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An unusual collection craze in Japan – manhole cards

By Floro Mercene

WHILE you are walking in cities and towns in Japan enjoying beautiful scenery in the distance, do not forget to look down. Japanese manhole covers have become well known and much shared online for their often colorful and elaborate design.

Cities are given the opportunity to decorate their manholes and display their local pride, featuring its history, folklore, landmarks, or local mascot, special handicraft, etc. in a variety of designs. For example, in Osaka, their manhole cover has an image of Osaka Castle and cherry blossom, the city flower; Okinawa uses the brightly colored bougainvillea; the port city Yokohama feature the Bay Bridge; World War II battleship, Yamato is used in naval base Kure-city in Hiroshima prefecture. In addition to local landmarks, people, festivals, or flora and fauna are popular.

There are growing numbers of “manhole cover spotters” from around the world. There is even a “Japanese Society of Manhole Covers” in Japan.

In April last year, the “manhole card project” was initiated by the Sewage Publicity Platform group, which is made up of officials from the ministry and the Japan Sewage Works Association. The collectibles, which are 6.3 cm wide by 8.8 cm long and resemble baseball cards, are issued by the local government. The first series of 30 different manhole cards from municipalities in 18 of the nation’s 47 prefectures were released. On the front is a photo of a manhole cover together with its geographic coordinates. An explanation of the background of the design is written on the reverse side. As of October last year, a total of 227 different cards from 46 prefectures have become available. A total of more than 1 million cards have been issued. A collection craze among “manhole cover spotters” even developed a bus tour that allows participants to collect manhole cards.
(To be continued)

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