Commodore Perry Manhole Covers

Japan Manhole Covers - Commodore Perry & Manhole Covers in Yokosuka

The Japanese people are very interested in their quality of life, so it should come as no big surprise that their manhole covers in the street pavement have unique and beautiful designs.

The design of manhole covers in Japan varies in different regions and some areas and cities take special pride in their covers.

This has led to a sort of a cult of manhole cover enthusiasts, who travel around Japan and photograph the interesting designs. The designs of manhole covers in Japan also draw attention from tourists, like me.

In 2009, I did not realize I was to become interested in manhole covers when I spotted them in the small town of Matsuyama in Miyagi Prefecture. I was in Matsuyama, a section of Osaki City, as part of a cultural exchange sponsored by the Center of International Exchange located in Tokyo.

The cover caught my eye because there was a bird in the design. A friend of mine in Japan informed me that the bird is a cuckoo and the plant is cosmos, the city flower.

Both the bird and the plant species are popular in Japan and especially in Miyagi Prefecture.

Manhole cover in Matsuyama with design of cuckoos and cosmos flowers.
Manhole cover in Matsuyama with design of cuckoos and cosmos flowers.
Pictures from the Matsuyama website assembled by Akiko Motegi.
Pictures from the Matsuyama website assembled by Akiko Motegi.

On my most recent trip to Japan in July 2013, I learned that the city of Shimoda has a manhole cover design that reflects their interest in my ancestor Commodore Perry, who anchored and came ashore in Shimoda several times as part of his expedition to Japan in 1853-54, in what was then still the Edo Period of Japanese history.

Commodore Perry went to Japan to deliver a letter from President Millard Fillmore requesting peace and amity between our two countries.

The manhole has the depiction of a Black Ship, which was powered by steam with a side-wheel for propulsion.

The wheel on the ship is in the design of the logo of the city of Shimoda. Residents of Shimoda have a sincere interest in Perry and his Black Ships.

Symbols that make up the manhole cover in Shimoda. Design assembled by Akiko Motegi.
Symbols that make up the manhole cover in Shimoda. Design assembled by Akiko Motegi.
Perry's Black Ship manhole cover, Japan.
Perry's Black Ship manhole cover.

A friend of mine in Japan, Ms. Akiko Motegi, sent me information on the significance of the city logo.

The logo of Shimoda city consists of three things. These are depicted by two Kanji letters and an anchor.

The Kanji letters are shapes that represent words or thoughts. There are approximately 2-3,000 Kanji symbols in common use in the Japanese language, but variants of the symbol can raise the number to tens of thousands of characters.

Perry's Black Ship manhole cover, Japan.
Perry's Black Ship manhole cover.

The two Kanji letters are for rice field 田 and rice 米. The shape of four anchors is also in the logo. The logo as a whole is a wheel of the Black Ship that was used for propulsion.

In addition, Kanji rice 米 stands for America, so the country represented in the mission of Perry is hidden in the logo! It is amazing, meaningful, and a beautiful logo of which the residents of Shimoda are rightly proud.

The manhole cover with a Black Ship is also used in Yokosuka city. However, in addition to the ship it has the picture of Commodore Perry. Perry anchored in Yokohama, which is right near Yokosuka, in March 1854, when he returned to Japan to get the reply to the letter from President Fillmore that he delivered in 1853.

Yokosuka since World War II has a very active U.S. Navy base, and I visited it twice during my Navy years in the mid-1960s.

So, thanks to the clever Japanese, not only are the manhole covers in Japan beautiful, but educational.

Dr. Matthew C. Perry
Professional Website & Japan Related Articles
www.pwrc.usgs.gov
Shimane Summit 2013

Manhole cover from Yokosuka showing a good image of Commodore Perry and his Black Ship.
Manhole cover from Yokosuka showing a good image of Commodore Perry and his Black Ship.


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