Friday, October 15, 2010

Yes Robots sometimes do make mistakes

By Carole Goldsmith  Copyright ©2010 All Rights Reserved

Visiting auto and other manufacturing plants is one of my favourite activities to do when visiting Japan. Most tourists go to Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka and travel around the country side, I do that too. However, given the opportunity to visit a factory plant tour, I get very exited and that is one of the highlights of my trip.

On one warm spring day, I had booked myself in for an auto plant tour. The lovely Kimiko (not her real name) who was assigned to be my own private tour guide, took me on a walking tour above the production line. The robots were in action, doing what they do naturally, at least naturally via computers. I watched with facination as their long arms were moving slowly while picking up the car's seat and placing it in the car body with absolute precision.

I asked Kimiko "Do the robots ever make mistakes?"  No, they never make mistakes," said Kimiko. Just at that very moment, we watched as the next car body approached. The tip of the robot's arm reached and collected the next car seat on the assembly line. All of a sudden, the robot released the car seat and it went flying through the air and fell to the side of the assembly line. The car body arrived and there was no seat to go in it as it was on the floor by now. Kimiko held her hand to her face in a very shocked state. I was really trying to control my laughter as Kimiko was obviously very embarassed about the naughty robot making a mistake.

I said politely, "Robots are really like humans and sometimes they just make a little mistake when they are tired". We had a little laugh together and went on our way to see the rest of the tour

So Yes, robots sometimes do make mistakes

Finding your ATM bank balance in the land of the rising yen

By Carole Goldsmith Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved
Withdrawing cash from an ATM and getting your bank balance with a foreign (non Japanese) bank keycard is not so easy in Japan, unless you know how.

First - about the rising yen against the $Australian - As a regular traveler to Japan and an Australian, I have watched the rise of the Yen against the $Australian ($AUD) over the past 25 years. In 1981, my first trip to Japan, the rate was around Yen 300 to $1AUD. In 2008, $1AUD fetched Yen 105 and in early April 2009, $1AUD (cash) was buying only Yen58 and $1AUD (travelers checks) brought slightly a higher Yen rate of 67. So although prices are around the same in Japan for hotels, food and travel, because of the low $AUD against the rising yen, everything was costing me around 40 percent more than last year in April 2009.

Finding your bank balance and withdrawing cash in Japan
So getting back to the cash withdrawal and finding your bank balance at an ATM in Japan, it is more than a frustrating challenge. My ATM bank keycard has the Maestro and Cirrus symbols on the back .I can use that at bank ATMS in many other countries to withdraw cash and check my balance. This is not so easy in Japan. When I was staying in the Tennoji area of Osaka. I knew that I had been paid for a job back in Australia, so I went to the Post Office ATM to withdraw cash and check my balance. The ATM instructions were all in English and withdrawal was easy, the ATM slip gave me the withdrawal amount but no balance. I asked the postal staff how I could check my balance (zandaka in Japanese). They said that I could only check my balance if I had a Japan Post Account. Then I went nearby to the UFJ bank and tried my key card there. All instructions again in English, all went smoothly, but the ATM slip reported it was an invalid card and could not handle my transaction. I asked a bank staff member for assistance and they were very helpful and went through the ATM enquiry process with me, however my key card did not work in their machine.
I tried the ATM at Lawson’s Convenience store, but it was all in Japanese with no English version. I can read Hiragana and Katakana, but Kanji is a little difficult for me to master the bank instructions.

 Later I was walking around the Osaka Port Area and I came across a 711 store (and they are all around Japan). Much to my delight, there was an ATM with the Maestro and Cirrus symbols, plus instructions in English. Hooray, I could check my balance and withdraw cash; either transaction would cost me 210 Yen. The balance was in Yen or $USA. The friendly 711 staff lent me a calculator to convert my Yen balance to the $Aussie balance - I was happy, finally I had my current balance. I recall now seeing some advertising that 711 had ATM’s for Maestro and Cirrus cards.

711 to the rescue and a great help to travelers wanting to check their bank balance in Japan

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hotel Chuo Oasis- A great place to stay close to downtown Osaka

Written by Carole Goldsmith Copyright 2009 & 2010 , all Rights Reserved.

