strolls on Bainbridge Island and the night view of luminous Seattle skyscrapers my family and I admired from the ferry. Countless picnics we enjoyed in parks on glorious summer evenings. Pike Place Market's famous flying fish we watched while oohing and aahing with tourists. (And, of course, I'm not forgetting that Pike Place is home to the original Starbucks with the brown mermaid logo.)

Memories keep coming back. I drown my homesickness in my cup. This is a little ritual I affectionately call the "Emerald City for Five Minutes." In the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle, I relish the opportunity to experience my adopted hometown from across the ocean, just for a little while.

Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that something is missing. Tokyo Starbucks and Seattle Starbucks. The store layout and design are virtually identical. Strawberries and cream Frappuccino and green tea latte are just as perfectly made. But gone is the lively sparkle I used to experience in Seattle.

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