In Japan, manhole cover lids are quite often feats of urban design: intricate and beautiful.
For more photographs, check out photographer S. Morita’s flickr page.
Why are the lids so intricate and beautiful? Amusing Planet explains:
The trend started in the 1980s when Japan wanted to standardize their sewer system. Until then, Japan used regular geometric shaped manhole covers similar to those used in other countries. As communities outside of Japan’s major cities were slated to receive new sewer systems these public works projects were met with resistance. One dedicated bureaucrat solved the problem by allowing the town folk to choose their own design. Today nearly 95 percent of the 1,780 municipalities in Japan sport their own specially designed manhole covers.
The art of manhole covers has now reached the point of a national obsession in Japan with numerous municipal departments competing against each other in the pursuit of the perfect manhole cover. The designs are manufactured by a municipal foundry where they are cast and created. The city or council will submit ideas and the symbol of choice to the foundry and their in-house designers will then create a design based on these specifications, going back and forth until the design is approved. The foundry will then cast a prototype before doing the final cast. These manhole covers are made of metal, as opposed to European manhole covers, which are typically constructed of pre-cast concrete. After the covers have been cast the carved wooden masters are saved in an enormous central library.