Japan sewers clean up their act with manhole art

A worker installs a designed manhole cover in Tokyo. (AFP)
Updated 14 January 2018
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Japan sewers clean up their act with manhole art

TOKYO: Japan’s sewerage industry has found a way to clean up its dirty and smelly image: Elaborately designed and colorful manhole covers with 12,000 local varieties nationwide — including, of course, a Hello Kitty design.
Appealing to a Japanese love of detail and “kawaii” (“cute“), bespoke manhole covers adorn the streets of 1,700 towns, cities and villages across Japan and have spawned a collection craze among so-called “manholers.”
The designs represent an instant guide to a place as they feature its history, folklore, or speciality goods: A castle design for an ancient town, a bay bridge for a port and Mt Fuji for a city at the foot of Japan’s iconic mountain.
As for Tama City, located in the western sprawl of greater Tokyo, locals are pinning their hopes on a more modern Japanese icon — Hello Kitty — to attract tourists, alongside the town’s theme park showcasing much-loved children’s character from the Sanrio company.
“We’d be happy if people come and take some time for a stroll in our town while looking for the Hello Kitty manholes,” said Mikio Narashima, who heads the city’s sewage system division, after the city installed the first of the 10 designed covers.
Veteran spotter Shoji Morimoto said his passion for covers was fueled after noticing that the central city of Fukui sported two phoenixes on its manholes.
He later learned the imaginary birds were a symbol of the town’s rise from a 1945 devastating US air raid and a deadly earthquake three years later.
“I sometimes do research on why the town has that particular design. I’m impressed whenever I find out it represents the town’s history and culture,” said Morimoto, who coined the word “manholer” for like-minded people.
Designed manholes cost more but appeal to a Japanese sense of detail, the 48-year-old Morimoto told AFP.
He has already visited all the designed manholes in his local area. “Now I have to travel far,” he admits.
“Manholers” take pictures of the covers they visit, with the more obsessive taking rubbings.
For others, the interest lies more in “cover bonsai,” plants growing on soil accumulated on and around covers.
More than 3,000 people attended a “manhole summit” in western Japan in November.
And manhole covers are not simply there to hide away dirty sewers, enthuses Tetsuro Sasabe, who is interested in covers for telecoms infrastructure.
“I’m interested in why the manhole is there, where it leads to — I’d say I’m interested in what’s under the manhole covers,” he said.
He noted that there is a story even to plain covers — such as finding the logos of now-defunct companies.
Given their size, the covers cannot easily be collected in the same way people hoard stamps and coins.
But to satisfy collectors’ desire, the private-public GKP network designed to promote awareness on the importance of sewerage in society, has released 1.4 million cards of 293 different covers.


Prince William visits Jordan’s Roman ruins at Jerash

Updated 25 June 2018
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Prince William visits Jordan’s Roman ruins at Jerash

  • Britain’s Prince William visited the Roman ruins of Jerash in northern Jordan

AMMAN: Britain’s Prince William visited the Roman ruins of Jerash in northern Jordan on Monday, accompanied by his host Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah as part of a historic Middle East tour.
The two princes met children from Jordan and neighboring war-torn Syria during their visit to the site, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Amman.
The visit to Jordan by the second in line to the British throne has been billed as a chance to bond with Hussein, a fellow graduate of Britain’s Royal Sandhurst Military Academy.
William was also due to meet British troops based in the kingdom, before heading across the River Jordan to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The Duke of Cambridge and the heir to the Jordanian throne strolled along Jerash’s Colonnaded Street, a paved promenade lined with towering columns.
They also visited the Temple of Artemis, built on an elevated part of the site in honor of the goddess believed to protect the city, which was at its most prosperous in the third century.
When they reached the ancient site’s theater they were greeted by Syrian and Jordanian school children in traditional dress, who gave a performance including music and poetry.
The show was organized by the Makany Center, a UNESCO-backed program providing health and education to both Syrian and Jordanian pupils.
Some 650,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations in Jordan since fleeing their country’s seven-year war which was sparked by peaceful anti-government protests in 2011.
Amman estimates the actual number is closer to 1.3 million people and says it has spent more than $10 billion (8.5 billion euros) hosting them.
William paid tribute in a speech on Sunday to “the way in which you opened your doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees,” even as Jordan said the same day that it would be unable to host any new wave of asylum seekers.
His Middle East tour will see William become the first British royal to pay official visits to both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
William, who is president of the Football Association, was flying into Jordan as England thrashed Panama 6-1 in the World Cup on Sunday, but he caught a recording of the match on television at his host’s home.