Japanese city wants to emerge from the shadows with lighted manhole covers

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TOKOROZAWA | Often snubbed by passers-by, the manhole is not at first glance the appropriate medium for artistic expression. A Japanese city, however, has undertaken to illuminate the drab plaques that cover them and decorate them with cartoon characters.

The locality of Tokorozawa, in the suburbs of Tokyo, relies on these mouths visible like the nose in the middle of the face to attract the curious, in particular the followers of the manhole covers decorated with patterns or mascots which already adorn certain Japanese streets.

If they cover only a fraction of the 15 million or so manholes in Japan, these decorated plaques, present in the Archipelago for at least forty years, have their aficionados, who exchange their information on Twitter under the hashtag #manhotalk (derived from the English “manhole”, manhole).

Those in Tokorozawa, however, are “the first illuminated manhole covers in Japan,” Junichi Koike, an employee of the city, told AFP.

“We hope that these enlightened versions will change the reputation for filth and pestilence of manholes, and revive the local economy by attracting visitors.”

Twenty-eight plaques were put in place at the beginning of August, adorned with famous characters from the Gundam, Evangelion or Haruhi Suzumiya cartoons. This partnership with the Kadokawa publishing house was set up as part of a program allowing companies to “dress” manhole covers in their colors, for a fee.

The initial reactions from residents and visitors alike have been quite positive. “In general, they are not easy to find,” said Kaoru Morita, a 55-year-old manhole cover enthusiast, interviewed by AFP. “But these can be seen from afar.”

Tatsuhiko Sato, 29, notes that the show is “fun for the kids”.

The solar-powered plaques are laid out on the sidewalks leading from the station to a new cultural complex housing a cartoon museum. They are lit from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

But although the city highlights their usefulness to make the streets safer at night, they also increase the workload of the guards, who have had to strengthen their patrols to prevent these works from being stolen.

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