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Drainspotting – Japan’s different kind of street art

Written by 8 April 2014 10 Comments

It’s no surprise to me the streets of Japan are paved with cute… And here’s the categorical proof. The past few years have seen Japanese photographer S. Morita collecting a rather unusual set of arty images – manhole covers. Yes, strange as it may seem, I have fallen in love with the manhole covers of Japan. Now before you roll your eyes and check to see if I’m writing this after gin o’clock, suspend your disbelief and take a little look-see…


Japanese municipalities have quite clearly torn up the rulebook of manhole cover design to produce an array of quite lovely artwork with beautifully colourful patterns and intricately carved designs showing off their own unique identity and creativity.


The manhole covers showcase designs from delicate cherry blossoms and traditional pagodas to elaborate cityscapes and iconic architecture. Natural emblems such as Mount Fuji pop up along with happy-go-lucky fruits with faces, smiling and holding hands. Wrought from metal instead of those dreary old European, concrete manhole covers (what were we thinking?!) and painted delightfully, Japan effectively demonstrates how even the simplest of objects can become a work of art.



manholes 9

This fabulous tradition is said to have begun in the 80s when the country needed some swift dollar to continue with a revamp of its sewage system. Some bright spark had the idea that if the taxpayers felt pride in their manhole covers, they would be more accepting and enthusiastic in backing the project. Well, I’m betting someone got more than a few municipality brownie points as the idea certainly caught on with more than 6000 of these arty covers currently out there on the streets and the start up of the Japanese Society of Manhole Covers – yes, that really is a thing.




With different regions in competition to produce the most stylish covers, it looks like this is a trend that will run for a while. Who would have thought that some of the coolest art in Japan might not only be right under your nose but under your feet?


Follow S. Morito’s footsteps via Flickr.

All images by S. Morito. Images 1,3&4 via www.twistedsifter.com; Images 2,5&9 www.thisiscolossal.com; Images 6,7&8 www.123inspiration.com 

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  • Cheyenne said:

    This is amazing!

  • Cheyenne said:

    This is amazing!

  • duaba said:

    This is so cute! Japan really creates the coolest and cutest stuff!

  • caroline [the diy nurse] said:

    I love it!!! I’ve been slowly falling in love with Japan from afar and it’s just creeping up my list more and more.

    Reminds me- when I was in Philly getting lunch I saw a gorgeously painted garbage truck on the street. I mean, beautiful. You can see a few here although I couldnt find the one I saw- but what a brilliant idea!


  • Michelle @PermanentDaydream.com said:

    SO COOL! Wow I had no idea Japan did this, and such a great idea. Turn something ordinary into street art. These ones are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Alex Saint said:

    Who would have thought we’d be getting excited about drain covers and garbage trucks? The power of art, haha :)

  • Céline said:

    This is SO cool, I love it… I wish we had the same in Paris, it would make grey days a bit happier!
    Thanks for sharing, it’s exactly for that kind of unusual posts that I love travelettes website :)

  • Michelle said:

    nice! Wish we did that in the states. Some drains covers are better than others. St. Pete Florida has several with flamingos or pelicans on them but they’re not painted like these in Japan.

  • Marcello Arrambide said:

    Those look incredible! I’ve heard so many great things about Japan but this caught me off-guard :-D

  • Anu said:

    Wow, art can find itself a place – and make people stop to look.

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