Sunday, October 29, 2006


So this "weekend" (Wednesday) I visited Osaka castle, or as the natives call it, Osakajo. I feel reasonably safe in assuming that 'jo' is the Japanese word for castle.

Osaka castle is near the centre of Osaka, and in the middle of a park. I get the impression that 95% of all the trees in Osaka are in that park. The castle itself is actually a reconstruction built about 50 years ago, the actual castle having been ruins for quite some time. The castle grounds were a moderate size, taking maybe 30 - 40 minutes to walk around the outside of all the moats, and there were two sets of walls and lots of empty space that are now used as parks. The castle itself though wasn't that big.

It was 8 stories tall and maybe as big at the base as the house I lived in in St Lucia, maybe a bit bigger. There was a lift going up to the 5th floor, and some steep stairs up to the top floor for a view out of the castle (pics are at the end). Inside the castle going down is a bit of a museum giving the history of the castle, when it was built, who built it, who destroyed it, who rebuilt it, who destroyed the new one, etc. This was mostly in Japanese, so I mainly just looked at the pretty pictures, and fancy armour.

Afterwards I caught up with some friends in Umeda and went to the 280 bar (everything on the menu is 280 yen) and the B-Trip, which was almost crowded.

Anyway, here's some photos of the castle.

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Writing time: 37 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: iTunes Shuffle (VAST - Dirty Hole)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another Photo

Here's a picture of the view from my apartment's balcony.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: None

Monday, October 23, 2006

Some maps

here are some maps of places I've been in Japan
My office
My apartment building (the building with the green roof)

Both are pretty much in the centre of the map in question.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: 90 minutes
Current media: None

Natasha Retires

I saw this on Google News last night, but was too tired to write about it then. Natasha Stott Despoja has announced that she won't stand for re-election when her current term in the senate ends.

I've followed her career since I first saw her as a regular guest on Good News Week. When I started university, I signed up to the campus Democrats group since they said there would soon be an event that she would be attending (I ended up not going, but it was only two dollars). She quickly rose within the Democrats (a big fish in a small pond), becoming the leader, but only staying in the position for a few months.

Stott Despoja has been a strong selling point for the Democrats, someone seen as being willing to stand for something, when others in the party have caved and made deals with the government.

I'm afraid that after this the Democrats decline will continue further, and they may even end up not having a member in the senate after the next election. Which is a bad thing, as they have managed to play a vital balancing role in Australian politics, holding back some of the excesses of the Coalition government. Their decline started when they compromised on their principles and did a deal with the government on the GST. Since then a voter backlash over that issue and almost perpetual internal conflict over the leadership have seen them fall from respected moderators in politics to a bunch of bickering babies.

At the moment there doesn't seem to be a party to take the place of the Democrats. The Greens are increasing their popularity, but they are not a moderating influence, their agenda and goals are different to that of the Democrats, and while I support them, it is not as whole hearted as I once backed the Democrats.

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Writing time: 35 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: Doctor Who 2005

Sunday, October 22, 2006

An Empty Sky

There are a number of differences between living in Japan and living in Australia. The trains are better over here, I can't read the signs, the money is different, the chimes that are used to strike the hour on some clocks is used as a class bell with intervals of 10, 15 and 40 minutes instead of 60, and more. There is one big thing that I've noticed that speaks on a different level.

The difference is that I can't see the stars. When you look up at night all you see is a dark grey. On some occasions, I might see one or two, but no more than that. This feels to be a rather depressing sight, and I can't help feel it reduces the awe and majesty of space. I can remember looking at the stars when I was young, and then much later (about 17 or so) when I first really saw the Milky Way I was even more awestruck, and realised just how much of the night sky you miss by living in a city. And here, the loss is almost total.

I think that not having such a view I think must necessarily reduce one's sense of wonder at the universe as a whole, and the smallness of the Earth within the universe. As I'm writing, I'm wondering if some of the lack of interest in the world , and the universe in general, among people these days is due to the lack of opportunity to see the beauty of the night sky.