Recently opened in May 2009, Hotel Chuo Oasis is a great place to stay in Osaka. The reception staff are very welcoming, friendly and helpful and between them, they speak English,Thai and of course Japanese.

A very spacious lobby with a water featureand side garden plus attractive pot plants is a good area to relax in a smoke free environment. The lobby also has free internet, TV, lounge chairs, tables and chairs for guests to enjoy a chat, plus cooking facilities, washers and dryers to the side for your convenience. The rooms are clean and quiet, with very comfortable beds. There is a TV, internet cable to use your lap top in your room, a fridge, shower and bath to relax and soak in. With no curfew, Hotel Chuo Oasis has a secure card system for you to enter your room at all times and the building after midnight. There is a female non smoking floor that I really like.

Close to Shin Imamiya station on the Nakai (Airport line), JR Shin Imamiya and Dobutsuen Subway station, the hotel is also near a shopping mall and Tennoji shopping centre plus Tennoji Park. Close by to the hotel, there is a large supermarket, a Family Mart plus Flets Yen 100 shop for lots of bargains.

Also conveniently located close to Namba station, the heart of Osaka and OCAT, the inter city bus terminal. Hotel Chuo Oasis is certainly a gem of a hotel to call home when in Osaka.

For more details and to check out their YouTube video see :

Monday, October 4, 2010

Know the characters for male and female in Japan - especially in the bathroom.

By Carole Goldsmith Copyright ©  2010 , All Rights Reserved

When visiting Japan, you really need to know the characters for male and female in the bathroom. I remember staying at Yoyogi Youth Hostel in Tokyo and I was getting ready for my evening bath in the same bathroom as the previous evening.

It was the female bathroom the night before, so I just assumed that it would be the correct bath-room...... wrong,

I soon found out that it was the wrong bathroom as a group of Singaporean students came bounding in the bathroom and said that I was in the male bathroom and I should learn the characters for male and female.

Sure enough the manager of the hostel had changed the Japanese signs so that the male and female bathrooms had traded places.

I certainly learnt the symbols for male and female in Japanese after that funny experience

Match-making and going on a date in Japan

By Carole Goldsmith Copyright 2010 All rights Reserved

One afternoon around 5 PM, I was waiting on Iidabashi Station in Tokyo when a quiet young man came up to me and said Konnichi wa. That means hello in Japanese. I turned around and said konnichi wa in return and uttered a few other Japanese greeting words.  He wanted to practice the English that he had learnt in his recent class. " I have learnt English for 6 months and my English is still like Japanese English" he said with a sigh. I wanted to practice my Japanese language skills as I had been studying hard and writing lots of characters (kanji, hiragana and katakana) I told him this as we waited for the approaching train.

On the train we went and the train pushers were already to push us inside the train. We went to the back of the train and continued our conversation.  My name is Moro he said. I would like to meet you for coffee so that we can practice English and Japanese together. We arranged to meet at Shinjuku on Saturday afternoon at 3 PM. I got off at the next stop " Suidobashi" as I had to do some electrical shopping.

I met Moro at the designated place the following Saturday. To my surprise, he turned up with a young Japanese woman, Kimiko san. After the introductions and lots of giggles from Moro and Kimiko, he told me that he would like me to travel with them both to his country town. The reason he explained was to convince his parents that he should marry Kimiko, whom he loved, instead of the woman they had arranged for him to marry. Yes match making still occurs in Japan.

Battle of the Wasabi Loaded Nori Roll

By Carole Goldsmith Copyright © 2005 – 2010  All Rights Reserved

Written June 2008
Lined up in five teams of eight battlers each, it is a race to choose the team leader who has taken a bite of the wasabi loaded nori roll and can hold it their mouth for five minute As the five chosen leaders start to consume their nori roll slowly, the teams have to choose which leader has taken the one and only nori roll with half a teaspoon of wasabi concealed inside.

The person with the wasabi loaded nori roll whose mouth is probably burning by now, must not show their distress, in fact they must not show any reaction at all.

