JAPAN’S PROUD STREET ART

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Throughout all regions of Japan, there exists a wide range of meticulously designed manhole covers. It’s not just their beautiful appearance that is striking, this artform also tells stories about the setting of the local area in which they feature. In this special feature, we introduce 35 carefully selected manhole covers from Hokkaido through to Okinawa. When you next make your way to Japan, why not glancedown at these street level works of art?
1. SAPPORO CITY, HOKKAIDO

Hokkaido
The symbol of Sapporo, the Clock Tower along with the city tree, the lilac, featurealong with imagery of salmon returning to the Toyohira River after maintenance work on the sewer system cleaned up the river.

2. AOMORI CITY, AOMORI PREFECTURE

Aomori
The manholes depict the power and vitality of Japan’s leading fire festival known as the Aomori Nebuta festival, an important intangible cultural asset of the country. This is held every year from August 2nd to 7th.


3. KAMAISHI CITY, IWATE PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
To assist with the rebuilding after the Great East Japan earthquake, the embassy of the Netherlands and copyright management company Dick Bruna Japan cooperated to open Miffy Café Kamaishi in 2015. This café is the main feature on the manhole covers.

4. AKITA CITY, AKITA PREFECTURE

Aomori
This features the motif of Akita Kantou festival, the leading festival of Akita City and one of the three main festivals of the Tohoku region. In the festival, people use their skills and compete by trying to balance lanterns (which are regarded as bags of rice) on their hips and shoulders and praying to Inaho, the God of rice, for a good harvest.


5. HIGASHI MATSUSHIMA CITY, MIYAGI PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The design features the city’s characters ‘Ito-kun’ and ‘Iina-chan’ surrounded by cherry blossom petals. The heart-shaped characters’ ears are there to express “a city where hearts meet” along with the desire for the city to have a nature-rich future.To assist with the rebuilding after the Great East Japan earthquake, the embassy of the Netherlands and copyright management company Dick Bruna Japan cooperated to open Miffy Café Kamaishi in 2015. This café is the main feature on the manhole covers.

6. TENDO CITY, YAMAGATA PREFECTURE

Aomori
The crest of Tendo City is arranged in the centre and drawn around it is the city’s tree, a “momiji” (maple) and a shogi chess piece. The majority of Shogi pieces produced in Japan come from Tendo City.


7. FUKUSHIMA CITY, FUKUSHIMA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The design features the Fukushima Waraji festival which takes place every year in August. The origin of the festival dates back to ancient times where people prayed for those who were on the road travelling and offered a large piece of straw to the shrine. In the festival, up to 100 men carry the straw which has a length of 12m, a thickness of 1.4 metres and weighs approximately 2 tonnes.

8. UTSUNOMIYA CITY, TOCHIGI PREFECTURE

Aomori
The manhole cover commemorates 50 years since the start of the city’s treated water system. The Utsunomiya City water department mascot character ‘Waterworks’ features in the centre while the background is decorated with a design of the city’s Icho tree (gingko biloba). Surrounding this are
illustrations of some of the other famous products of the city which include gyoza, cocktails, jazz music and bicycles.


9. GUNMA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
In the background are 3 mountains of Gumna – Mt Akagi, Mt Haruna and Mt Myogi along with a figure of an ‘Ayu’ fish swimming in the Tone river. Around this, the cover is also decorated with an azalea flower, a Yamadori bird a black pine tree which are all symbols of the prefecture.

10. SAITAMA PREFECTURE

Aomori
The manhole depicts an image of the ‘Jumping Silver Carp’ which can be seen in the Tone River that flows through Saitama Prefecture. This freshwater variety of carp swims upstream in the river between May and July to lay its eggs. In Kuki city in the northeastern part of the prefecture, you can see dozens of fish doing incredible jumps simultaneously.


11. CHIBA CITY, CHIBA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The Chiba City logo is positioned in the middle and is surrounded by a large expanse of water and ripples along with the city tree, a zelkova and the city bird, a little tern. Arranged along the border is the city flower ‘ogahasu’ or large chestnut lotus, which is also a designated national treasure of Chiba Prefecture.

12. YOKOHAMA CITY, KANAGAWA PREFECTURE

Aomori
The design was decided by a vote from the city’s inhabitants and the first manhole was installed in October 1997. The central image is the symbol of Yokohama, the ‘Bay Bridge’ and around this, the design features the steering wheel of a ship which represents the harbour and the future.


13. NIIGATA CITY, NIIGATA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The manhole cover commemorates the 40th anniversary of the city’s treated water works. The symbol of Niigata City, the Bandai Bridge, is the main
image and the area where the upper and lower parts of the bridge intersect feature the initial ‘N’ from the city’s name.

