I feel I should start out with a small confession: The desktop picture on my Mac is of a manhole cover. Yup, a sewer lid. I took it when I first moved to my new city and really like the city’s seal engraved on it. I mention this because I just discovered that manhole cover artwork—and the photographing of these seemingly utilitarian devices—is a thing. This thing even has a name: drainspotting. And while I love my city’s cover designs, they pale in comparison to those in Japan.
Japanese municipalities have elevated such a low-lying item to a high-caliber work of art. The steel canvases are so ornate, it’ll put your town’s “Water and Power” insignia to shame. The variety of art is as different as the types of utilities the covers belong to, the cities, and the specific manufacturers. Covers often include symbols that relate to the city, or may feature local landmarks or native flowers and plants. In fact, trees, flowers, and animals seem to dominate many of the designs.
Drainspotting is apparently quite the hobby, enough to warrant the need for a Japanese Society of Manhole Covers, and even a coffee table book dedicated to the subject. Flickr user S. Morita has an entire album—with over 1,000 photos—showing off the beauty and artwork of Japan’s colorful covers. The time that must have gone into crafting each masterpiece is as amazing as the art is beautiful. I guess it just goes to show that art and beauty can be found anywhere. And also that it’s not so strange that I enjoy taking pictures of manhole covers!