I wonder just how many Japanese children have grown up not knowing the beauty of a sky full of stars, and the inspiration such a sight provides. Hopefully, such visions can be seen in the less urban parts of Japan (I've been told they exist). More people should see such sights.

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Writing time: 40 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: Battlestar Galactica 3x04 with podcast commentary

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Tax Strategy Patents

Today I got my second article up on Slashdot. This one is about a rather absurd consequence of the American policy of allowing patents on business methods as reported in the International Herald Tribune. A number of smart tax lawyers have realised that under this policy, their clever schemes to avoid tax can be patented, and they can prevent other people from doing the same thing without paying them money. So far the USPTO has granted 50 patents for such schemes, and more are being processed.

Now I'm against patents on methods in general for several reasons, but these patents go an extra step further in being so much against what patents should do. The truly ludicrous part of patents on tax reduction strategies is that once someone has a patent on a scheme, I am no longer allowed to follow the law without getting their approval. So they are able to take advantage of the tax law, but I'm not. This goes against a rather fundamental principle of an ideal government whereby everyone is treated equally under the law.

Fortunately some groups are realising this is an issue. Unfortunately it's mainly other tax lawyers who are feeling the sting. They are lobbying the US congress to create an exception to patent infringement rules to prevent them from being restricted in this manner, similar to the way there are restrictions on the patenting of medical procedures.

The whole idea of patents on methods is rather dangerous. A patent is for an invention, a device, a thing that does something. Anyone can come up with the idea "there should be a machine that does x". The person who comes up with the idea "there should be a machine that does x" does not get the patent. The person who makes a machine that does x gets a patent on that machine, and only that machine. They get a period of having a monopoly to make that machine. They do not get a monopoly on doing x. If someone else makes a different machine that does x in a different way, they're free to do that, and can even get a patent on their machine, if it too is original.

Patents on processes are very much giving patents to the person who says "there should be a machine that does x", and they are usually so vague that they get used as a patent on doing x. This then prevents other people who come with a new way of doing something, they get sued for infringing the vague patent that shouldn't have been given. Patents should only be given for specific devices that have been actually created.

The biggest area these types of patents are a problem is patents on software. Any software patent is process patent, as there's no device or machine involved. And they are used to prevent others from making programs that do the same thing or using certain technologies. Also, all software is essentially a mathematical algorithm, and it has long been a principle of patents that mathematics cannot be patented. 2 + 2 is a natural fact, and cannot be controlled by anyone, nor can any other piece of mathematics.

Anyway, with the tax patents the problems of process patents are now closer to affecting those who actually make the laws, so hopefully we are a step closer to getting patent laws closer to what they should be.

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Writing time: 50 minutes (less time talking to Mum on the phone)
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Doctor Who 2005x02 The End of The World

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hit Counting

I've always been kind of curious how many people actually visit my blog, while at the same time not wanting to know exact details. Last week I was doing some work for someone else's site, and I got a bit more interested in knowing how many people do visit, especially as I'm now doing this for others to read instead of for me to write. Anyway, to make a long story short, I've added a hit counter to the sidebar of my blog. It's down below the archives, links, and labels. It was the first one I found that didn't require an ad for the people providing the service. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that blogger doesn't provide the ability to do this themselves, as it's the only thing I've really wanted to do with the blog I haven't been able to without resorting to another company.

Anyway, just be warned, I'm watching you (in the sense that I now know if someone (anyone) has had a look at my blog since the last time I checked).

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Writing time: 6 minutes
Time since last post: 26 minutes
Current media: iTunes Shuffle (Riverdance - Riverdance)

Tripping on the B-side

On Monday after work I caught up with one of the guys I've met over here. He's a friend of my housemate, and he invited me to join him on his regular Monday bar crawl (we both have Tuesday and Wednesday off, so Monday is party night).