14. KAHOKU CITY, ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE

Aomori
The manhole cover features Kohoku City’s mascot character ‘Nyantarou’. Kohoku’s leading philosopher, the great Kitarou Nishida, was a cat lover and the city’s sister city, Messkirch in Germany, also has a festival where cats are used. With these two factors in mind, the cat character of Nyantarou as born.


15. KATSUYAMA CITY, FUKUI PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
Katsuyama City is known for producing the most dinosaur fossils in Japan and many scientifically important fossils have been discovered to date. The manhole design features the first fully reconstructed skeleton of the carnivorous dinosaur, the Fukui Raptor.

16. IIYAMA CITY, NAGANO CITY

Aomori
Iiyama City in Nagano Prefecture, the birthplace of skiing, is an area with some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan. The manholes feature an image
of children enjoying the days of skiing in the area on single skis along with a beech, the city tree.


17. NAKATSUGAWA CITY, GIFU PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The motif is based on a ‘refined dance’ performed in the ‘Oiden festival’ which takes place every year on August 13th in Nakatsugawa City. The dance has its origins in praying for a good harvest or bountiful rain.

18. NAGOYA CITY, AICHI PREFECTURE

Aomori
The manhole covers were created in 2012 to commemorate 100 years since the startof Nagoya’s public waste water system. The motif in the design is based on the ‘Naya bridge’ which crosses the Horikawa, the river which flows through the middle of downtown Nagoya.


19. IGA CITY, MIE PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
Iga City is the birthplace of the Iga ninja. The manhole covers were created in order to spread the appeal of the Iga ninjas and feature three of them which are decorated with the city’s flower, the ‘sasayuri’, the city’s tree, the red pine and a pheasant, the city bird.

20. KUSATSU CITY, SHIGA PREFECTURE

Aomori
An extraordinary Ukiyo-e artist, Hiroshige Utagawa’s ‘Inside the 53rd stage of the inland sea road in Kusatsu’ work has been replicated on the manhole covers. It depicts the view of crossing the Kusatsu River as seen from the Edo side (the east side) in the late Edo period.


21. YAMATOKORIYAMA CITY, NARA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The image of a goldfish swimming vigorously in a gold fish bowl has been depicted as gold fish cultivation represents the main industry of Yamatokoriyama City. The design on these manholes has been used since 1989 to symbolise the beauty of the water environment.

22. KYOTO PREFECTURE

Aomori
’Amanohashidate’ or ‘bridge in heaven’ is depicted. It is a special scenic spot and one of Japan’s three most famous views. Located in the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture, around 2 million people a year visit this area for sightseeing. The design also incorporates Kyoto’s famous bird ‘omizunagidori’ or ‘streaked shearwater’ along with the prefecture’s logo.


23. OSAKA CITY, OSAKA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The design incorporates Osaka Castle, the cherry blossom which is the city’s flower and the flow of water. The model for the city’s current underground water system is based on the development of Osaka Castle as well as the surrounding castle town by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

24. WAKAYAMA CITY, WAKAYAMA PREFECTURE

Aomori
The design on the manhole covers is based on the traditional craft of ‘kishu temari’ (woven hand balls). In the Edo period, it is said these balls were created so that the castle women could compete against one another in terms of their design and were especially loved by the princesses of Wakayama Castle.


25. TOTTORI CITY, TOTTORI PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The design features the umbrellas used in the Tottori ‘Shan Shan’ festival, Japan’s leading umbrella dance festival held in frontof Tottori train station every year in the middle of August. In the festival, over 4,000 dancers with bells attached to their umbrellas dance together simultaneously.

26. OKAYAMA CITY, OKAYAMA PREFECTURE

Aomori
The manhole cover design is based on one of Japan’s most well-known fairytales, Momotaro. Okayama City is where the story and legend of
Momotaro was born and to locals, it still exists today as a symbol of the city.


27. YAMAGUCHICITY, YAMAGUCHI PREFECTUREI CITY, TOTTORI PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The manhole cover design features the SL ‘Yamaguchi route’. In August 1979, the Japanese state-owned railway (the current JR group) in a country first, brought the decommissioned steam locomotive on the Yamaguchi line back to life. The background is decorated with Yamaguchi City’s designated national treasure, the ogoori cherry blossom.

28. NARUTO CITY, TOKUSHIMA PREFECTURE

Aomori
In the upper area of the design, the Onaruto Bridge connecting Naruto
City in Shikoku and Awaji Island is depicted, and in the lower area, a picture proudly showing the Naruto whirlpools, the largest in the world, along with the Naruto strait which ships regularly pass through. The centre is decorated with the local region’s speciality, the nashi pear and next to that, a Naruto tai (sea beam) which is well known as being of very high quality.


