Being able to discover beauty in the most unlikely places is one thing I really love about Japan. Hidden alleys, temples and shrines, little gardens in front of houses, juxtaposition of tradition and modern structures. Something that immediately caught my eye on my first trip to Japan were the colorful manhole covers with different designs for each city.
I snapped a pictures then and have ever since. And it seems I might not be alone in this, since manhole cover pictures are regularly found on travel blogs from people around the world. And with good reason.
Designed and colorful manhole covers in Japan started back in the 1980s, to promote the work and better the image of the sewage work being done. Every municipality has its own designs, mostly related to something in the area and through the raised design the manhole provides the additional advantage of more grip for car tires when it’s raining.
But a look under the manhole reveals a lot of thought and technology, according to a post of the Japan Times
In many countries manholes are a source of noise pollution, because the covers rattle every time a vehicle moves over them, but that problem has been largely eliminated in Japan. In the ’70s, in response to noise complaints, manufacturers introduced a tapered fit that has pretty much put the lid on rattling.
Japanese manholes also have advanced safety features developed specifically for local conditions. In a heavy, concentrated rainfall, especially on steep terrain, the air and water pressure inside a sewer can increase to the point that manhole covers are blown off and thrown as far as 10 meters. This is a hazard in and of itself, but a manhole left open is also very dangerous, particularly when obscured by raging waters. After two people died because they fell into open manholes during a storm in Kochi City in 1998, manufacturers developed a hinged safety system that holds the cover on while allowing pressure to escape. Once the pressure is off, the cover settles back into place. And just in case the system fails and the cover is blown off, new safety grills inside the opening are designed to prevent anyone from being swept into the open sewer.
As it is with almost anything, taking pictures of manhole covers became a hobby for many people and is known as ‘Drainspotting’ after a book by Remo Camerota (Google Search for ‘Drainspotting’ shows beautiful pictures). There are sites like sewercover, where you can find and submit manhole and sewer covers from all over the world, or the Japan Manhole Cover Community (日本マンホール蓋学会), which also allows submissions and collects manhole covers from all over Japan. They also have overviews for each prefecture, like the one below.
To promote manhole cover designs even more, the GKP (下水道広報プラットホーム Gesuidou Kouhou Platform) launched 30 free cards with manhole cover designs in April 2016. They were so popular, that they reprinted the next month and published another 44 design cards. They are available for free at different locations and I am considering to pay my local sewage museum a visit, to see if they still have some.
Have you seen different manhole covers while in Japan?
Or maybe you have just seen them on the internet and would want to discover them by yourself?
Let me know in the comments.