We met up in Umeda and met up with another friend of his outside a Family Mart (a convenience store chain) which they've renamed the Hottie Mart, due to frequency of hotties who walk past or into it. We bought some cheap booze there to start the night.

After a while sitting talking on a bench outside the Hottie Mart, we went to Captain Kangaroo, a bar that serves very good burgers and served Fosters beer, which I had a hard time convincing them that people don't drink Fosters back in Australian. Anyway the burger was quite good, and after happy hour at Captain Kangaroo ended we headed over to the B-Trip, one of Japans many small basement bars.

The B-trip has red decor, a nice bar and some darts machines. We hung out here for the rest of night just chilling out. I played two games of darts, winning the first (before I started I was feeling a bit of form, and before my warm up throw I said I'd be lucky if I hit the board, then proceeded to get a single-bull, a double-bull and something else). The second game was later on and I lost by a much larger margin than I won the first by.

While we were there, some German tourists came up to us and asked us if the part of town we were in was the red light district (they weren't exactly subtle about it). The guys I went with were able to tell them where nearby to go, but the bartender told them where the best place to go was (no I didn't pay attention to what they were told), and even showed them a website for the place, which was apparently a fair way away.

Anyway, that's about it. Overall a good night out.
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Writing time: 12 minutes
Time since last post: 30 minutes
Current media: iTunes shuffle


Last night I went out to dinner with a large It group of people from work, as it was one of the teachers' last day, and a few people have started recently (four in the last month or so), so we went to a Yakinomi restaurant.

Yakinomi is a novel concept (which I've since been informed was imported from Korea), whereby each table gets a large pot filled with coals and a metal plate shaped like an overly large orange juicer on which you cook meat, other animal parts (for some reason guts and stuff was listed as hormone on the menu, I still didn't try it), and vegetables. Dinner was quite nice.

The yakinomi cooking thing

It was a fun evening, and a good chance to get to know some of the other teachers better (especially since none of the bosses went). Some of the Japanese staff who handle sales and lesson bookings (everything but the teaching really) came along as well. I hadn't really noticed at work, but in a casual setting not wearing office type clothes, some of them were pretty good looking.

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Writing time: 26 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: iTunes shuffle

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Some random photos

Just a few pictures that have been lying about on my phone.

The pseudo Italian place that I've had dinner at most nights (20 out of 27 including tonight).

The Sunday before last a group of people (including me) went to an all you can eat and drink restaurant in Juso, and afterwards went down to the river to hang about for a bit before the last train. This is a view looking across the river.
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Writing time: 6 minutes
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: Geeknights

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Just met a neighbour

This evening while I've been messing about on the computer, the doorbell rang. I went out to check it, as the few times I have heard it ring, it has been someone delivering stuff for me (not that I expected this to happen this time). It turns out it was one of my neighbours who had forgotten his key, and wanted to climb across from my balcony to his balcony to get into his house. At this point I'll point out I live on the sixth floor, so he's a bit braver than I am. As it turns out, the door to his balcony was also lost, so he climbed back over and called his housemate to see when he's getting home.

Anyway, that was my first meeting with someone from my building who doesn't share my apartment.

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Writing time: 5 mintues
Time since last post: 5 minutes
Current media: iTunes on shuffle

Starmaking Quidditch

I'm currently reading a Harry Potter novel (no 5 to be precise), and in the process had a new thought, which I'm sure more keen and literary readers had a long time ago, but nonetheless I will discuss and elaborate upon here.

The main team sport in the novels is Quidditch. A team is made up of a goalkeeper, 3 chasers (a bit like forwards and are the main ordinary scorers), 2 beaters (they distract the other team by trying to hit them with some of the balls), and a seeker, who tries to capture the smallest of the several flying balls, which is called the snitch.

