Spotted on the road in Kurashiki
Momotaro and friends on a manhole cover in Okayama
Osaka Castle has pride of place on the designs of Osaka manhole covers
I'm not sure when I started doing it but I have pictorial proof that as far back ago as the daytrip I took to Kawagoe in 2011 with a friend of mine who lives in Tokyo, I started noticing and photographing manhole covers in Japan.
While these may appear strange objects to focus attention on, I'm not the only one to have done so (see here too) -- and considering how nicely decorated they tend to be in the Land of the Rising Sun, I do think checking them out and trying to figure out what is depicted on them are among the little activities that add value on a visit to the country.
To be sure, it seems that every once in a while -- like in Kurashiki -- the authorities can opt for the kawaii (although even then, the image in question appears to serve notice that underneath that particular cover lies water to be used in emergencies by the city's fire department). But more often than not, the chosen images have cultural associations with the places whose manhole covers they adorn.
For example, the images on Okayama's manhole covers allude to the city staking claims to being the hometown of the legendary Momotaro (AKA Peach Boy) while there's little doubt that the castle that's considered the symbol of Osaka would adorn the tops of manhole covers in Japan's third largest -- but second most important -- city!
Collectively, Japan's manhole covers also provide further proof to me that for the Japanese, the devil is frequently in the details -- and more generally, that beauty often can be found in the practical and supposedly mundane.