Look Down on Us: Japanese Sewer Covers (Many Photos)

If memory serves, my first unusual encounter with a Japanese person was at Yellowstone National Park in 1995.  He came up to my family, asked to take a picture with us, and then proceeded to photograph a garbage bin.

Not sure if there’s a connection between the two, but after visiting Japan, I came to understand why that second photo was so interesting for him.  That brief point in time ostensibly inspired me to not only snap photos of famous sights and infamous sights, but also of anything that might be even the slightest bit intriguing.

In Japan, pretty much everything fits that bill:

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (1)
That’s a sewer/manhole cover (マンホールの蓋 manhōru no futa) in Shimonoseki, Yamanashi prefecture.   In 1985, in order to mollify the public’s suspicions about costly public works projects, an official in the construction ministry introduced to cities and towns throughout Japan the idea of ornately decorating their sewer covers.  (Link in Japanese)  Being the simultaneously weird but cool country that Japan is, artists started coming up with designs that may have best reflected that location.  For Shimonoseki, someone chose its most famous export, fugu, the poisonous blowfish.

But is this art?  Just kidding…I was looking for a place to fit that keyword in, ’tis all.  With that said, let’s take a look at a bunch more examples I came across–

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (7)

Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture.  Not terribly creative, eh?  Is that a dust mite in the middle?  How difficult would it be to paint it the colors of the Brazilian flag?

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (14)
Funabashi, Chiba prefecture.  The name means boat bridge, and indeed there is a bridge downtown with a boat sticking out of it…but it’s unlikely that it was the origin of the name.

Inuyama, Aichi prefecture.  Inuyama’s castle is the spotlight on this cover.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (12)

The Yokohama Bay Bridge, Kanagawa prefecture.  Would be neat to see a picture of a roasting chestnut,  包子 from Yokohama’s Chinatown, or Commodore Matthew Perry instead.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (10)

Odawara, Kanagawa prefecture.  Try harder.  Yes, sewage is art in its own right, but

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (11)

Dang picture interrupted me!  No problem, because this is the other Odawara sewer cover.  Looks like a bunch of cultists running on water, and Odawara castle in the background.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (8)

Hey now.

The writing refers to the 400th anniversary of the reconstruction of Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka, Shizuoka prefecture by the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (9)

Numazu, Shizuoka prefecture.  I stopped here because I read that it was known for fresh shirasu (baby anchovies), as opposed to the usual dried version.  Ha, and you thought it was to see Mt. Fuji, which is what you see on this manhole cover.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (6)

Chitose, Ishikari subprefecture, Hokkaido prefecture.  One of those fish is supposed to be a sockeye salmon.

Chitose is also the home of Sapporo’s primary airport.  How Ryanair of them.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (5)

Sapporo, Ishikari subprefecture, Hokkaido prefecture.  The underwhelming Sapporo Clock Tower, the city’s de facto symbol – as opposed to sea lion-in-a-can – joins in the sewer cover fun.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (4)

Otaru, Shiribeshi subprefecture, Hokkaido prefecture.  Those are otters.  Sound similar?
By the way, good seafood.
By the way, I haven’t tried otter yet.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (2)

Kobe, Hyōgo prefecture.  Upon first glance, I thought that was a tattooed seagull.  In fact, those are mountains with an anchor and the Kobe city logo.

Japan - Japanese Sewer Covers (Manhole Covers) (3)

Okayama, Okayama prefecture.  Momotaro, the child who descended upon earth in a giant white peach, salutes all waste visitors to this laid-back city.

Did you notice these unusual additions when you visited Japan?  Do they make you want to visit Japan?   If so, be sure to tell immigration, and they’ll in turn be sure to give you the side eye.

Potent Packaging: Hey China, Look at Me!


I couldn’t find an adapter for my recent trip to Russia, so I went to a local discount store in Manhattan to get one.

Manhattan, New York - Dalai Lama Packaging

I didn’t end up buying this one – besides, if you wander around Broadway in the upper 20s, you could find them for ~$1 – but oh, was the packaging a doozy.  In addition to the lack of a copyright year on the bottom of the package, and completely ignoring the manufacturer’s desire to fit every single color known to exist on the carton, there’s a weird quote near the bottom too:

“Compassion is the pillar of world peace.”

