Sight 2: Drainspotting


I ‘m not sure how many of my readers know this …..but Japan has some beautiful manhole covers! They come in all different shapes and sizes, depending on the utility type and locality.

The sightseeing sometimes took a bit longer when I spotted some interesting metal covers, lots even in colour!


The above photo was taken in Onomichi, Hiroshima prefecture, south western Japan. The flexible strips of bamboo on the poles are spun around by Yakko during the matsuri, or festival, to drive away evil spirits from the rice fields during planting. Historically, they are also known as Matoi, banners used by the firefighters during the Edo period.

The manhole covers often feature symbols specific to an area or very local town where you see them. For example flowers in Tsumago and Osaka:




I saw these when we visited the spa town of Gero. ‘gero’ or ‘geko’ ‘ is the sound a frog makes in Japanese  下呂 Indeed, frogs are actually incorporated into some of the town’s shrines, and even depicted in the pavement and on hydrants and mini  musical statues!


The crane, a symbol of Japan

And landscapes in Himeji (where there is the most spectacular surviving castle, recently renovated, and Nara (famous for its sacred deer):

Apparently the designs date from the 1980s. It was decided to modernise the underground sewer systems and there were protests so to make the covers more attractive a government salaryman had the idea of each village, town or prefecture designing their own.


What do you think is the story behind this one?

Today,  nearly 95% of Japan’s 1,700 municipalities have their own custom-designed manhole covers. They have a huge following worldwide including tribute sites. There is even a Japanese Society of Manhole Covers (日本マンホール蓋学会) with its own website. Take a look!


4 thoughts on “Sight 2: Drainspotting

    1. I haven’t ever pay attention for manhole covers!
      Thanks to you, I notice it!
      And I’m interested in your observation about Gero and flog!!
      Did you look at manhole covers in Nagoya city?
      All they have eight of number in Chinese characters at Nagoya city.
      Did you remember eight in Japanese?
      We usually say Hachi.
      But eight is called Ya too.
      Nago”ya” has Ya.
      So eight is a symbol in Nagoya.
      By the way, manhole of Himeji is shown upside down!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi! What you say is really interesting, especially about Nago’ya’.
        We only saw the station in Nagoya- I went up to the top of the JR Central Tower to see the amazing views…next time I’ll look at the pavement!
        (I’ll try to turn Himeji the right way up!)


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