Whether they’re in plain metal or decorated in bright colors, city manhole covers stand out in Japan’s bustling streets. Personalized with bold yet intricate illustrations that highlight local sights, symbols, and stories, they proudly represent the town where they’re located. Cherry blossoms, castles, bicycle races, local crafts, mountains, bridges birds, fish, anime characters… there are lots of different subjects to spot. Some are designed so that firefighters can find underground hydrants quickly.

ONLY in Japan‘s John Daub has traveled extensively in Japan, filming these manhole covers along the way. In this episode, he shares his finds, and goes on a factory tour of Nagashima Imono Casting Factory where manhole covers are cast and painted.

He also attends the annual Manhole Summit, where ‘manholers’ (manhole enthusiasts) gather to see these works of art up close, participate in activities, and shop for manhoru collectables, including tradable manhole cards that feature the museum-worthy designs. What were once only utilitarian sewer access hole covers are now canvases for art, history, and tradition.

Related exploration: Manhole Cards, Japan’s new collectible card game craze, S Morita’s Japanese manhole cover collection, and on Instagram: #japanesemanholecover.

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Next: How bells are made at the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry and Behind the Signs: A Look at the DOT Sign Shop.

Plus, watch more videos in Japan, including Kintsugi & kintsukuroi – The art of pottery mending with gold, Sampuru – How Japanese fake food is made, and Design Ah! (デザインあ) introduces kids to design concepts.

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