As if you already couldn’t tell this was made in China, some cheeky character went ahead and included something that wouldn’t be out of place in the mind of the Dalai Lama.  Sure enough, this leader of Tibet in-exile would claim to have said this.  Oh, and this would not make it to shop were it printed in Chinese.

Let’s look at this another, tackier way.  $7.99 to relieve both my phone and myself of suffering?  What a deal!

Review: Sky Cafe (Indonesian), Elmhurst, Queens, New York

It’s difficult to say where it all began.  Life, that is.  Or my introduction to Sky Cafe, an Indonesian restaurant in New York.

Every now and then I go to Philadelphia to visit a college buddy.  He introduced to me the good food neighborhoods of South Philly, in particular restaurants serving Vietnamese and Indonesian staples.  Before you ask, yes, Philadelphia does do some things better than New York, and those two cuisines are just a couple of examples.  This, however, is not an example.

In any event, we once ended up at a place called Sky Cafe.  It was something of a dank, but the food was alright.

Journey to Indonesia Festival, New York

Fast forward a couple of years to the “Journey to Indonesia” festival, which was held last month in front of the Indonesian consulate in Manhattan.  There was a Q&A contest, and I happened to get one of the answers right.  They also said in Indonesian “how could the white guy know this and not you?,” but that’s a story for another day.

Well, the prize happened to be a $25 gift certificate to Sky Cafe…wait a sec, there’s one in NY too?  Yep, and it’s in Elmhurst, Queens:

Sky Cafe (Indonesian), Elmhurst, Queens, New York (4)

As the coupon was to expire today, I headed for Sky Cafe yesterday.  The menu amused me because it reflected the ol’ merah putih – that is, red white – the flag of Indonesia.  However, two minutes later, the waiter came by and gave me a new and improved (i.e. higher prices) menu.

Sky Cafe (Indonesian), Elmhurst, Queens, New York (2)

I showed him the certificate, and he said “order what you can, I can’t give you cash.”  Good idea!
My order included nasi lemak rendang, that is, coconut-stewed beef served with rice cooked in coconut milk, nasi ikan balado, or fried fish with red chilies and rice (though getting two orders of rice was not on the agenda) and sambal hijau, green chili sambal/sauce.

Sky Cafe (Indonesian), Elmhurst, Queens, New York (3)
Good combo too!  Lots of flavor profiles, what with the vegetables and peanut sauce, eggs, fried fish, stewed beef, and green and red chilies, and peanuts.  Although the rendang was a bit lacking in the coconut/juiciness department, I’d order both of these dishes again.

Indeed, spicy, savory and sweet were all present, though I should have added sour – maybe asam pedas – too.  (By the way, that link says it’s Malaysian.  It’s not.)  Definitely would get more sambal hijau, because I was addicted to the stuff while living in Jakarta.

I’ve come to learn that Indonesia specifically but Southeast Asia in general offers some bizarre drinks too.  I don’t usually order something with added sugar, unless it’s my first time trying it.  Allow me to introduce you to es sekoteng (Medan), or at least the New York/temperate climate take on it:

Sky Cafe (Indonesian), Elmhurst, Queens, New York (1)

You see the liquid below ice?  Turn on your average tap in Jakarta, and that’s what you get.
…ok, whereas that might be a slight stretch, stay FAR away from drinking tap water there.

The drink, es (ice) and sekoteng (actually a ginger-based drink usually served hot), had all sorts of ingredients to freak us out.  The waiter told me that they import their ice direct from Indonesia…nah, that would just be wrong.  Right away, I recognized basil seeds, lychee and longan, but everything else was a blur.  Apparently, Chinese girlfriend (pacar cina) is one ingredient, a part of the plant sometimes called the Chinese perfume plant.  Chinese perfume.  Sure.  Something else was kolangkaling, the seed of a sugar palm.  I couldn’t identify two other pieces of flotsam, but I think pomegranate seeds, peels and palm sugar played a role.  Fun, nonetheless.

If the question was where can I find Indonesian food in New York?, I’d give this place another go.  Indonesian staff, tv and a magazine only help seal the deal.

