Unlike most parts of the world, manhole covers around Japan are beautiful pieces of art. There are plenty of different designs, including Pokémon and Gundam motifs as well as some with designs by Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki – there are even manhole covers that light-up to show off their manga art. On top of that, each municipality across Japan has its own special manhole cover designs, many of which regularly turn up on Instagram.
The team behind apparel brand Japan Underground is so impressed by the cities’ one-of-a-kind manhole cover designs that they’re printing them on T-shirts.
Of course, getting access to those gorgeous designs isn’t as simple as snapping a photo of a manhole cover – the team has to get permission from each local government to use the artworks. So they decided to travel across Japan in a van, stopping in different cities along the way to negotiate.
The team are even filming their journey across Japan and posting videos on the brand’s YouTube channel, along with reports on the discussions with municipalities (in Japanese only).
The current T-shirt collection includes manhole cover motifs from cities in Hokkaido, and the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions. The team will venture further south to gain permission from more cities, with a visit to the final prefecture, Okinawa, slated in September 2022.
All the T-shirts are dyed by craftsmen specialising in Japan’s kyo-yuzen dyeing method that originated in Kyoto prefecture and is known for its vibrant colours and clean prints. Plus, part of every sale goes towards funding local projects in that city.
Each T-shirt is available in black or white and costs ¥4,200. Best of all, Japan Underground ships internationally, so simply select ‘overseas’ during checkout and the page switches to English. Note that currently all the shirts are available for preorder only; they are expected to ship in February.
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