There are two ways to score in quidditch. The first is by throwing the main ball through one of the three goals, which is worth 10 points. The second is that the seeker scores 150 points when they catch the snitch. This also ends the game.

It should be rather obvious that the team that catches the snitch has a significant advantage when it comes to comparing the scores at the end of the game. This is especially the case in the games presented in the Harry Potter novels, where the scores before the capture of the snitch rarely get anywhere near 100 (the first game in this book has the snitch captured while the score was 40-10 against Harry's team). The seeker is very much the person who determines the outcome of the game.

And for those of you who haven't read the novels, can you guess which position Harry plays? The seeker. Thus, Harry is in the position of being a major part in the success of his team.

I believe the game of quidditch was designed in such an unbalanced way so that Harry can play such a major role in the games. This thus emphasises his importance in the stories, and makes him more special and amazing.

It does however detract somewhat from the game of quidditch as a sport. I can think of no other team game where one position is so blatantly more important than any other in determining the games outcome. It must be extremely depressing for the players on a team to have a significant lead over the other team lose the game because their seeker didn't catch the snitch.

Anyway, that's the idea. Quidditch is a severely broken game designed more to build up a character than be a realistically designed game.

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Writing time: 30 minutes (minus a distraction, see next post)
Time since last post: 15 minutes
Current media: iTunes on shuffle

Mathematicians have a sense of humuor

A newsletter I subscribe to on cryptography I got today pointed out this gem of a book. It's called A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates and is by the RAND corporation. The title is pretty self explanatory, but for the real fun, check out some of the reviews people have put up on

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Writing time: 10 minutes (mostly setting up the links)
Time since last post: 5 days
Current media: None

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sky Tower

Today is the first day of my weekend (I get Tuesdays and Wednesdays off), so I decided to do a little sight seeing. Since I'd heard of it I decided to go see the Osaka Castle. While I was on the train into Umeda, I read my copy of Lonely Planet Japan and found out that the Osaka History Museum is close to Osaka Castle, and thought that would be a nice double feature. Then I read a little more and found out that the Museum is not open on Tuesdays.

Since at the moment I'm trying to live somewhat frugally, what with only having an advance to live on until mid November (it's enough to get by on, but I can't really do a lot of the tourist thing on it), I decided to leave the castle and museum for Wednesday next week (only one touristy thing a week at the moment). But since I was in Umeda already, I looked to see what else I could do, and found that the Umeda sky tower is only a few blocks from the Hankyu (train) station.

So I made my way over to the Sky Tower. It's a complex of four buildings, one small, one mid sized, and two really tall buildings, plus two gardens and a lot of open space. At the top of the two tall buildings is a viewing area. So after having a look at the gardens on the ground, I paid my Yen to get a lift to the top. The lift starts out inside the building, but after a few stories, is just enclosed in glass, allowing you to see out on the way up. The elevator takes you most of the way up in the western tower, and to get to the observation level you take a glass enclosed escalator up another few stories and across to the eastern tower. Then an inside escalator to the enclosed observation level, which has a very good view (photos are below). The western side has a nice cafe area and a sign telling you when sunset is, and it would be good to see the sunset up there, and maybe hang around a bit longer to see the city at night.

Finally you can take a set of stairs to the very top, which is open to the elements, but doesn't really show you much you can't see from the level below.

Looking out on Osaka from about 147 meters up, you really see just how much of a sprawl it is, with hardly a gap in sight. Except for about a hundred meter wide stretch along the river bank, there was hardly an empty bit of ground that isn't road or railway track.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some of the better pictures (these are much better than the ones from last night, I've played a bit with the settings, and of course the light was better) (OK, maybe some ado).

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Writing time: 1 hour 4 minutes (I got distracted while adding the photos)
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: None

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sports Day

Today was a national holiday here in Japan, but I still had to work today. Something in my contract about not getting national holidays off. In exchange I do get about a week after Christmas, but not before.
Anyway, back on topic. While I was walking home from the train station this evening I heard a bit of a commotion, drums, that sort of thing, and some sort of float being carried down the mall area. So after getting home and emptying my pockets and putting on my jacket, I went back down to see what was happening.

