Oh, Japan, you weird, endlessly fascinating archipelago. In one moment, you’re on top of the world, donating memorable antagonists to such movies as Gung Ho, and snapping up coal mines in such regions as Manchuria. 万歳 (ばんざい・🙌), banzai!
Next, however, you’re introducing to angsty hobbyists sewer cover trading cards.
In April 2016, the 下水報道プラットホーム, or Sewer PR Platform, decided to capitalize on Japan’s increasingly popular マンホールの蓋/ふた, or manhole cover designs, and introduced the first set of limited edition trading cards. Although April Fool’s Day is not Japanese holiday – nor is it a holiday in any country, for that matter – the first edition was issued on April 1st. There’s got to be a joke somewhere in there.
Roughly every quarter since then, a new batch has been introduced, showcasing manhole cover art from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. To get them, it might be as simple as going to a visitor information center next to a train station, or more awkwardly by paying a visit to a city/town hall or sewage treatment information center. Whatever it is, the cards are free, and you’re limited to one per visit. As far as I know, English versions of the cards also exist.
I can’t attest to whether these trading cards have taken the country by storm, but I can sheepishly mention that one who has turned their collection into a hobby is called a manholer. Well, if this idea ever spreads east across the Pacific, I can assure you that the first city to be dazzled by the cards rhymes with Dan Cransisco.
Having first noticed these sewer covers a number of years back, I just wish that these were printed way back then, if for no other reason than to learn the background story to the designs. The front of a card shows a colorized manhole cover and city coordinates (and some type of manhole card collection legend in the lower right), and the back, a description of the art, as well as when the design was first executed:
After checking the invaluable Sewer PR Platform website, I decided to check out one of these sewer cards with my own eyes, this time in Fukui, the prefectural capital of Fukui…prefecture.
Although it’s best known for dinosaur fossils, according to the above, with Fukui suffering from the calamities of earthquakes and air raids, the city government adopted the 不死鳥 (ふしちょう・fushichou), or phoenix, as its symbol, and as the design on its manhole covers. Though plenty of other Japanese cities could join Fukui in choosing the phoenix for the same reasons, the backgrounder goes on to note that the phoenix was selected in 1989, to celebrate the centennial of the establishment of Fukui as a city. Huzzah!
If you’re a Japanophile and keen to learn more about its history and pop culture, you’ll probably want to grab a couple of these manhole cards…or, you could do simply as a secondary source of vending machine income.