Bureaucrats are not known for creating trends. In Japan, however, a clever public funding move set the ground for uniquely Japanese art. It was here in Japan that a bureaucrat suggested creating designs for manhole covers in an effort to create funding for sewer upgrades. This construction industry minister, Yasutake Kameda, should be remembered as a creative PR strategist. Today, Japanese manhole covers are a source of inspiration and community.
All over the world, cities developed sewer infrastructure and put drab covers over drainage pipes and sewer holes. After WWII, Japan underwent an upgrade to its sewer systems. In order to get up to speed, the government wanted towns to pay for sewers modernization. It was a costly endeavor and officials were tasked with a plan to raise money for the upgrades. Municipalities were happy to pay for decorated manhole covers. Thanks to Mr. Kameda suggestion for decorated sewer covers a unique public art aesthetic took root.
Naha in Okinawa is believed to have the first decorative manhole cover design in 1977. By the 1980s, manhole covers were all the rage. Now, there are approximately 12,000 manhole designs across Japan with nearly 95% of municipalities having their own special manhole cover designs. A dedicated factory manufactures these gorgeous covers. Take a look at this video from Only in Japan for a detailed description of the process. Manhole covers, while elegant, are heavy! Some weigh up to 50kg. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ldrk_KlKsg)
The designs featured on Japanese manhole covers vary greatly based on their location. Many motifs are based on famous cultural sights or by a prefecture’s flora and fauna. Around Mt. Fuji, for example, many cities include vistas of the mountain in the background. Some views Mt. Fuji seen across a bay or behind a train line. Japan’s favorite flower, the cherry blossom, is found on an enormous number of manholes covers. Typical Japanese landscapes, festival scenes, and boats are other common motifs. Contemporary manhole cover designs include anime characters, Hello Kitty, and popular mascots.
In recent years, there is a growing trend to bring the community around a passion for manhole covers. In the Tokyo area, an annual event brings together enthusiasts to walk through streets looking for manhole covers. One enthusiast, Mr. Hidekazu Yamada, created a spectacular deck of manhole cover cards in 2016. Each card in the deck features a specific manhole cover with GPS coordinates. On the back of each card, the history and significance of the cover design are explained. Even fancy Japanese department stores have caught manhole cover enthusiasm. In 2019, Shinjuku’s Takashimaya held an exhibition highlighting some fun designs.
If you missed your chance to pick up manhole cover goods in person, Tokyo Ground has you covered! Do you love geeky out on infrastructure? Are you intrigued by the weight and minutia of sewer holes? There is no better way to share your enthusiasm. Our designs are fun celebrations of this unique art. Whether you are lounging at home with your family or video-conferencing your co-workers, Tokyo Ground Designs will leave an impression. Celebrate your intelligent curiosities with our designs.
Don’t worry if you are not sure of your perfect size. We have a hassle-free 30-day return policy for U.S. orders. You will enjoy explaining your choice of design to those less worldly. Until you can come to stroll some Japanese back alleys, pick which manhole cover style jives with you on Tokyo Ground.com.