If you have ever had a half teaspoon of wasabi in your mouth, you would know that this is a very difficult food to conceal as your eyes water and your face goes somewhat red. The race is on as the whole room full of people survey the five leaders, one and one only has the wasabi in their mouth... but no-one is showing any signs or calling out hot.. atsui desu.

Each of the five teams make their selection, but is any one correct? Team three have picked the leader with the wasabi loaded nori roll who agrees to the deed and promptly drinks a tall glass of iced water.
Then it is time for a new group of team leaders to try the task - It is all part of fun of an end of the term Japanese school party in Wombat Land (Australia). Lots of Sushi (Japanese) and Wombats (Australians) gather together to play some Japanese fun games and practice English and Japanese. Meanwhile it is time for the teams to pick a new leader for the next exciting battle of the wasabi loaded nori roll. Stay tuned for more Japanese school party games.

Are Some Japanese Women Giving Marriage the Flick?

By Carole Goldsmith Copyright © 2005 – 2010 All Rights Reserved

Written May 2005

With the rate of marriages down and the divorce rate rising in Japan, some Japanese women are deciding that is may be better to buy a designer bag than become Mr. Susuki’s wife. For some Japanese ladies, is the life of being married to a salary man who devotes all his time to his company, coming to an end?

The National Institute of Population and Social Security, Ministry of Health and Welfare (Jinko tokei shiryoshu - demographic statistics, 1999) revealed, that the Japanese marriage rate was 6.3 per 1000 population in 1998. The divorce rate in the same year was 1.94 per 1000 population (Source Facts and Figures of Japan , 2000 Edition, Foreign Press Centre Japan (FPCJ). In more recent times the 2006 Facts and Figures of Japan, FPCJ publication showed that in 2005 the marriage rate dropped to 5.7 per 1000 population and divorce rate rose to 2.08 per 1000 persons. (FPCJ source United Nations, Demographic yearbook 2003, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, (Jinko tokei shiryoshu - demographic statistics, 2005)

Japanese single female friends of mine in their late 20s or early 30s living in Japan and Australia, tell me that there is pressure on them from friends and family to marry. They are also being encouraged to marry Japanese men. These women are independent confident professional and university educated women. Some have non Japanese partners whom they love, and they are happy to live in de-facto relationships and do not want the legal bind of marriage. One of my friends, a high school teacher, is around 35 years now. She is very happily living a single life sharing a house with her Uncle. She told me a few years ago, that she did not want to marry Susuki San, be his wife and lose her identity as a professional woman. She would never see him because he would live a life devoted to the company, plus she would have to do all the shopping, cooking and housework.

As a busy professional woman, she believed that the household duties should be shared when the two people are working. She had experienced this with an American boyfriend she lived with for a year. She also said that if she ever did marry, she would marry a Western man for a life of equal opportunity. Sharing of duties of course will depend on the male and the country which he comes from.

Another Japanese friend once told me that she would she would rather have a designer bag or a pet than be a Japanese man’s wife and slave. Others choose the good life and convenience of living with their parents and they share the household costs and duties. They also spend long hours in their busy jobs and are expected to stay back at work like their male colleagues. I do have a few Japanese married friends with modern views who share all the house hold duties as they are both working. A Japanese girlfriend went home to Japan for Christmas and for a sister’s engagement The pressure was on for her to get married as she is hitting 30 but she loves her single life in Australia. She prefers to keep her relationships to dating and not living with the person, as that would take away the independence that she loves.

When another Japanese friend finished her University Degree in Australia, her family back home wanted her to settle down into a job for life and get married, all of this in Japan. She feels this pressure on her constantly but she wants to do all sorts of casual jobs in Australia and have some fun before the dreaded settling down happens. Japanese women are changing and an increasing number are opting for single life and independence. Yes, there are still elaborate weddings in Japan that cost a fortune, that many women do want to experience. I saw the hotels decked out for weddings when I was last in Japan in June last year.

With the changes on laws on pensions in Japan, so that women now get half of their spouse’s pension when they divorce, the divorce rate is expected to rise in the future. Older women may want to experience a life of freedom and independence that some of their younger counterparts are doing now. Then the poor Japanese husband may have independence that they may not like that as much as the ladies. Worse still they may become homeless and that is a sad occurrence that happens already now... that is another story.........