Saturday, 13 March 2010

Holey Designs

When travelling, we try to absorb as much of our surroundings as possible, looking around to the left, to the right and even up. But how often do we look down? There are exceptions. A friend took his mother to Paris. Whenever he looked over, she was looking down because she was hoping avoid stepping in dog doo. Aren’t you lucky that there is little chance of that happening in Japan? If you do look down here, you may be lucky enough to find a 10K note to pay for a night’s accommodation. (One yen is more likely, though five yen [go-en] is more auspicious due to the play on word on destiny/fate, go-en [ごgo prefix being honorific.]) All jesting aside, if you do not look down occassionally, you will be missing one of the local specialties of the city, town or village you are visiting—manhole covers.

I was first alerted to the distinctive designs on manhole covers in Japan by a friend's mum visiting from overseas. Rarely looking down when walking around town, I had been oblivious to one feature unique to every municipality. (Also, it is probably obvious that I'm still working for a living.) We were walking through the Kitano area of Kobe. At first, I thought she was joking when she told me to wait while she took a photo of one; it was just a manhole covers, after all. Or, so I thought. On closer inspection, I found the design consisted of famous Kobe landmarks, food, and other local symbols and features.

Manhole cover watching has become a worldwide pastime, fondly known as ‘drainspotting’. Some people not only spot them, but like rubbing them, too.

Looking at the Japan Ground Manhole Association web site, we find that of the 1,524 cities in Japan that have manhole cover designs 47% feature flora and 21% fauna. It is safe to say, though, that in all cases, the designs will boast the city’s famous features. They also vary depending on the utility. Kobe is blessed with many manhole cover designs, some of which are featured below. (More will be posted as I find them—some are illusive, ye ken?)

For more information about the history of manhole covers in Japan, read the article on The Japan Times web site.

Tthe Kitano weathercock, Rokko cable car, Kobe Festival fireworks, Kobe Wine, Kobe Tower, seagulls, parfaits, and other motifs.

Okamoto has its own designs.

Some simple designs featuring the Kobe city symbol.

Meriken Park (top left), Kitano weathercock (centre), the port (top right), street lamps seen at Meriken Park (bottom right) and Customs House (bottom left).

Sannomiya cityscape with the mountains in the background and the sea in the foreground. Note the reflection of the name, Kobe, in the water.

The mountains of Rokko.

Kobe Tower, the port, the Port Island Bridge.

Look down occasionally. It would be such a shame to miss these works of art under your feet.

[If you see manhole cover designs not featured here, please send in photos and I'll put it up with full credit.

1 comment:

  1. This is magical!! I knew a number of these, because they had messages that were personal, but all these--they are a wonder. And, really, dog doo is NOT the only reason to look down in Paris--the Arago Medallions are worth a glance:
    Yes--I have seen them all!! Now to see all these in Japan!