Monday, February 2, 2015

Japanese manhole covers: beauty in the practical and supposedly mundane

Spotted on the road in Kurashiki

Momotaro and friends on a manhole cover in Okayama

Osaka Castle has pride of place on the designs of Osaka manhole covers
I'm not sure when I started doing it but I have pictorial proof that as far back ago as the daytrip I took to Kawagoe in 2011 with a friend of mine who lives in Tokyo, I started noticing and photographing manhole covers in Japan. 
While these may appear strange objects to focus attention on, I'm not the only one to have done so (see here too) -- and considering how nicely decorated they tend to be in the Land of the Rising Sun, I do think checking them out and trying to figure out what is depicted on them are among the little activities that add value on a visit to the country.

To be sure, it seems that every once in a while -- like in Kurashiki -- the authorities can opt for the kawaii (although even then, the image in question appears to serve notice that underneath that particular cover lies water to be used in emergencies by the city's fire department).  But more often than not, the chosen images have cultural associations with the places whose manhole covers they adorn.
For example, the images on Okayama's manhole covers allude to the city staking claims to being the hometown of the legendary Momotaro (AKA Peach Boy) while there's little doubt that the castle that's considered the symbol of Osaka would adorn the tops of manhole covers in Japan's third largest -- but second most important -- city
Collectively, Japan's manhole covers also provide further proof to me that for the Japanese, the devil is frequently in the details -- and more generally, that beauty often can be found in the practical and supposedly mundane.


Goodbye HK, Hello YVR said...

I have the same picture of the manhole cover of Osaka castle back in 2006!

YTSL said...

Hi The Fragrant Harbour --

Wow, you remember that image/picture from close to 10 years ago?! :O

Goodbye HK, Hello YVR said...

Yes! I thought it was nice that they put some artistic effort into the manhole cover and took a picture of it!

YTSL said...

Hi The Fragrant Harbour --

And to think that every town and city has its own manhole cover designs! That's the amazing Japanese for you! ;b

sarah bailey knight said...

Hi ytsl,

I too enjoy the manhole covers in Japan as they not only give a bit of info/history about the area they are in but as you said they can be both fun and beautiful too.

Years ago a friend spent a semester in Budapest where she not only photographed manhole covers but upon returning home made a lovely wall hanging of one of them. She used a solid color fabric and then just used quilting stitches for the design that was on the manhole cover.

YTSL said...

Hi sarah sbk --

I'm happy to learn I'm far from the only person to appreciate the designs of Japanese manhole covers. And wow re your friend being so inspired and creative -- thanks for sharing that story! :b

Bill said...


I really wasn't aware of decorated manhole covers even existing. This is a refreshing form of visual expression for me. Your link to the manhole covers,, is great. These manhole covers are so aesthetically pleasing, they could be put into an art gallery.


YTSL said...

Hi Bill --

Just because something has a mundane, practical use, it doesn't have to look ugly or boring -- as the Japanese have shown! :)