If memory serves, my first unusual encounter with a Japanese person was at Yellowstone National Park in 1995. He came up to my family, asked to take a picture with us, and then proceeded to photograph a garbage bin.
Not sure if there’s a connection between the two, but after visiting Japan, I came to understand why that second photo was so interesting for him. That brief point in time ostensibly inspired me to not only snap photos of famous sights and infamous sights, but also of anything that might be even the slightest bit intriguing.
In Japan, pretty much everything fits that bill:
That’s a sewer/manhole cover (マンホールの蓋 manhōru no futa) in Shimonoseki, Yamanashi prefecture. In 1985, in order to mollify the public’s suspicions about costly public works projects, an official in the construction ministry introduced to cities and towns throughout Japan the idea of ornately decorating their sewer covers. (Link in Japanese) Being the simultaneously weird but cool country that Japan is, artists started coming up with designs that may have best reflected that location. For Shimonoseki, someone chose its most famous export, fugu, the poisonous blowfish.
But is this art? Just kidding…I was looking for a place to fit that keyword in, ’tis all. With that said, let’s take a look at a bunch more examples I came across–
Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture. Not terribly creative, eh? Is that a dust mite in the middle? How difficult would it be to paint it the colors of the Brazilian flag?
Inuyama, Aichi prefecture. Inuyama’s castle is the spotlight on this cover.
The Yokohama Bay Bridge, Kanagawa prefecture. Would be neat to see a picture of a roasting chestnut, 包子 from Yokohama’s Chinatown, or Commodore Matthew Perry instead.
Odawara, Kanagawa prefecture. Try harder. Yes, sewage is art in its own right, but
Dang picture interrupted me! No problem, because this is the other Odawara sewer cover. Looks like a bunch of cultists running on water, and Odawara castle in the background.
The writing refers to the 400th anniversary of the reconstruction of Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka, Shizuoka prefecture by the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Numazu, Shizuoka prefecture. I stopped here because I read that it was known for fresh shirasu (baby anchovies), as opposed to the usual dried version. Ha, and you thought it was to see Mt. Fuji, which is what you see on this manhole cover.
Chitose, Ishikari subprefecture, Hokkaido prefecture. One of those fish is supposed to be a sockeye salmon.
Chitose is also the home of Sapporo’s primary airport. How Ryanair of them.
Sapporo, Ishikari subprefecture, Hokkaido prefecture. The underwhelming Sapporo Clock Tower, the city’s de facto symbol – as opposed to sea lion-in-a-can – joins in the sewer cover fun.
Otaru, Shiribeshi subprefecture, Hokkaido prefecture. Those are otters. Sound similar?
By the way, good seafood.
By the way, I haven’t tried otter yet.
Kobe, Hyōgo prefecture. Upon first glance, I thought that was a tattooed seagull. In fact, those are mountains with an anchor and the Kobe city logo.
Okayama, Okayama prefecture. Momotaro, the child who descended upon earth in a giant white peach, salutes all
waste visitors to this laid-back city.
Did you notice these unusual additions when you visited Japan? Do they make you want to visit Japan? If so, be sure to tell immigration, and they’ll in turn be sure to give you the side eye.