December 31st, 2011 | Filed under New Year's Cards

Yet another one to add to the collection

Happy New Year everybody!

PS: click on the pic for the full-size version.

One-Man Lab Party

December 29th, 2011 | Filed under Academic Adventures, Insignificant Details

In the plastic bag carried by the guy walking ahead of me this morning, at the entrance to the [officially closed for the holidays] university campus: 2 bags of crisps, 3 instant-ramen cups and 2 cans of Boss coffee. Happy Holidays indeed!


Neko Kafé Sunday

December 19th, 2011 | Filed under Japan, Pictures

November Backlog: Autumn Leaves

December 19th, 2011 | Filed under Japan, Pictures

Some low-quality pics from nighttime Momiji at Shōren’in

Dear Microsoft Word for Mac™ Project Manager,

You don’t know me. and I don’t know you. I am sure that you are a fine human being. A real person, with emotions, someone who experiences joy, sadness, laughter. You might even be a nice person, kind to animals and the elderly… Which makes it all the more difficult to tell you that I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN WHEREVER YOU MAY HIDE, FIND YOU, PEEL YOUR SKIN OFF WITH A RUSTED POTATO PEELER, WEAR YOUR SKIN, SAW YOUR HEAD OFF WITH A BUTTER KNIFE, DRINK YOUR BLOOD AND REPEATEDLY VIOLATE YOUR CORPSE THROUGH YOUR HOLLOWED OUT CERVICAL SPINE WHILE YOUR FAMILY WATCHES ON.

So, huh, yea… It appears that I have to file all my thesis documents through the mandatory MS Word templates that were sent to me. Weird formatting incompatibility bugs and all.


These days, I wonder if I’m graduating in Bioinformatics or in Petty Administrative Filing.

A tiny representative sample of the ten pages of instructions on how to file my thesis documents (bear in mind none of it has anything to do with the actual content of the thesis, this is all exclusively about how to format and present the documents, not what goes in it):

1. 60部については、表紙【様式D】をつけ、「論文内容の要旨」、「論文目録」、「履歴書」の順にセットし、左側2カ所をホッチキスで綴じてください。(2頁のものは見開きとなるように印刷) 2. 各3部については、種類別に揃え、ゼムクリップで止めてください。
(1) 2頁にわたるものは両面印刷とし、 「論文目録」、「履歴書」については、必ず捺印し てください。(綴じた60部は捺印不要)
(2) 種類毎に3部をゼムクリップで止め、クリアフォルダーに入れて提出してください。

Yes, three paperclips, not 2 or, gods forbid, 4. And for the love of Amaterasu, make sure that you use a clear folder for your stack of 60 copies of each document. We can and will fail you if you do not comply.

Yes, hello. I’d like to know the exact date on which I officially graduated from high school in 1998. No, not just the month, I imperatively need the exact day too. Yes, I need it in order to obtain my PhD. “Can’t I just put an approximate date”? Haha, you sweet thing. You have obviously never met a Japanese administrative employee, have you. I’m just happy they don’t ask for the exact hour. Can we hurry up please, I still have to get the days for the half-dozen university entrances and graduations I have had ever since.

Stamps and Rocket Science

December 2nd, 2011 | Filed under Japan, Life of a Starving Genius

Faithful retranscription of my conversation yesterday late at night at my local combini:

Bored Teenage Combini Employee: Hello and how may I help you?

Dave: I’d like stamps. Do you sell stamps?

B.T.C.E.: We sure do.

Dave: Brilliant. In that case could I get for 90 yen worth of stamp?

B.T.C.E.: Unfortunately we do not have that.

Dave: But I thought you just said you sold stamps…?

B.T.C.E.: That we do!

Dave: Then how come you don’t have any?

B.T.C.E.: Oh, but we do have stamps.

Dave: Then why can’t I get my 90 yen stamp.

B.T.C.E.: We only carry ¥50, ¥80 and ¥10 stamps. Sorry.

Dave: facepalms.


Kotatsu: check.

Month-long supply of Thai curry: check.

Gallon-sized bottle of rum: check.

PhD Thesis submission draft: check.

Right, see you in Spring, people.

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.

Kyoto Nomihike

November 13th, 2011 | Filed under Friends, Japan

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.

Trip to Iya Valley Pt. 3

November 4th, 2011 | Filed under Japan, Pictures

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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):

Read the rest of this entry »

  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. []

Halloween Weekend

November 1st, 2011 | Filed under 24 Hour Party People, Friends, Pictures

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).