Thursday, 17 March 2016


No compilation dedicated to manhole covers would be complete without reference to Japan, a relative late-comer to the scene but which has more than made up for this by the colourful diversity of its designs. There has been evidence of sewage systems in Japan for some 2,000 years but western systems of sewage engineering were introduced to the major cities in the late 19th century together with manhoru (a Japanese rendering of manhole, like futoboru for football). Early manhole covers used geometric designs similar to those in other countries. In the 1980s there was a drive to extend modern sewage systems to smaller communities but many public works projects were met with resistance until a bureaucrat decided to make these systems aesthetically acceptable by commissioning customised manhole covers. Designs are decided after asking the public for ideas, or through a competition among manufacturers. They differ from area to area, and often feature flowers and animals used as symbols in respective communities, or yuru kyara (local mascots). By 2010 nearly 95% of the 1,780 municipalities in Japan had their own customized manhole covers. In that year was published Drainspotting by Remo Camerota (Mark Batty Publisher, 2010. 96 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0982075470) which "celebrates an array of fascinating manhole cover designs from Japan". Popularity of Japanese manhole cover has grown and there are a number of websites accessed in 2016 with excellent illustrations, for example Amazing manhole covers from Japan or The art of the Japanese manhole.

In March 2016 the Japanese manhole entered the mainstream of popular culture with the issue of as series of collectable cards featuring pictures of manhole covers with unique designs became available in a project to raise interest in the nation’s sewage system led by GKP, a group which includes officials from local governments and the central government ministry’s sewage management department. Developed in cooperation with a toy maker, they will be distributed for free to anyone who wants one at sewage plants and other facilities. Pictures of the manholes will be on one side of the cards, which are roughly business card size, while explanations about their designs will feature on the reverse side. The first batch of manhole cards was unveiled at a “manhole summit,” held by GKP in Tokyo on 19 March 2016.

The following images are taken from Wikimedia Commons and my captions employ the Japanese haiku verse form.


Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Sanjo 2008

In Nishimera
Where the waters flow beneath
Darts a metal sprite


Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Sanjo 2008

Swallows circle flags
On the ground, not up aloft
In Shizuoka


Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Sanjo 2008

Not crushed under foot
Although we trample them
The cherry blossoms


Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Sanjo 2008
A metal flower
Bursts into a steely bloom
On Tokyo's streets


Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Sanjo 2008

Step quickly aside
Let loose the waters' torrent
For fire fighters

Copyright © Ian Maxted and the photographers individually credited
This page last updated St Patrick's day, 2016