Japanese Manhole Covers

by Daniel O'Grady


Welcome to Japanese Manhole Covers

Everything I know about the evolution of the manhole covers of Japan can be found on the Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers page over at Amazon.com. Let's face it, who in their spare time (besides Remo Camerota, author of said book) would seek to understand the whys and wherefores of the (admittedly decorative) iron disks that we spend 99% of our time driving over and stepping on?

Manhole covers serve a simple purpose, they keep a lid on things. You know, so us regular folk don't disappear from the surface of the Earth and find ourselves up to our armpits in digested food and feral pokemon. While I stand by these seemingly wild claims, I must make clear that I am no expert. I take photos of manhole covers and I feature them on my website. That's about it.

From what little I know it seems these colorful covers began appearing in the 1980's, seemingly as a deal-sweetener to people believing that a modern, underground effluent delivery system would somehow undermine the very fabric of society. Faced with the dark hole of disharmony, concerned parties were forced to seek common ground. The dust having settled, municipalities were rewarded with a blank cast-iron platter with which to serve their local identity on, doubling as a badge of civic pride. And boy, haven't the cities of Japan gone to town.

Inspiration, it seems, is drawn from anything and everything. Themes range from modern to traditional, from the whimsical to the restrained, from the intricate to the austere. Some, you just stare at and wonder if they even tried at all. Yes, I'm looking at you Fukuoka.

pic of Tosu city's manhole cover So, how does your local cover compare? What does it depict? The local flower? A folk tale? A collection of random shapes?

I'm in two minds over my city's choice for the street-level lids. Tosu (transportation hub of Kyushu), in Saga Prefecture, have paired the Iris with, and as if to pay homage to the streets themselves, a dirty, great multi-laned highway cloverleaf. Mind you, I'm hard-pressed to think of what else they could've gone with. It's still too soon to immortalise the local J1 soccer league newbies. Perhaps, one day though.

So, there you have it, officially sanctioned street-art, Japanese style. Hey, if you consider yourself "into manholes" like I know many of you are, why not contribute to the project to put Japanese manhole-covers on the map. First, get in touch.