If you’ve ever been to Japan, there’s no way you could have missed them.
I’m talking about the most beautiful manhole covers in the whole wide world!
It’s certainly no exaggeration to claim that Japanese manhole covers are true pieces of art.
You’ll easily notice that every single town has their own design.
And – as typical for Japan – it’s featuring something the city is famous for.
How Japanese manhole covers came to life
In fact, this all goes back to a single officer of the construction ministry.
In the 1980s, he suggested that each municipality should be allowed to design their own manhole covers.
At first sight, this might sound nice and considerate.
However, at that time Japan planned to standardize their sewer system.
As this was a costly project, they expected quite the resistance.
With this great idea, they probably wanted to make it “easier” for citizens to accept high taxes concerning sewage projects.
Luckily for us tourists, the municipalities happily accepted this suggestion and soon a crazy competition among them started for the best design.
Nowadays, there’s even a “Japan Society of Manhole Covers”.
While the website seems very old-fashioned you can see newly added manhole cover designs.
It’s easy to navigate and fun to browse through all the photos!
Although I’ve been to all 47 prefectures and have seen a few hundred designs, they feature them ALL!!
By “all” I mean thousands of different designs (and it’s constantly growing).
Osaka City alone had almost 20.000 manhole covers, roughly 1900 of them colored ones in 2015.
While I personally like the ones best that feature the most famous sightseeing spots of a city (such as castles), the most popular designs seem to be nature-related (trees, flowers, landscapes and also birds).
The majority also has the city / region / ward name displayed on the cover, some even in English.
Bye the way, the ones featured in this post are called “design manhole” (デザインマンホール). The manhole covers with color are simply named “color manhole” (カラーマンホール).
Interesting information for you collectors out there: In 2016 “manhole cover cards” have been released.
So far there have been three batches, already adding up to over a hundred different cards.
You can obtain them at the local offices (役所) for free!
If you still can’t get enough, there’s also a yearly Japanese manhole cover summit.
A small assortment of my own photo collection of Japanese manhole covers
The following is just a small selection of the many Japanese manhole covers I’ve come across so far. It was so hard to choose just a few. Enjoy!~
Yes, there are manhole covers that even feature anime characters.
In this case you can find Conan and other Gosho Aoyama characters in Hokuei Town, Tottori Prefecture.
This one I found in Ishinomaki which was devastated by the tsunami and earthquake in 2011.
You can even see a crack in the street on this photo. I went there a year after the big quake.
Needless to say that a lot of manhole covers in Shizuoka are featuring Mt. Fuji.
This is probably one of my all-time favorites featuring Osaka Castle.
This one is from Tennouji Ward.
Matsumoto is not only famous for its beautiful castle, but also for temari.
(*No, I’m not talking about a Naruto character.)
Even the ones without colors are lovely, like this one of Ise (Mie Prefecture).
Uwajima (Ehime Prefecture) is featuring the “ushi-oni” (bull demon), of course.
Amanohashidate – “the bridge to heaven” – is one of Japan’s Top 3 Scenic Views. Needless to say that it’s also featured on the local manhole cover.
Please don’t assume that only bigger cities or touristy regions have their own manhole designs.
Even the ones in more rural towns are quite lovely like this one in Aioi City, Hyogo Prefecture.
It’s featuring the dragon boat races that are held there every May.
Yamaguchi Prefecture is famous for fugu (blowfish). No wonder that Shimonoseki’s manhole cover is displaying it.
Tsuyama Castle in Tottori Prefecture might not be well-known to most tourists.
However, it’s one of the BEST cherry blossom spots in spring in the Chugoku region of Japan.
Another one I quite like is the manhole cover of Izushi City in Hyogo Prefecture.
Sometimes there are even messages like here: “Let’s all create a pleasant Matsuyama”
Although this one is not colored, it’s another of my favorites featuring Akashi Castle in Hyogo Prefecture.
Otsu City in Shiga is maybe trying a bit too hard to put everything there is to see onto one small manhole cover.
I know, I know … I’m probably posting too many castle related photos again.
However, as I’ve been to over 100 castles, it’s no surprise that I’ve also collected a lot of manhole covers featuring castles.
Here you see Nakatsu Castle in Oita Prefecture (Kyushu).
Nobody said that manhole covers need to be round, although most of them are.
This square-shaped one of Mt. Fuji is located in Fuji Yoshida. That’s also where you find the lovely red pagoda you’ve probably seen on a million photos already.
What’s your favorite design?
Now, tell me what your favorite Japanese manhole cover is – and why!
Feel free to also share a photo of it. ^__^
I’m looking forward to your comments.