Northeast India – Matchless Opportunities for Ecotourism

There is a certain mysticism associated with the states of Northeast India, mostly due to the fact that people from the rest of the country do not know much about this largely hilly terrain. Another factor why the seven states that make up this land remain so mysterious is because they are extremely remote and also difficult to access due to the many entry and travel restrictions imposed by the government of India. The good thing about the remoteness and lack of accessibility is that the natural environs have largely remained unspoiled. Today, the entire region is a source of great delight to animal lovers as well as botanists and nature conservationists. Here’s a peek at some of the top ecotourism attractions of the region.

Kaziranga National Park, Assam


The natural habitat of the famed Great One-horned rhinoceros, the Kaziranga National Park is a world heritage site. Spread over a mammoth 430 sq. km. the park is famous for an extremely varied ecosystem fostered by the rich alluvial soil fed by the Brahmaputra River and its many tributaries. The river system has also carved out geographical features that are unique and provide substance to much of its charm. Visitors will be enthralled by the formation of sandbars, chapories, and beels. While the rhinos are definitely the star attraction, there are fabulous opportunities to get up and close with tigers, leopards, jackals, foxes, bears as well as a large assortment of avian, insect and reptilian lives. For those fascinated by snakes, the park happens to be one of the largest homes to the King Cobra, the Rock Python and the Reticulated Python.

Majuli, Assam


Majuli enjoys the distinction of being the world’s largest river island. Situated in Assam’s Brahmaputra River, it is famed for being home to a large number of migratory birds and amphibians. The majority of the inhabitants belong to Mising, SonowalKacharis, and Deon tribes. Tourists can enjoy the many festivals that are held on the island; the principal one being Raas which is a celebration of the life of Lord Krishna and is held annually around the time the rest of the country observes Janmastami. The Majuli Festival is a big carnival that attracts many cultural troupes from other states of the North East. You can pick extremely fine specimens of pottery and face masks that are the specialty of the island’s craftsmen as souvenirs.

Mawlynnong, Meghalaya


Situated in Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hills, Mawlynnong has earned the well-deserved reputation for being the cleanest village in Asia. The place is also famous for its rich biodiversity as tourists will discover. The village is nestled in an evergreen forest that is home to a large variety of animals, birds, and plant life. Chief attractions for the visitors include the many waterfalls, the Living Root Bridge, and many natural caves that beg to be explored. An 80-foot high observatory offers the perfect view of the abundant natural beauty of Mawlynnong. Another point of great wonder is the Natural Balancing Rock.

During the monsoons the entire character of the place changes; the greenery become denser and lush, the wild orchids start flowering and create a riot of colors, and there is an abundance of waterfalls and streams that can keep you captivated during your treks. You can also catch some breathtaking views of the plains of Bangladesh as Mawlynnong sits right on the border.

Jotsoma village, Nagaland


Situated deep in Nagaland in the proximity of the state capital, Kohima, Jotsoma is perhaps the remotest Indian village. The village sits right in the center of a highly-diversified ecosystem and is also immensely scenic. The abundance of birds makes it ideal for bird lovers who flock there during the migratory season.

Namdhapa National Park, Arunachal Pradesh


Namdhapa National Park covering a humongous 1,985 sq. km. has a place in ecotourism due to the presence of four felines; the tiger, the clouded leopard, the snow leopard, and the Indian leopard. Large predators such as the Asiatic Black Bear and dhole abound along with the Red Panda, Oriental small-clawed otter, Eurasian otter, a variety of civets and cats. The highly-endangered Hoolock Gibbons can be spotted sometimes, however non-human primates such as Capped Langurs, Slow Loris, Assamese Macaques, Stump-tailed macaques, and Rhesus Macaques are more easily seen. There are lots of elephants, musk deer, hog deer, gaur, goral, sambhar, takin, mainland serow, and bharal as well as wild boar. The large expanse of forest harbors a rich diversity of plant life that changes with the altitude that ranges from just 500 m to a lofty 4,500 m.

Author bio: Sujain Thomas is a well-known traveler and loves to travel around world. She travels frequently across the world and has visited almost all the tiger resorts in India.

My First Meal in Russia

How easily are you able to recall your first “something?”  Don’t let your imagination run too freely there…you know what, I’m just going to skip ahead and say that the focus of today’s post is food.

I wish I could remember my first meal for Indonesia, Japan and China, but even though that’s nigh on impossible, at least Puerto Rico’s comes through.

