Designer manhole covers are a thing in Japan, and there are hundreds of Pokémon-themed ones across the country. Spotting these colorful and cute ‘Poké Lids’ is a surprisingly great, free tourist activity and should definitely be on your list of things to do in Japan.

Pokémon fan heading to Tokyo? Don’t miss our guide to Tokyo for Pokémon lovers.

What are manhole covers?

Manhole or utility covers are hefty pieces of metal or concrete that weigh roughly 40kg (80 pounds), and generally function as part of the road and sewage system. Wait, as in those circular slabs in the ground? Yes, that’s right, those things.

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Standard covers were introduced in Japan during the 1950’s, while artistic designs began evolving from the 1980’s, with many featuring each town’s unique scenery and native flora.

Manhole cover with 'Aizu-Wakamatsu' in Japanese and landscape design
Landscape design in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture | Photo by Emma Araki

More recently, pop-culture designs including sports teams, Yuru-kyara (local mascot characters), animé, and of course, Pokémon, have turned the humble and mundane manhole cover into a cultural phenomenon in Japan.

Manhole cover enthusiasts or so-called “manholers” often travel far and wide to spot these. There’s even a fan-based Japanese Manhole Cover Society with regular updates and photos of new covers.

What are Poké Lids?

Poké Lids (or pokéfuta in Japanese) are Pokémon-themed (and licensed) manhole covers. They were introduced in 2018 as part of ‘Pokémon Local Acts’, in collaboration with different municipalities in Japan.

In this video posted by Pokémon Japan’s official YouTube account (in Japanese), Poké Lid project manager Kenta Imamura explains that the aim has been to encourage tourists to visit and explore lesser known areas as they discover the Pokémon artwork there.

In order to provide an enjoyable manhole-spotting experience, The Pokémon Company has also considered which character suits each region as well as where they should be located. For example, some Poké Lids can be found close together in the same park, while others such as in Hokkaido, are located several kilometers apart.

Colourful manhole cover with two Pokémon characters
ハクリュー・エアームド、ところざわ © Pokémon | Dragonair・Skarmory in Tokorozawa, Saitama | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Dragonair・Skarmory Poké Lid here

Poké Lid designs

Currently, there are over 240 Poké Lids from Kyushu to Hokkaido regions, and each design is unique. In the same behind-the-scenes video by Pokémon, Poké Lid art director Yasuko Takahashi describes how the art team work to “express as much depth as possible” within the 60cm diameter of a manhole cover.

Pokémon manhole cover and surrounding concrete
ポッポ・コラッタ、まちだ © Pokémon | Pidgey・Rattata in Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki

In order to appeal to a wide audience, the design motifs are not just from the Pokémon world, but also from everyday life, including native fruit or flowers, and easily identifiable landmarks. For example, you can see the water fountain sculpture in Serigaya Park below featured in the Pidgey and Rattata manhole cover which is found just a few feet away.

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Water fountain sculpture and children playing
Water fountain sculpture in Serigaya Park, Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki
Manhole cover with rat and bird Pokémon
ポッポ・コラッタ、まちだ © Pokémon | Pidgey・Rattata in Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Pidgey・Rattata Poké Lid here

The beauty of these lids certainly seem to be appreciated by visitors, locals, Pokémon fans and non-fans alike. In the video, Takahashi recalls seeing children and adults take interest in their local Poké Lids, take photos, and even clean them with a cloth! (In pursuit of some nice photos, I may have wiped a few Poké Lids myself.)

How are Poké Lids made?

Poké Lids are currently being made by Hinode Corporation, at their factory in Miyaki, Saga Prefecture. During this Poké Lid factory tour, Operations manager Yoshihara-san explains to viewers that the lids are mechanically carved into aluminum before a sand-mold is used to produce a cast metal version. They are then hand-painted with coloured acrylic resin, resulting in beautiful, bright and sturdy covers.

Rainbow coloured Pokémon manhole cover
ラプラス・ジラーチ、せんだい © Pokémon | Lapras・Jirachi in Sendai, Miyagi | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Lapras・Jirachi Poké Lid here

Where to find Poké Lids in Japan

So where can we find these ground-breaking covers? Luckily for us, there continue to be more Poké Lids added to the list each year. This map shows you where each of the unique Poké Lids are located. Currently the Tohoku region has the greatest number with 60 Poké Lids, while there are 23 in the Kanto region (12 of them in Tokyo).

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The official site shows you exact Google Maps locations meaning you can easily add Poké Lid hunting to your travel itinerary, based on where you are in Japan. Pokémon fans can also search based on the Pokémon name, such as ‘Charmander’ or ‘Bulbasaur’, and see relevant Pokédex pages for more information. The manhole covers also double-up as Pokéstops in Pokémon Go.

Orange Pokémon manhole cover
ヒトカゲ、まちだ © Pokémon | Charmander in Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Charmander Poké Lid here

Homage to Pokémon’s creator in Machida, Tokyo

Of the many Poké Lid locations to visit, Serigaya Park in Machida, Tokyo is high on the list. That’s because Machida is the hometown of Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokémon. Growing up, Tajiri would often visit Serigaya Park and enjoy collecting insects as a hobby. This would become an important inspiration for the ‘pocket monsters’ that would go on to become everyone’s favorite Pokémon characters.

Serigaya Park is a little green oasis with little streams, a water fountain and a graphic art museum nearby, and 6 Poké Lids were introduced here in August, 2020.

Sign that reads 芹ヶ谷公園 with trees
Serigaya Park Entrance | Photo by Emma Araki

If you start at the park’s entrance near the streams, you’ll be able to find Bulbasaur (#001 Pokémon) near some park tables and Charmander along the pavement.

Blue and green Pokémon manhole cover
フシギダネ、まちだ © Pokémon | Bulbasaur in Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Bulbasaur Poké Lid here

Next you’ll see Poliwag, Oddish, Weedle and Caterpie, Pidgey and Rattata, and Squirtle dotted around the gravel oval and close to the art sculptures. You can refer to the map, but it’s also a good challenge without it!

Map of green park with arrows to manhole covers
Map of Serigaya Park and Poké Lid locations © Pokémon

Side note: Even as someone who doesn’t identify as a Pokémon fan, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed my little adventure in Serigaya Park. In fact, it makes sense that finding Poké Lids during a nature walk can be fun for both adults and children.

Blue water Pokémon manhole cover
ニョロモ、まちだ © Pokémon | Poliwag in Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Poliwag Poké Lid here

Three tree Pokémon manhole cover
ナゾノクサ・ビードル・キャタピー、まちだ © Pokémon | Oddish・Weedle・Caterpie in Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Oddish・Weedle・Caterpie Poké Lid here

You may have thought manhole covers would never be considered ‘beautiful’, but you’ll have to see for yourself just how aesthetic they can get in Japan. So whether you’re curious to see ornately crafted utility covers, or you’re a Pokémon fan ready for the hunt, get ready to add Poké Lids and manhole-spotting to your Japan itinerary.

Blue turtle Pokémon manhole cover
ゼニガメ、まちだ © Pokémon | Squirtle in Machida, Tokyo | Photo by Emma Araki

📍 Find this Squirtle Poké Lid here

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Filed under: Sightseeing
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