Japan is a land known for its rich history, scenic country side, and bustling pop culture and arts. But one of the many interesting things about the island nation is its peculiar fascination with artistic manhole covers. Throughout Japan, you can see elaborate and intricate manholes decorating the streets with a wide range of designs from floral patterns, food and local landmarks to Pokémon, anime, and now even Gundam.
This decorative manhole trend dates back as early as 1985 with a high-ranking bureaucrat, Yasutake Kameda, proposing the idea to promote taxpayer support for costly sewer projects by allowing municipalities to design their own manhole covers. Spurring in popularity, as of 2019, it’s being reported over 6,000 of these intricate manhole designs populate the country.
The massive Pokémon franchise have become one of the major players in this popular custom. Launched in 2018, The Pokémon Company has installed over 200 Pokémon-themed manholes across Japan through their Pokéfuta(or Poké Lids) project.
Naturally, Bandai-Namco would want to capitalize on the manhole trend with their ever growing Gundam franchise. In 2020, Bandai announced the “Gundam Manhole Project,” an initiative in cooperation with local governments across Japan to promote tourism to those regions using the Gundam brand, as well as express the bond between Gundam fans transcending generations. The first of these Gundam manholes were installed in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, the hometown of Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino.
Similar to the Poké Lid approach, the Gundam manholes includes a design based on a local landmark or specialty from the respective region. Thus far, the process involves two manholes donated to a municipality at a time, one featuring the classic RX-78-2 Gundam and another featuring a Principality of Zeon mobile suit.
As of 2023, fourteen of these Gundam manholes have been installed across Japan in Kanagawa, Hokkaido, Tochigi, and Shimane.
Though Bandai formally announced their own Gundam manhole plans in 2020 with the first installation being until 2021, Gundam manholes have been installed prior. In 2020, publisher Kadokawa laid twenty-eight LED-decorative manholes for their Tokorozawa Sakura Town complex, designed based on select manga titles under their banner. Four of these designs were from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin. Similarly, other Gundam manholes have been installed in places like Inagi City to honor legendary mechanical designer Kunio Okawara, which also feature other characters he designed.