Put a Lid on It


Yokosuka City

   As far as I know, Yokosuka City in Kanagawa Prefecture is the only city in Japan that has a manhole design featuring a gaijin. The foreigner in this case is Commodore Matthew Perry, an American naval commander who played a leading role in the opening Japan in the 1850s. The ship depicted in the background is one of the "black ships", or kurobune. These were ships of western origin that started appearing menacingly in Japanese waters in the 19th century. Perry's ships first arrived off the coast of Uraga which is to the south of Yokosuka.

  This is another more common design for Yokosuka's manholes. The star in the center is the city's seal and the flower is the city's official flower, the hamayū (ハマユウ) or Crinum asiaticum (also called Poison Bulb, Grand Crinium Lilium).

   An underground fire hydrant.

   Another fire hydrant. Fairly standard design, this one.

   An air valve, whatever that is.

   Commodore Perry, himself.

   The Japanese Battleship Mikasa.


Tsukumi City

   Tsukumi City (pop. 18,831) is a small city in the southwest of Ôita prefecture. 

   Besides having produced a number of champion high school baseball teams and professional athletes--hence the manhole design--Tsukumi is famous for Ōtomo Sōrin (1530 – June 11, 1587), a Japanese feudal lord of the Ōtomo clan and one of the few lords to convert to Christianity. He met personally with Francis Xavier in 1551 and forged an alliance with the Portuguese that culminated in the Siege of Moji ten years later. Ōtomo was also responsible for sending the first official embassy to Europe, known as the Tenshō Embassy, to have audiences with Pope Gregory XIII (the Pope after whom the Gregorian calendar is named) and European kings. Interesting stuff from an otherwise sleepy port town.


Saiki City

   Saiki City (佐伯市) is a small town with about 77,000 inhabitants located on the eastern coast of Ôita prefecture.

   The city was a jôka-machi or castle town in the Edo Period (1603~1868), the first half of which exoerienced a sudden rise in urban centers built around the castles of the Daimyô, or vassals of the Shôgun. Numbering between 200 and 250 for most of this period, the Daimyô were allowed by the shogunate (幕府, bakufu) to erect one castle in their feudal domain (藩, han). Because of this castles were (but not always) torn down throughout the domain and the samurai class in each han moved to neighborhoods near the castle. Many of these neighborhoods with their old samurai residences, called buke yashiki (武家屋敷), can still be found fairly well-preserved in smaller Japanese towns today. 

   Saiki's manhole cover also features the gate of the former castle. Like many Japanese castles it was torn down (abandoned?) in 1871 in an effort to destroy the vestiges of the old feudal system. (Such a waste!)

   The writing on the manhole says Saiki no haru mazu Shiroyama ni kitari doppo (佐伯の春まず城山に来たり独歩) or roughly translated "Saiki's spring first comes to Shiroyama and walks alone." (Shiroyama is the hill upon which the castle was located.) The sentence comes from the novel Bungo no Kuni, Saiki (豊後の国佐伯).


Ise City

   Ise City (伊勢市is located in eastern Mie Prefecture, on the island of Honshû about two hours to the east of Ôsaka by train. Home to Ise Grand Shrine, the most sacred and famous Shintô shrine in Japan, it is a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims in spite of its not so convenient location.

   Pictured on Ise City' manhole is Okage Mairi. During the Edo Period (1603–1868) it was popular for large groups of pilgrims to travel to Mie and every sixty years millions of pilgrims would decend upon Ise during what was known as the Okage Toshi (Okage Year). Also called nukemairi (抜け参り), servants and children would travel to the shrine without their master's or parent's permission, often having to rely on mendicancy along the way. 

   At the time, the trip from Edo (modern-day Tôkyô) could take as long as fifteen days, while from Ôsaka it took 5 days and from Nagoya three.


Mifune Town

   Mifune Town (御舟町) is located in the center of Kumamoto prefecture in the Kamimashiki district/county (上益城郡). The town has a population of only 17,888 people as of this writing. (No telling how many kappa--the green river imp playing the drums--there are, though.)

   The biggest event in the town is the Mifune Gahppa Festival (御船があーっぱ祭り) held in August, the symbol of which is a statue of kappa called Funatarô.

   Also of interest in the town is the Mifune Dinosaur Musuem. An alternative design of Mifune's manhole covers feature a dinosaur named Funeppi.

   More on Mifune Town here.