And…considering that I was there quite recently, my lunch in St. Petersburg, Russia stands out.  (Putting photos in chronological order helps too.)

My hotel wasn’t in the busiest part of town, but nearby there were the expected kebab huts and Georgian restaurants, but I couldn’t yet capitulate to the stuff I already knew and enjoyed.  What is Russian food?  It’s an ongoing discovery.

In any event, the hotel was also near a столовая (stolovaya), or cafeteria/canteen, a good candidate to try something local:

St. Petersburg, Russia, Stolovaya Meal (First Meal)
But how much of it was Russian?  Let’s not delve into semantics right now, but one of the stolovaya workers – after sticking her tongue out at me but before giving me a hard time – mentioned that the borscht, the beet soup in the upper part of the picture, is more Ukrainian than anything else.

I also chose stuffed cabbage with pickles, garlicky carrots with dill, Russia’s favorite herb, and a mysterious beef and onion stew.  The drink is called морс (morse), and it is usually made from berries and sugar syrup.  Another patron at the cafeteria told me that “mors is good for womAn.”  That settles that.

I realized that restaurants in Russia seemed to charge for every little thing, in particular small servings of various sauces.  Supposedly it cuts down on waste, but I couldn’t help but recite to myself “profit margins” after every order of ajika.

Do you think this was an appropriate first meal for Russia?

Moscow’s Quirky Vending Machines

I apologize for the delay, as I just returned from traveling around St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia.  Hint: for those in the US, the visa application isn’t so taxing…if you get someone else to do it for you.

Though (loosely defined) Russian points of interest will make future appearances on BuildingMyBento, most fresh in my memory now is the unexpected amusement found in the form of vending machines at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO).  Here I thought Japan – and Florida? – already had cornered the market on this stuff.

Without further ado, let’s take a gander at a few surprising – and one not so surprising – souvenirs:

Moscow, Russia - Putin T-Shirt Vending Machine

Now you too can own a t-shirt of President Putin wearing shades.  Or a hat.  Or neither.  Not to mention, why isn’t Patriot Box written in Russian too?  Because locals.  Already.  Know.

Moscow, Russia - Contact Lense Vending Machine

A contact lense vending machine.  Stick your eye into that little slot in the lower right…no, that’s not it.  So then, was this purpose-built with one person in mind?  Yeah, if I had my own vending machine in public, it would probably sell pillows.  Or pancakes.

Moscow, Russia - Japanese Vending Machine

This is a neat idea–a vending machine selling only Japanese products.  When I bought a bottle of green tea from this one, it uttered “有り難う御座います” (arigatou gozaimasu/thank you).  Although this was the only photo of the four not taken at Sheremetyevo, that airport did have its own too.

DyDo, I think I’m going to write to you to introduce this concept to NY.

Moscow, Russia - Caviar Vending Machine

Food.  Well, to me at least.  This is what you were expecting to find in Russia, right…a caviar vending machine?

Even with the currently agreeable exchange rate, I still didn’t dive in to a jar of икра (ee-kra).  Guess I’ll have to settle for the fake stuff for now.

Which of these products, if any, appeals most to you?  Seen any vending machines in Moscow that should be added to the list?


“Give Me the Meat Feast, Hold the Meat.”

A long time ago, a friend and I were eating at Denny’s when he told me this anecdote about one of the other restaurant patrons.  He said that the other customer said to the waitress “give me the meat feast, hold the meat.”  Although I wasn’t within earshot for this once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, I unfortunately pay witness to a much less humorous phenomenon: the Manhattan shopper:

Manhattan, New York City, USA - Sushi Raw Fish Sign

How generous of New York City‘s Westside Market to let us know!  It’s in the same vein as a sign in Chinatown declaring “we earn all of our tips.”  On second thought, at least one place there does.

OK, I’ll offer up a short history lesson to sap some of the fun out of this.  Although sushi as we I know it today likely started after vinegar and raw fish were added to rice in Japan in the 1820s, the idea possibly comes from Southeast Asia many centuries ago–the point was originally to preserve food through pickling and fermentation.

So, fellow consumers, which sushi appeals more to you, one with salted fish in plain cooked rice, or the contemporary bastardized versions with deluges of mayonnaise, raw beef and this nasty stuff?