For my gmail sign-up, my country was stated to be Japan, something that Google determined from my internet service provider. Similarly, the terms of service were in Japanese, a language in which I am signboard literate but not much else.
When I search with google.com, it always defaults to Japanese, which is inconvenient. I have found a workaround for this, which is to go to news.google.com, enter the search term, search the news for it then click on "web". After that, the search stays in English.
Although Google knows I am in Japan, there was no sign of this when I took a look at the Google page where, without having gotten an invitation from someone, you try to get the code you need for your gmail account.
If I understood the page correctly, your first step is to fill in a form which requires you to provide your mobile phone number. To provide the number, you have to choose a country from a pull-down list.
But it's a very weird list, a bizarre assortment of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Indonesia and the United States. But not Japan. And not any nation in Europe, either. Not Portugal, for example.
There was a facility you could use to send an "I have a problem" e-mail to Google, and I did get back an answer from some kind of software robot, which referred me to online help pages.
I don't know if the answer to my conundrum was in the pages because I did not need the answer.
Anyone who has a gmail account can invite anyone else, and Jorge of Portugal very kindly invited me.
When I opened up my Yahoo account on Saturday evening, there was an e-mail from Google which Jorge had organized for me, complete with an URL which I could copy and paste into my browser. The URL, which included a formidably complex code, took me directly to the sign-up page.
There I hit a problem in the form of the robot bouncer. This I read easily enough as "motpress".
But then, for some reason, I was asked to input my password (once anew and then again for confirmation) and I was confronted by another robot bouncer. This one is shown below and it completely threw me.
The image now under discussion is the distorted word at the very top of this page.
What does the image say? I had no idea. I could read the "icat" at the end as clearly as anything, but the first part entirely defeated me.
I thought of asking my wife for help but two things dissuaded me. First, my ability to read eccentric Japanese fonts is limited, so I suspected she might have similar problems with English. Second, I mistakenly thought that she was asleep. It was, after all, almost midnight.
Later I found out that my wife was, in fact, downstairs watching World Cup soccer on TV with the sound turned down.
Why couldn't I decrypt the code word? Maybe brain damage was responsible or maybe I was turning cyborg without realizing it.
Giving up, I clicked on the little wheelchair to the right of the box for entering the code, curious as to what would happen next.
My browser threw up a message of some kind which I captured with my screen saver. I glanced at it through my magnifying glass, and thought it said that Mozilla could not handle this kind of file. In fact, it was telling me that I had a bunch of options, one being to open the file (an audio file in wav/Wave Sound format) with the default application.
So, not realizing that my browser could have read the code aloud for me, I struggled some more with the pictorially encrypted word. Having captured it with my screen capture program, I expanded it to make it clearer, but expansion did not assist decryption.
The problem was not with my eyesight but with my cognitive capacity.
Finally, I took my best guess: univicat.
From what I saw on my sign-up day, I gather that Google's free storage limits now exceed two and a half gigabytes, and that the URL to log in is
When Jorge offered to get me a Google invite I immediately said a hearty "yes please", and explained why I do not personally have a mobile phone, the requirement to get a gmail account if you do not have an invitation. I wrote:
"I have resisted getting a mobile phone even though everyone has one here in Japan.
"What finally persuaded me not to get one was the experience of a teacher at the company I was
previously working for. He was on the train early in the morning when his phone rang.
"'Are you on the train heading in the direction of X?'
"'Yes, I am.'
"'Well, do you know Y?'
"'Yes, I do.'
"'Well, we think he's on the same train as you, and we've just had a phone call to the office telling him his class has been cancelled. So could you please walk down the train and see if he's on it?'
"The teacher complied. Teacher Y was not, as it happened, on the phone."
To this, Jorge responded:
"Stories like this are known here, but I thought it was some kind of
Japan is very much a cellphone society and my wife commented, recently, when the daycare center gave everyone a list of the contact numbers for all the parents, that we were the only ones who did not have a mobile.
My wife has been thinking about getting her own cellphone after an incident that occurred while I was still in New Zealand.
My wife has to reach the daycare center in time for the evening pickup deadline, but someone jumped in front of her train, causing a delay.
She was stuck quite some distance from our home station and the train had halted between stations. There was no way for her to make a phone call. There are public telephones on the bullet trains in Japan, but none on ordinary commuter trains.
Then, at the next station, by chance a workmate boarded the train, and my wife was able to borrow the workmate's phone and make two phone calls. One was to a neighbor who has a child at the same daycare center and who agreed to pick up our daughter, Cornucopia. The other was to the daycare center, advising them that the neighbor would be picking up the child.
When I told my mother this story she said "How terrible!"
Meaning how terrible it was that someone had been desperate enough to throw themselves in front of a train. But I thought nothing of it. The Tokyo-Yokohama area is suicide city, and, every year, the number of people who use the train lines to terminate themselves run into the hundreds.
Since being back in Japan for a couple of months I've noticed, from time to time, newsflash items on the TV saying that such-and-such a train has been delayed because of a "human body incident", but one notices this at the same level at which one notices the weather updates.
When I was working for my previous company, one of the other teachers said:
"I really hate it the way these Japanese people jump in front of trains."
To which I responded:
"Why? They don't make YOU jump in front of them."
Which sounds callous, but that's the living reality of this particular urban environment.
I've never actually been on a train which came to a crunching halt because someone jumped in front of it, but, on a number of occasions, I've waited on a platform watching a Japanese-language message scrolling on an LCD screen saying that the train was delayed because of a "human body incident"..