Monday morning conversations with my grandmotherly Japanese conversation teacher:

– And how was your weekend, dear?

– Oh, you know… A lovely mountain Autumn hike, singing practice, bit of social drinking at the club, and on Sunday, cultural workshop on traditional Japanese crafts with my local exchange partner.

Why do I, in such occasions, hear myself speak in the voice of Malcolm McDowell.

Yesterday was the first official outing of the Kyoto chapter of the Nomihiking Society of Japan. On that warm and sunny Autumn afternoon, a small group of us headed out to Arashiyama to enjoy the combined pleasures of pristine Nature sights and heavy inebriation.

If the success of a nomihike is to be gauged by the collective amount of hangover on the following day, ours was an unfettered triumph. We did well, even by other metrics, such as the exceedingly low casualty figures, with zero nomihikers falling off the surprisingly tricky trail. Yes, this was essentially the stuff local news drama is made of, minus the bit where drunken idiots crashed to their death on jagged river rocks, 10 metre below.

All hope is not lost for some gruesome nomihiking accident one day, since we shall resolutely repeat the adventure again in some very near future.

Nomihiking trail in ArashiyamaSarah demonstrating her secret skills with the ladies

Last and final part in our Iya Trilogy

After a slow casual start over the weekend, we finally kicked into full-Iya tourism mode on Saturday night:

First, was a night at Ueda-san’s lovely B&B in a traditional farmhouse: 200 year-old chestnut-wood house, large washitsu with circling corridors, relaxing stone-lined ofuro and mellow family vibe. When I eventually buy my house in the Japanese countryside, this is probably what it will look like.

Even though some the charm of the above amenities was lost on my travelling buddies (particularly the awesome onsen-sized Japanese bath: a little “too exposed to the outside” for their modesty) and Ueda-san’s exclusive use of Japanese required a bit of translating back-and-forth with the group, everybody came together on the homemade, fresh-from-the-farm fruit, veggie and goat-milk yoghurt breakie… followed by a formal introduction to the goats themselves. As it turns out, milking a goat is not easy at all, but I can now add that to my short list of skills that might come handy, should civilisation crumble and send us all back to the bronze age.

Sunday was the day we had picked for finally touring Iya proper.

If like me you deal with your typical Japanese administration office on a regular basis, you probably receive your fair share of documents, some of them occasionally packaged as a Zip archive

If also like me, you are not using a Windows machine, but a Mac running OS X or some flavour of Linux, you routinely end up with files bearing such poetic names as “Åuäwà ò_ï∂ä÷åWèëófiíÒèoìÕ.pdf”, “äwà ê\êøìÕÅyÉfÅ[É^Åz.xls” etc. This is due to some incompatibility between the way each system stores Japanese characters1 and the fact the Zip format was never conceived to handle such differences. Not a big problem if you have one file, bit tedious if the archive contains 300 of them.

In the spirit of sharing the fruit of my last productivity-sink effort to fix that problem, I present you with a small script that takes such a Zip archive as input and correctly extract all the files (with their properly encoded filenames):

  1. To be specific: Windows seems to be using good-old antiquated Japanese-only SJIS, whereas OS X and others prefer spiffy universal encodings like UTF-8. []

A selection of random pics from last weekend’s Halloween party (guest photography credits: Aki, Cory & Yanmei).

Prize for creativity goes to Cory, who came as A Shower.

Prize for glamour icons was shared between Sona’s Audrey Hepburn and Anita’s Betty Boop.

On the witch vs. devil front, the battle was fierce: in the end, Tyana, Aki & Maja took Team Witch to victory by a slim margin against Jun & Yanmei’s Team Devil.

Rafa took a break from his busy Colombian import-export business to show his scarred face at the party (later enhanced by some strategically-placed white powder).

Roland and yours truly provided for some much-needed furry fuzziness and important life-lessons to the kids, courtesy of Sesame Hood’s favourites: Elmo and Cookie Monster.

Towering over the festivities and occasionally bringing chills down the spine of all guests present with his lugubrious laugh and transylvanian accent: Count Rei graced us with his presence (and gets extra points for being the only one ballsy enough to ride Japanese transports as is).

Continued from Pt. 1

Pilgrim's path After our bus dropped us at Tokushima station in the evening we spent the night at a henro-oriented guesthouse in Naruto (located very close to temple #1). The pouring rain and remote location put a serious damper on our initial ambitions to go explore the local izakaya life and we had to settle for the rather mediocre chain izakaya our taxi took us to. It was a reasonably early night. Good thing too, as our host gently kicked us out at 9:30am the next day (he apparently had to be somewhere and I guess he wanted to see us off before).

Outside Hashikura temple Waiting for the once-every-couple-hours train to Awa Ikeda gave us time to purchase and eat some basic breakfast on the side of the street… Prompting a local obāchan to come running to us, urgently asking for Sona’s help with her needles; twenty thread-through-needle-eye and much effusive thanks later, we were on our way toward the centre of Shikoku by train.

It took less than half-an-hour for the landscape to change from suburban Tokushima-shi concrete, into farm fields and small villages, into just mountains and the odd farm. By the time we arrived in Miyoshi-shi, the stations were little more than platforms in the middle of nowhere.