29. TAKAMATSU CITY, KAGAWA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
In the battle of Yashima, one of the Genpei battles that occurred towards the end of the Heian period, a samurai on the Genji clan side brilliantly shot through a fan which had been raised on a ship belonging to the Taira clan. This ‘fanbullseye’, which is a famous scene in ‘Heike Monogatari’ (the tale of Heike), is depicted on the manhole covers.

30. MATSUYAMA CITY, EHIME PREFECTURE

Aomori
Loved by the people of Matsuyama City since ancient times, the city flower ‘tsubaki’ was chosen as the design. The flower is decorated on the periphery with an Iyo Kasuri bell pattern, one of Japan’s big three dyed fabric designs.


31. KOCHI CITY, KOCHI PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
The design features waves from the Pacfic Ocean’s Kurishio current, which flows off the coast of Kochi, along with migrating whales in Tosa Bay. The Nitari variety of whale, which has the highest chance of being seen, is also depicted.

32. KURUME CITY, FUKUOKA PREFECTURE

Aomori
These manholes have been designed to show the Chikugo River, which flows from east to west through the city and is the longest in Kyushu, the wide expanses of the surrounding Tsukushi plain, the Minou mountain range in the south eastern part of the city, andthe Kurume Azalea, the city flower.


33. KOHOKU TOWN, SAGA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
Kohoku town’s image character is ‘Bikki’. ‘Bikki’ is the word for frog in the local Saga dialect and it has been given a belly button to symbolise the town’s location in the geographic centre of Saga along with it being a key transport hub.

34. NAGASAKI CITY, NAGASAKI PREFECTURE

Aomori
The Nagasaki manhole were designed to commemorate 100 years of the municipality and feature a motif of a hydrangea, the city flower. The Nagasaki Hydrangea festival is held every year from the end of May where the beginning of June and over 4,000 flowers adorn various parts of the city.


35. CHATAN TOWN, OKINAWA PREFECTURE

Hokkaido
Chatan’s first colour manhole was installed in January 2018. The town’s flower ‘Firishinka’ is depicted dancing while the town’s character ‘Chiitan’ is surfing.


■MANHOLE CARDS, THE MANHOLE COVER MOVEMENT SPREADING ACROSS JAPAN

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Throughout the country, the multitude of manhole cover designs is finding increasing appeal and the movement is gaining more attention by way of coverage in the press. ‘Manhole cards’ were created to be collected and as a wastewater PR mechanism in the form of a brochure. Volume one was first distributed in April 2016 and as of August 11th, 2018 when the 8th volume was published, there have been 418 different varieties from 364 local city councils. As of September 2018, around 2.3 million cards have been issued.

Manhole cards are produced and issued by an organisation known as the “Waste Water Public Relationship Platform” (GKP) in cooperation with local governments. In conjunction with the private sector, education and research institutes,plus government agencies, activities are being developed to communicate the value of waste water with the goal of increasing the public’s understanding of it and boosting its overall presence. Until manhole cards were issued, there were many negative images regarding wastewater and it was commonly referred to as being ‘dirty’, ‘smelly’, and ‘unsanitary’. In order to change this imagery, the GKP came up with the idea of making these cards to deepen local residents’ understanding of waste water due to the fact that manhole covers are the public’s only familiar connection to these facilities.

Cards are all made using the same standard and no matter where you go across the country, you can obtain cards of a similar size and paper quality. The cards are distributed in waste water offices, tourist information centres and the counters of local ward offices in all municipalities where manholes covers have been installed. Cards are distributed free of charge, but as personal delivery of each card is the overriding principle, it’s necessary to make your way to one of the distribution points in order to collect the cards.

Regarding the details of the card, the front of the card features a photo of the manhole, the coordinates of where the manhole has been installed and a pictogram design classification while on the back, the origin of the design is written. In addition, the classifications of city blocks, prefectures and pictograms have been devised with a serial number and written down. The reason behind including these features was to emphasise everything from a collector’s viewpoint. The cards have been designed so that collectors can collect them based on their own favourite designs and regions with the aim of making the whole process fun. Of course the manhole covers introduced on the cards are all in working use so it’s not only about collecting the cards; there are many enthusiastic collectors who like to visit their actual locations.

Light is starting to shine on these local manhole covers as shown through the increasing appeal of manhole cards. If you’re interested in Japanese manhole covers, why not try starting a collection?