Ja­pan’s walk­ing tours of man­hole cov­ers of­fer his­tory at one’s feet

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

MAN­HOLE cov­ers nor­mally are used to stop the un­wary from fall­ing into a sewer, but some Ja­panese mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are util­is­ing them for other pur­poses, such as to pub­li­cise lo­cal spe­cial­ties and char­ac­ters. There are even tours of man­hole cov­ers.

On Septem­ber 10, one such tour was held in Mito, Ja­pan, in which par­tic­i­pants ex­plored city streets by gaz­ing at man­hole cov­ers with de­signs such as Mito Mit­sukuni, pop­u­larly known as Mito Komon, a fa­mous feu­dal lord of the Mito clan, and Mito-chan, a char­ac­ter that uses an im­age of natto, the tra­di­tional fer­mented soy­bean dish, wrapped in straw, a spe­cialty of the city in Ibaraki Pre­fec­ture.

The tour’s par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies from Tokyo and Kana­gawa Pre­fec­ture, also vis­ited the Ibaraki pre­fec­tural govern­ment’s of­fice, where about 40 kinds of lo­cal man­hole cov­ers were on dis­play. An of­fi­cial at the pre­fec­tural govern­ment’s sew­er­age sec­tion said, “[Man­hole cov­ers] pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to learn about the re­gion and at­tract tourists to the city.”

Cards in­tro­duc­ing man­hole cover de­signs across the coun­try have been is­sued twice this year by Toky­obased Ge­suido Koho Plat­form (GKP), an or­gan­i­sa­tion com­pris­ing the Land, In­fra­struc­ture, Trans­port and Tourism Min­istry and other en­ti­ties, with the aim of im­prov­ing the im­age of sew­er­age sys­tems. A to­tal of 74 kinds of cards have been is­sued.

The front of the cards have a photo of a man­hole cover and the latitude and longitude spec­i­fy­ing its lo­ca­tion, while the ori­gin of the de­sign is in­tro­duced on the back.

Af­ter the Okayama city govern­ment pro­duced 2000 cards in April with a man­hole cover de­sign of Mo­mo­taro, a folk tale char­ac­ter from a leg­end re­lated to Okayama, the cards were so popular they sold out by July. As a re­sult, the city govern­ment is­sued an­other 4000 cards.

As many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties hope cards of their man­hole cov­ers will be is­sued, GKP plans to is­sue such cards for the third time in De­cem­ber.

Man­hole cov­ers are made with un­even sur­faces to pre­vent pedes­tri­ans from slip­ping on them. Ac­cord­ing to GKP, man­hole cover de­signs used to be mainly ge­o­met­ri­cal pat­terns. How­ever, since around 1980, these de­signs were grad­u­ally changed to pop­u­larise the char­ac­ter­is­tics of par­tic­u­lar re­gions. With the en­cour­age­ment of the cen­tral govern­ment to im­prove the im­age of sew­er­age sys­tems, about 12,000 kinds of lo­cally de­signed man­hole cov­ers have been pro­duced around the coun­try.

Hideto Ya­mada, a mem­ber of GKP’s plan­ning and man­age­ment com­mit­tee, said, “As the de­signs of Ja­pan’s man­hole cov­ers are unique, they also are at­tract­ing at­ten­tion over­seas.”

Sou­venirs as­so­ci­ated with man­hole cov­ers are also avail­able. Yoko­hama Goods 001, a gen­eral in­cor­po­rated as­so­ci­a­tion that se­lects spe­cial­ties of Yoko­hama, chose a coaster with an im­age of a man­hole cover one-sixth its ac­tual size as an of­fi­cial sou­venir of the city. The coaster costs 800 yen (US$7.78).

At­sumi Mat­suo, head of the as­so­ci­a­tion’s sec­re­tariat, said, “If wa­ter from a glass wets the coaster, the coaster evokes a wet feel­ing as if rain has made it damp.”

The Oji town govern­ment in Nara Pre­fec­ture is giv­ing real man­hole cov­ers as a gift in re­turn for fu­rusato nozei, the so-called home­town tax pay­ment, un­der which res­i­dent tax is re­duced if do­na­tions are made to se­lect mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties by non­res­i­dent donors. Re­cip­i­ent mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties also of­fer lo­cal spe­cial­ties as gifts to donors.

Bear­ing a de­sign of a clock tower, the town sym­bol, Oji’s man­hole cover weighs about 40 kilo­grams (88 pounds). A coloured man­hole cover is pre­sented in re­turn for a do­na­tion of 300,000 yen (about $2940) or more, while a plain man­hole cover is of­fered for a do­na­tion of 200,000 yen to un­der 300,000 yen.

Hidetoshi Ishii, a for­mer em­ployee of the Tokyo met­ro­pol­i­tan govern­ment’s Bureau of Sew­er­age and au­thor of Man­hole Isho ga Arawasu Ni­hon no Bunka to Rek­ishi (Man­hole de­signs show Ja­pan’s cul­ture and his­tory), pub­lished by Min­erva Shobo Co, said man­hole cov­ers are sim­i­lar to tourist in­for­ma­tion boards.

“In some ar­eas, man­hole cov­ers are de­signed to re­late lo­cal leg­ends, as if we are read­ing a story,” Ishii said.

Mayuko Kono, a se­nior re­searcher at JTB Tourism Re­search & Con­sult­ing Co, said, “Vis­it­ing places to look at lo­cal man­hole cov­ers and vis­it­ing noted sites de­picted on the cov­ers is a good idea for get­ting to know the charm of these ar­eas. They pro­vide vis­i­tors with a great op­por­tu­nity to en­joy walk­ing around a town.” – The Ja­pan News

A col­lec­tion of Ja­pan’s dec­o­ra­tive man­hole cov­ers demon­strates the coun­try’s at­ten­tion to de­tail.

Pho­tos: Shutterstock

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