Drainspotting: Japan’s Artistic Manhole Covers

There are many things to like about Japan. Anime, temples, samurai and electronics are some of the usual things that come to mind right away. However, there is something that is not so normal that I have been intrigued by about Japan since I first wrote a post about it a couple years ago – that something or should I say “things” are manhole covers and I have found a book all about these covers.

love the hardcover of the book with a textered title


I searched to learn more about these customized but often unseen but functional works of art which led to me do a followup post about a Japanese manhole cover location community – yes an online community dedicating to locating and photographing manhole covers all over Japan. There was even a name for this activity “drainspotting” with drainspotters all over Japan sharing their finds and even foreigners coming from all over the world to experience this cool new activity.

photo of a section of the book showing manhole covers in Shiga prefecture

Drainspotting – Japan’s Artistic Manhole Covers

This new book called Drainspotting – Japan’s Artistic Manhole Covers was done by Remo Comerota that has pictures of various manhole cover designs that can be found all over Japan, information about some of these covers as well as an interview with the president of a Japanese foundry that makes some of these covers. I really like the book, the design of the cover with the textured title but I was somewhat disappointed with the text of the descriptions of the covers as it was hard to read the white text in light coloured backgrounds on some of the pages. Other than that though the pictures are well taken and the kanji characters for the various areas the manhole covers can be found.

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My L nendoroid likes this book too especially the pictures and map

Excerpt from the Book

In Japan, all objects are created with an aesthetic sensibility. Ancient temples were not just built as stand-alone structures, they were designed by taking the contours of a landscape, implementing indigenous aspects of those landscapes, creating a sense that the man-made structure is as natural as the mountains, rivers and trees, Consider the word shinzen, roughly translated into English it means “nature” but a more accurate and telling translation is “absence of presence.” The proliferation of these region-specific manhole covers embodies this notion of shinzen is now the designs range from images that evoke a region’s cultural identity, from flora and fauna to landmarks, local festivals and fanciful images dreamed up by school children. The designs reflect heir environments, very much noticeable but never intrusive.

Pick up a copy of the book on Amazon or other online retailers if you like what you have read about the book. First seen on Wired – official blog for the book can be found here.

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10 thoughts on “Drainspotting: Japan’s Artistic Manhole Covers

  1. I remember seeing another article about this somewhere. It might have been here. I thought it was pretty cool and wondered why other countries aren’t as creative when it comes to public works.

    1. Please if you have the article then please send it to me! I am very interested in it as a collector of manhole pics in Germany….
      I am a little disappoited about the book. It is worth to buy, but more because of the modern layout etc. and fresh art of photographic and layout and not the informaton…Also it looks for too dark! Too much BLACK!

  2. Yes, i bought this book just before, and the extra iPad Apps…
    Ok, its fresh and modern designed…nice to have a look on t.
    But: some points are for Drainspotting lovers not good!
    The txt on black background is extremly bad to read, also too small….
    Many pics are nice graphic, but so many manhole covers are cropped and from the photographic view “modern” and “lifestylish”, but these who want to see the the design the pics are disappointingly.
    I miss a detailed and good commented part about the designing and production process. The pics are dark and shows not clear…..Sorry!
    Good is the idea to show on a map where the prefectures are…but too lay it over gteat pics…? It destroys the pic…
    Summery: not bad, but I wish a more clear and informativ book about the manholes.
    In a Flickr group there was , if i remember well, once a “proposal” design about this subject in a better way – and the manhole pic fan is better informed when he joins to the Flickr japanese manhole covers group.

    1. First of all Gerd – you are 68 – 70 years old – this book is made for the young modern japanophiles that are all over the world today – and you said it yourself – if you want to see the whole design – go on flickr and check it out. There are 1000s of fotos there just like that. We wanted something different and it is our chooice to do that. DRAINSPOTTING won BEST art book and Photo book at New York Book Festival – so you are wrong and the only person who does not like the fresh modern layout.
      Im sorry to be rude, but if you actually made a book yourself – you would know how hard it is and would kind of decisions have to get made. Do u have any book?

      Thanks for ur lengthy description.

  3. Ah! This is so cool! :D I’m pretty sure if we had that over here, I would be distracted when I drive haha. I think I might just go around and paint manhole covers now…such a cool idea!
    Thanks for the post!

  4. And I thought I was weird when I took photos of some nice manhole covers I saw in Ikebukuro. [japan]

    I should make it my mission to look for some nice one on my next trip. That’d be cool! [tongue]

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