A new kind of tourism, nicknamed ‘drainspotting’, has taken off in Japan. Travellers attempt to see as many of Tokyo’s 6000-plus different manhole-cover designs as possible, taking photos as they go. It could turn into the Pokemon of our times.
Manhole covers are a big deal in Japan. Very few are alike. Designs are often decided with public participation, or through competitions among manufacturers of manhole covers. The covers feature symbols specific to an area or town, or yuru kyara (local mascots). Flowers and animals often adorn the cast iron or steel covers.
GKP – a consortium of local government agencies and the sewage department of Japan’s Infrastructure Ministry – has partnered with a toy company to produce a collectors’ set of decorative manhole cover cards, the Japan Times reports. Pictures of manhole covers appear on one side of the business-sized cards, while explanations of their designs – and exactly where to find the drains that hold them – appear on the reverse.
A “manhole summit” has been held in Tokyo, with the first batch of collectors’ cards given away free to travellers agreeing to visit a sewage plant or a water treatment facility. GKP is planning a second batch of cards for release in July, with more to come if interest warrants it.
An entire art exhibition devoted to manhole covers was held recently at the Ohira Furusato Art Museum in Kurokawa. Some of the world’s foremost authorities on manhole covers were in attendance, discussing their passion enthusiastically in Japanese.
Written by Peter Needham