It was some sort of celebration, I presume for Sports Day, with a number of groups bearing their own floats. They were paraded around the local park, about half a dozen or so. Then there was a bit of a pause, then a little dragon display, then the floats were paraded off the park again. Around the park were a few game stalls for the kids, including a mini pachinko parlour, and a few junk food stores, one a fairy floss (white only) and another selling chocolate coated bananas.

I had my phone with me, so I now present some photos of the event.

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Writing time: 30 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Battlestar Galactica

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Is it spam?

Yesterday I got an email offering to sell me packs of carbon nanotubes of various types and qualities in quantities ranging from 2 grams to 1 kilo for a mere 500 euros per unit, with a special deal of 3 for the price of two. Since I have no need for carbon nanotubes, except for the fun of saying I have some, I'm going to pass up on the offer.

But I'm debating if it was spam or not. One the one hand, it is an unsolicited advertisement from a company I've had no previous dealings with, so by that measure it is spam.

However, the message was all correctly spelled, had proper grammar, only included numerals and symbols in appropriate places, had no exclamation marks, and links to what appears to be a legitimate website.

The company has used a mass mailing service to get it message out, but they did send it to my email address at the UQ Physics department, and it is vaguely related to the field of physics I was working in, maybe only one or two degrees of seperation. So while it is a bit indiscriminate, at least it's not like some things that are advertised in other spam (viagra, american mortgages, dodgy jobs involving making bank transfers, nigerian 411 scams, investment oportunities, depression medication, and other such things) they aiming a bit more narrowly.

So, it probably is spam, but it is not obnoxious spam, so I'm not going to mark it as spam in gmail, just archive it.

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Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: The Daily Show

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some Pictures

So, I've just figured out how to get pictures from my phone to my computer (I had to buy a microSD memory card for the phone, and now it's just like a USB drive). Thus, without further ado I present:

My Bedroom

and the view from the staff room at work

Yeah, I know the pictures aren't great, but it's a 2.1 mega pixel camera phone (I have a rant on those, but I'll save it for another time), so don't expect too much.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: an hour or so
Current media: The copyright notices in different languages at the end of Stargate Atlantis.

Timing Issues

Looking over the last few posts I've noticed a seeming discrepancy in some of the timing notes I include at the end of each post. This is because Blogger uses the time I start writing as the time of the post, not when I hit the publish button, and I can't be bothered changing it.

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Writing time: 3 minutes
Time since last post: 5 minutes
Current media: You already know

Damn Sony

Over the last few days, the headphones I use with my iPod have stopped working (the right earpiece no longer makes any noise), so today I went looking for a new set. The store I went to had a large shelf full of headphones, but most of them looked like cheap crappy things. In the end I reluctantly decided on a pair of Sony headphones for about 3000 yen that looked like they'd last more than a few days and had a cable that reached from the pocket I keep my iPod in to my ears.

I was reluctant to buy Sony because they've done some rather bad things to customers over the last year or so. Malware on CDs that can help computer virii hide on your computer and mess up the drivers on your computer and the following response when found out, the continual fumbling with the PS3, and others I can't think of of the top of my head have made me decide that I wouldn't give my money to Sony.

I haven't really kept to that, because there have been things I've wanted and bought without bothering to check who made them, and only found out after that Sony was involved in making it (Mirrormask is a good example). Today, the Sony headphones seemed the best out of a poor showing.

I was terribly disappointed when I started using the headphones. The sound quality is terrible, and I needed to turn the volume right up to be able to hear what I was listening to. The sound is tinny, and none of the equalizer settings helped out much. I'm thinking of getting another set once my advance comes through in the next few days.

I may even fork out 4500 yen for a set of apple headphones, as the set that came with my iPod were quite good, and lasted for a lot longer than most headphones do.

