Line of apparel offers at least one design based on actual manhole covers from all 47 prefectures of Japan.
Nowhere else in the world does manhole covers quite like Japan. Many cities have designed covers with depictions of famous local places, products, or traditions which draw interest from locals and tourists alike. Not to mention that there’s also an ever-expanding line of prefectural Pokémon manhole covers, too!
Japanese apparel brand Japan Underground has capitalized on the popularity of these local manhole covers by designing a whole line of T-shirts and tote bags featuring manhole cover designs that represent all 47 prefectures of Japan. Each individual design was produced by visiting the prefecture in question, researching the local manhole covers, and gaining the appropriate permissions from local city halls and water departments to incorporate them into the apparel line. The company kicked off this process by releasing Hokkaido-themed designs in July 2021, finally concluding with Okinawa designs this month. With some prefectures receiving more than one design, there are now over 60 unique versions for purchase.
Let’s take a look at all of the options in more-or-less geographical order from the north of Japan to the south (see Japan Underground’s online shop for close-ups of each design and size information). Japan’s biggest prefecture, the northern island of Hokkaido, has five designs based on five different cities located there: Otaru, Ishikari, Wakkanai, Kushiro, and Sapporo.
The northeastern Tohoku region features one design for each of the six prefectures there: Aomori City (Aomori Prefecture), Akita City (Akita Prefecture), Kamaishi (Iwate), Higashimatsushima (Miyagi), Higashine (Yamagata), and Minamisoma (Fukushima).
Designs for the Hokuriku region, which refers to the prefectures alongside the Sea of Japan in central Honshu (the largest of Japan’s four main islands), include the cities of Sanjo and City (Niigata), Namerikawa (Toyama), Komatsu (Ishikawa), and Fukui City and Katsuyama (Fukui).
Japan’s Kanto region includes the capital metropolis of Tokyo and a handful of surrounding prefectures. The Kanto designs feature a particularly special design likely paying homage to Japan Underground’s name in the form of the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel (Gunma Prefecture), along with the cities of Naka (Ibaraki), Ashikaga (Tochigi), Tateyama and Nagareyama (Chiba), Kawagoe (Saitama), Machida and the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo (Tokyo), and Yokohama and Chigasaki (Kanagawa).
The Chubu region in the middle of Honshu inspired designs featuring Minami-Alps City (Yamanashi), Gotenba and Fujinomiya (Shizuoka ), Hakuba (Nagano), Ibigawa (Gifu), and Toyohashi (Aichi).
Anyone who has ever visited Kyoto or Osaka has been to the Kansai region of western Japan. This lineup spotlights Yokkaichi and Iga (Mie), Takashima (Shiga ), Uji (Kyoto Prefecture), Takatsuki and Takaishi (Osaka Prefecture), Ikaruga and Ikoma (Nara), Minabe (Wakayama), and finally Kobe , Akashi, Himeji, and Hanshin Koshien Stadium (Hyogo).
Next is Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands that’s composed of only four prefectures. That number is reflected in the total number of designs based on Naruto (Tokushima), Takamatsu (Kagawa), Uwajima (Ehime), and Kochi City (Kochi Prefecture).
The southwestern Chugoku region designs include Okayama City (Okayama Prefecture), Kure (Hiroshima Prefecture), Tottori City (Tottori Prefecture), Izumo (Shimane ), and Shimonoseki (Yamaguchi).
Kyushu, Japan’s most southwestern of the four main islands, contributed designs for Fukuoka City (Fukuoka Prefecture), Saga City (Saga Prefecture), Minamishimabara (Nagasaki), Aso (Kumamoto), Oita City (Oita Prefecture), Shiiba (Miyazaki), and Ibusuki (Kagoshima).
Finally, the series is complete as of this month with three designs for the island chain of Okinawa: Naha, the prefecture’s capital city (with shisa guardian design and a minsa textile design), and Okinawa City.
To commemorate the completion of manhole cover apparel designs for all 47 prefectures of Japan, a special Japan Underground pop-up store will be stationed in Kyoto’s Kamino-cho district beginning on October 12 and lasting through March 2024. Visitors can admire a display of the unique designs and purchase the ones they want for themselves.
While it’s always been easy to find t-shirts emblazoned with city names such as Tokyo or Kyoto, perhaps now we’ll start seeing more and more people wearing shirts paying tribute to less well-known and more off-the-beaten-path locales of Japan.
Tokyo Underground Pop-Up Shop
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Shimogyo-ku, Kamino-cho 15
Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Duration: October 12, 2023-March 2024
Website (online shop)