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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
📍 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!
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.
📍 Find this Poliwag 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.
📍 Find this Squirtle Poké Lid here