Sometime around the mid 80’s Japan came up with a creative method of drawing in some more local tourism and adding a little more colour to city streets. Local governments started to take utilitarian, cast-metal manhole covers and began to add artistic representations of local landscapes, traditional scenes and famous characters. It’s been a hugely successful idea and has managed to make a previously ignored aspect of urban neighbourhoods suddenly vibrant and perfect for Instagram tourism photo shoots.
As the artistic manholes started to become a more common sight in each and every prefecture of the country, unique collaboration projects began to appear, with manholes displaying baseball mascots, anime characters and even Hello Kitty. These one-off editions just can’t compete with the huge tide of manholes which have been put into place since the Pokémon Company got involved .
The first few covers featuring popular Pokémon set against local scenery were released at the end of 2018, and since then they’ve spread across Japan. It feels like a small part of the Pokémon world has crossed over, with vibrant designs from Pikachu to Piplup in the streets. Even cooler, different themes have evolved in different regions! Kagawa prefecture has adopted Slowpoke as a manhole mascot, and Kagoshima is home to Eevee and its evolutions.
Pokémon manhole covers (or Pokéfuta, meaning Pokécovers) have been surprisingly absent from Japan’s capital, but on the 21st of August at a special ceremony in the Machida area of Tokyo, six new covers have been revealed and installed. It’s not just an important event for Tokyo’s metropolitan area as they welcome their first Pokécovers, but also for the Pokémon Company, because those six new manholes mean that there are now a grand total of 100 covers out there featuring unique Pokémon designs.
The covers themselves will be placed in Serigaya Park, a nature reserve in Machida visited often by families. A couple of special guests were present at the ceremony to present and receive the carefully crafted covers. Mayor Jōichi Ishizaka represented Machida and Pikachu himself made an appearance on behalf of the Pokémon Company.
Appropriately, the Pokémon picked for the final six designs are some of the most iconic from the first generation games. Trainers stand alongside the three starter Pokémon Charmander, Squirtle, and (everyone’s indisputable favourite) Bulbasaur. The remaining three covers show other early encounters, each with bold colours and cheerful energy ready to brighten up the pavement.
An interesting feature of the covers which goes beyond their conventional use is that they’ll have connection to the Pokémon GO app, as a Pokéstop location where users can pick up energy and items. With some great maps available on the Pokémon local website, there are certainly resources for Pokéfans to plan out a Pokémon themed trip around their area – and there’s still more Pokécovers to come! I’d really love to see even more decorated manholes and even more obscure Pokémon turning up as urban art.