Gallery: the humble manhole cover as public art
The Japanese seem to take pride in making everything look the best it possibly can; even the humble manhole cover is an opportunity for some decorative design. Each town or city has its own unique styles, and many are not only intricately moulded but also colourfully painted.
The launch of Marsha and Cee’s Photographing Public Art Challenge seemed to me a great opportunity to share a few images to illustrate what I mean. After all, why shouldn’t something this functional be made to look as attractive as possible?
Apparently in the late 1980s, someone from the Public Sewer department of the Ministry of Construction proposed that each municipality should create a unique manhole cover design. The hope was that this would improve the image of the sewage industry. The idea caught on. Now there are even annual competitions for the best manhole covers between the different municipalities.
In Osaka the first sewage system was constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to serve the castle he built. So it’s not surprising to see that castle featured on this manhole cover design, along with water and the city’s flower, sakura (cherry blossom). I saw both plain and painted versions of this design.
This design also features the castle and in front of it a boat on one of the city’s many canals.
This modern paper crane design commemorates the thousands of paper cranes offered daily by children visiting the Children’s Peace Monument in the Peace Park, in memory of local girl Sadako Sasaki.
This town is famous for its temari balls, embroidered balls made traditionally from kimono silk and used for ball games. The manhole cover’s design is based on these.
Every Japanese city seems to have its own flower symbol. The manhole cover for Takayama features rhododendron flowers, which are symbolic for that city.
The symbol in the centre of this cover is that of the city of Kyoto. I have read that a turtle (a symbol of wisdom and longevity) is usually the main motif on manhole covers here. I’m not sure though whether the one I photographed is supposed to show stylised turtle shell patterns or something completely different!
This manhole cover displays the city symbol of Nikko at its centre which also appears on its flag. The five petals of the flower represent the former five towns and villages that together make up the city. I haven’t been able to find out the significance of the yellow rays pointing out from the centre but it seems likely to me that they represent the sun.
This one has the same sun design but a different centre. This is the design from its previous flag, used 1893-2006. so perhaps this is an older manhole cover? The design was changed when Nikko merged with the city of Imaichi and the districts of Ashio , Fujiwara and Kuriyama to create today’s municipality.
Today there are dedicated Flickr groups for lovers of these covers, someone has written a book about them (‘Drainspotting’ – what else?!) You can buy ornamental copies of them for your home or prints to hang on your wall. And in Japan they are such a big thing that Manhole Cover Summits are held for manhole cover fans, known as ‘manholers’, to gather and share their passion.
I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I do find them both interesting and in many cases attractive; I hope you do too!
I visited Japan in 2013
Very pretty designs and so unusual to see them decorated in that way 🙂
Thank you Martin 🙂
I would never thought … 😊. I bet some of these manhole covers will now have something painted on that represent some or other ‘Olympic’ symbol …
Oh yes, I wonder if they will make special Olympics ones?
My dad used to photograph things like manhole covers and I do too – even though they are not as decorative as the Japanese ones. I seem to remember that the ones in Berlin had the tower on them. and I have seen decorative (lighted at night) things in the street in the Netherlands but I don’t think they were manhole covers.
Now I’m curious about what those things in the Netherlands might have been!
Such lovely and creative way of making those manhole anything but boring
Exactly! Just because something is functional it doesn’t mean it can’t look good too 🙂
Some of those are very beautiful! It’s just not that difficult to add beauty to our world!
That’s very true Lisa – we could all learn from this example 🙂
Manja Mexi Mexcessive
Oh, these are brilliant. I’d have much fun spotting them too. There are some painted ones in a little town of Mengeš in Slovenia as well, the only ones I’ve seen so far.
Thanks 😀 Yes, great fun to spot these as you travel around!
What a brilliant idea! Not sure I’ve seen anything like these during my world travels. And trust the Japanese to come up with it. The castle images are particularly handsome.
Thank you – I’m impressed that I’ve managed to show you something you’d not come across yourself, given how well-travelled you are 😆 Yes, trust the Japanese to make even the mundane look lovely!
They are very decorative manhole covers! On a similar note, our trip to Bratislava sent us on a hunt for some bronze statues located in unusual places, one of them was a man climbing out of the manhole 😁
Ah yes, I think I’ve seen photos of that – it looks rather fun! Thanks as always for visiting 🙂
Sarah, who thought sewage could be so interesting? I love these intricate designs, and how you managed to pull so many of them together in one post is thoroughly amazing. Education is truly fun! Thanks for sharing a bit of manhole and Japanese history. 🙂
So glad you enjoyed these Marsha 🙂 I’ll probably have some more conventional art for you in future weeks but I thought this would be a fun way to kick off the challenge!
Conventional or not works for me, Sarah. You always have a great story attached to whatever you post. 🙂
Oh what fabulous manhole covers. I really like the colored ones, they stand out so well. 😀 😀
Yes, they’re the most striking, but sometimes the plain coloured ones have the most intricate designs 🙂 Thanks so much for visiting so promptly, and for starting this new challenge!