In this photo series, we take a look at some of the Kawaii (cute in Japanese) manhole covers


I’m sure I got some pretty weird stares on the sidewalks of Japan. After all, I spent quite some time staring down at my camera focussed at my feet in the middle of the busy sidewalk. Well, I was enamored by the most unusually weird manhole covers. Yes, you heard me right – manhole covers!!

Japan was fast becoming industrialized in the decades following the War. And in the 1980’s, along with the rapid urbanization, underground sewers spread over the country. These public works projects met with some resistance until one high ranking bureaucrat came up with a novel solution: customized manhole covers!!!

The idea was to make the manhole covers more visible and aesthetically pleasing and so raise awareness about the then fledgling projects. As the craze spread, municipalities were soon competing with each other to see who could come up with the best designs. Today, by some counts there are over 6000+ unique manhole cover designs in Japan. A lot of them are documented in the superb collection on flickr by S.Morita and have even gone on to inspire a coffee table book or two.

Here are some of the manhole covers I spotted on the streets of Japan.


The first manhole I spotted on Tokyo showed this emblematic flower
The first manhole I spotted on Tokyo showed this emblematic flower
A slightly larger one had a little dash of color
A slightly larger one had a little dash of color
Somehow I missed this more colorful one depicting firefighters (James Byrum/Flickr)
Somehow I missed this more colorful one depicting firefighters (James Byrum/Flickr)
Manholes I saw in Kyoto were largely plain. But they sure had an interesting Shuriken motif
Manholes I saw in Kyoto were largely plain. But they sure had an interesting Shuriken motif
While not exactly a manhole, I did like this cute little utility duct (??)
While not exactly a manhole, I did like this cute little utility duct (??)
Arashiyma was awash with the maple leaf motif
Arashiyma was awash with the maple leaf motif
I found this unusual square shaped "manhole" on the streets of Gion
I found this unusual square shaped “manhole” on the streets of Gion
Naoshima also had a flower motif
Naoshima also had a flower motif
HImeji impressed from the get go. Here the manhole is designed to match the sidewalk
HImeji impressed from the get go. Here the manhole is designed to match the sidewalk
And there were plenty of White Herons flying on the sidewalks in Himeji
And there were plenty of White Herons flying on the sidewalks in Himeji
The White Herons of Himeji only got more colorful, like little pieces of artwork
The White Herons of Himeji only got more colorful, like little pieces of artwork
Osaka had this brilliant manhole cover that brings a fair bit of sparkle to the sidewalk (Travis King/flickr)
Osaka had this brilliant manhole cover that brings a fair bit of sparkle to the sidewalk (Travis King/flickr)
Hakone had this take on the fire engine (Rachel Clarke/https://www.flickr.com/photos/rachelc/10167858506/)
Hakone had this take on the fire engine (Rachel Clarke/flickr)
Fukushima also chipped in with this take on the fire engine (Ville Misaki/flickr)
Fukushima also chipped in with this take on the fire engine (Ville Misaki/flickr)
And finally some flowers from Kumamoto City (jpellgen/flickr)
And finally some flowers from Kumamoto City (jpellgen/flickr)

 

The Magical Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama
Hunting for the Higonokami in Kyoto

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