Friday, June 3, 2016

Add fun to a vacation in Japan - look for beautiful manhole covers

These manhole covers in Himeji City feature cranes/egrets in flight.

In our first vacation in the western part of Japan recently, we found something novel that added more fun to our tour of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites there:  looking for manhole covers!

Saijo City: sake brewery chimneys.
The fun came in the discovery that each city we visited had distinctive manhole covers. These have artful images that convey the spirit of a city to the walking tourist. They detract from the fact that they cover entries to the city's underbelly comprising sewage tunnels, water pipes, networks of telephone and power cables.

Our first find was in Saijo City in the Hiroshima Prefecture. While we were listening to our kimono-dressed English-speaking lady guide to one of the city's iconic sake breweries, we passed by this beautiful manhole cover.  We later learned that this cover can only be found on the city's Sakagura-dori street.

It features the typical red-brick brewery chimneys and familiar shapes of sake containers in color. Saijo is considered the 'City of Sake' of Japan.  Some of the finest brands are made here, one of which has been nicknamed 'Obama sake' because the American president enjoyed it.

Symbolic flowers of Matsuyama City.
The colorful manhole cover of Matsuyama in the Ehime Prefecture bears the city's symbol: camellia flowers in white and red. We found this while we were walking to the Dogo Onsen Honsan, a wooden public bathhouse that dates back to 1894 during the Meiji period. The waters are from Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest and most famous hot springs of the country.

Egrets are the theme of the round and rectangular manhole covers of Himeji City in the Hyogo Prefecture. We walked past them on our way to the fully restored Himeji Castle, a wooden national treasure with a 600-year history.  Its Main Keep, painted in white, appears to have five stories. It resembles a bird about to fly. The castle is also known as Hakuro-jo ('White Egret') or Shirasagi-jo ('White Heron') castle.

Deer is the symbol of Nara.
A deer occupies a prominent place in the manhole cover of Nara City in the Nara Prefecture. The deer is the symbol of the city. Hundreds of deer roam around Nara Park, and visitors are cautioned to take care of paper and food they carry on their way to the heritage shrines and temples there:  a deer may suddenly grab them to munch.

A visitor to Kobe City in the Osaka Prefecture may likely get a welcome greeting from a manhole cover.  "Welcome to Kobe!," the cover proclaims in English and shows the visitor the modern features of the city: tall building, tower, modes of transport, etc.

We found out that these covers have caught the interest of visitors to Japan. In fact, there's a webpage that features a hundred of them already.  Only one of our six discoveries are in that list: the Matsuyama with the camellia flowers.

A metallic voice of welcome from Kobe City.

There was a time that manhole covers in Manila were stolen because apparently there was a profitable market for metals intended for export to mainland China. We wonder if they were artistic like those of Japan; would they be collector's items in the art world?

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