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Writing time: 13 minutes
Time since last post: 30 minutes
Current media: still more Stargate Atlantis

Growing Hair

It's been a little over two weeks since my hair got shaved to within a millimetre or two of my scalp. At that time, I looked almost like a skinhead, and I was a bit concerned that the company I work for would think I'd gone to far in the other extreme (They had already told me I would have to cut my hair before showing up for work in Japan). However it's grown relatively quickly, and is maybe almost a centimetre long now so it's no longer at the point where I can grow facial hair longer than the hair on my head (trust me, it looks terrible when the hair on your head is shorter than the hair on your face).

If my hair continues to grow at this rate, it should look almost normal around Christmas time, and I may have to get at least one haircut before my contract is finished. Once I'm done though, I don't plan to cut it again for a while (After the next eight years I'm just going to get a regular haircut though, none of this no 2 blade stuff).

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Writing time: 15 minutes
Time since last post: 20 minutes
Current media: still Stargate Atlantis

They Really Should Know Better

Yet another example of some engrish, this time at a place that really should know better. At this place, one can make use of the Malti Media center.

And where did I see this shining example of engrish. At work. That's right, the school that teaches English has a misspelled sign. I think I'll mention it on Thursday when I have my next shift. It really doesn't do much for the reputation of the school.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Stargate Atlantis Season 1

Monday, October 02, 2006


Since I've been in Japan, I've drunk coke a bit more frequently than I used to (just a bit, I'd already got back on the softdrink wagon a while ago, but with coke instead of pepsi). During the week though I got a few really bad headaches. At first I thought it may have just been that I was eating on a different schedule, which can sometimes do that. Yesterday, the headache was really bad, and was still around a little this morning.

This morning, since I have had a few bad experiences with getting what I thought was water from a vending machine (I'm not even going to risk trying the one labeled Pocarri Sweat), I went back to having a coke. A while after this I noticed that my headache was almost completely gone. I had another coke with lunch, and although the I still have the headache, it's only a minor thing which should be gone in the morning.

After I noticed this, I got thinking and realised that the days that I had the headaches were the days I decided not to drink coke. So this has me wondering, is japanese coke that much more addictive? I don't think I'm drinking more than I did in Australia, and going without for a few days there didn't trigger terrible headaches. And I think I had some coke last night and it didn't ease the problem.

I think I'll have a coke tomorrow just in case

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Writing time: 17 minutes
Time since last post: 50 minutes
Current media: Serenity

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Engrish On A Plane

Since I didn't get a chance to see it while I was in Australia, I may try and see Snakes Flight while it's showing over here

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: 1 minute
Current media: Rowen Atkinson Live

Illiterate again

One thing that is different about being in Japan is not being able to read much. Most signs are in Japanese, forms are in Japanese, newspapers and magazines are in Japanese, TV is in Japanese, and most other things are not surprisingly, in Japanese. This means that I am unable to do certain things I took for granted back in Australia.

For example today I got a commuter pass for the train I catch to and from work. To do this, I needed to fill out a form. If someone from work hadn't given me a copy with what I need to put in each space, I would not known how to fill it out.

Opening up a bank account was a similar situation, although for that I had the mishap of forgetting my hanko, so I had to make two trips.

I am fortunate that all the train stations are labeled in kanji, hiragana and English. I've heard that as little as three years ago, this was not the case. The signs are also quite comprehensive, with guides to where to go to transfer between lines, between train types (hankyu to subway, or hankyu to monorail, for example). So far I have not had any troubles catching trains.

Restaurants are OK, as most have either menus in English or menus with pictures on them, or both, and you can get away with just pointing at what you want. The only problem is I don't know how to ask what something is if I don't know what it is.

Anyway, in summary, the language problem is annoying, but not really a major burden.

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Writing time: 26 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Rowen Atkinsons Live