For those not in the know, manhole cards are a Japanese tourism tool used to bring people to particular areas. Collectors will travel in order to get a free card from a set location. The card then explains the reasoning behind the local drain cover designs—usually a significant natural or cultural symbol—and collectors then follow the map coordinates to find the matching drain. This is designed to bring people up close and personal to the spirit of an area. If you enjoy hidden gems and visiting places you never thought you would…this may be the hobby you’ve been waiting for.
At the time of my visit, Fukuoka Prefecture had twenty manhole cards available, but only two lined up with my schedule. The first was the city’s regular drain cover design, which I wrote about here, and the second featured the beloved local baseball team, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Before we go any further, I should point out that my knowledge of baseball comes almost exclusively from The Sandlot Kids, one of the greatest films of all time. I can also list all the snacks available at a Japanese ball game.
The SoftBank Hawks
Strange team name, wouldn’t you say? That’s because in Japan the team’s sponsors get literal naming rights. Generally, these flow nicely, but there are a few that stand out. For example, Yakult sponsor one of the Tokyo teams, making them the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. And let’s not forget the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Baseball is a huge deal here. The games are lively and fun and the snacks are fantastic. Many of the teams also feature players recruited from overseas, as you’ll see in the back half of this video message to international Hawks fans. I don’t even follow this team but the energy and sentiment are reeling me in.
Team love is real, so it’s only fitting that the manhole designs surrounding the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka feature the Hawks’ mascot.
Getting the Fukuoka Manhole Card
The first part of the mission is to get the card. And this one happened to be available at the Fukuoka City Hall, in the heart of the city, just near the ACROS shopping mall.
The Lobby Boy had come to Fukuoka near the end of my work trip, joining in the weekend’s sightseeing/documenting.
We popped into the City Hall which, by the way, is VERY City Hallish, and the staff were all too happy to hand over some manhole cards.
The stars aligned on this one, as it turned out that the manholes were located around PayPay Dome, and we would be visiting the nearby Fukuoka tower and Momochi Seaside Park the next day.
Tracking down the Fukuoka Hawks manhole
This is where my plan went slightly askew. I hadn’t read the city’s website
properly at all and didn’t realise there were actually over 10 different designs to see. I had just pinned the coordinates from the card on my map and planned to visit that exact spot.
After we’d done our sightseeing, we decided to look for the manhole on our way back to the city. We strolled along the bay, taking a sharp right at this canal.
There was a little Autumn colour to our right and a little wildlife to our left. We hoped it was a hawk, but it was probably a kite—you be the judge.
Eventually, PayPay Dome appeared on our right—another sponsor-named stadium. And soon enough, we found what we were looking for, the Fukuoka Hawks manhole.
The manhole design features mascot Harry Hawk pointing his bat and staring into your soul. Perhaps we were too dazzled to realise that it was not the same design as on the card…
We snapped our pics and shot our vids and continued on towards the station. Pretty soon we started passing manholes with different designs, featuring other cartoon animals. As it turns out, the team has nine characters in the ‘Hawk Family‘. Of the extra designs we saw, none were the one pictured on the card. Boo! Semi-fail in that regard!
The punching pose.
On the walk between PayPay Dome and Tojinmachi Station, I was extremely delighted by these flags.
I’m only including my top four, however, there were more flapping along the street. And they were all doing the same punching pose.
In writing this, I decided to consult a book that’s been floating around our apartment, origin unknown, for a while now: “70 Japanese Gestures.” I flipped through, sure I’d see the punching gesture listed as “FAITO!” (or fight)—a common sports-based cheer.
I didn’t find it. However, the book illuminated some other balled-fist gestures I’d no idea about. For example, number 39: なぐってやろうか？ (Do you want me to punch you?). This jocular gesture involves shaking or blowing on your fist but isn’t usually perceived as an actual invitation to rumble.
Number 45 in the book symbolised sex: ball your fist but stick your thumb between the first and middle fingers. This gesture is the letter T in American Sign Language, means good luck in Brazil and, according to the book, is an archaic, crude symbol for sex, where the thumb represents the…err, bat.
Lastly, number 67: balled fists with the thumbs tucked in. This is a superstitious gesture done around a funeral car until it drives out of sight. As thumbs are the ‘parent finger’, this gesture is a superstitious way to protect your parents from death.
Seeing as all thumbs were accounted for, I could only assume these were mere ‘FIGHT’ poses. That, or it’s a big old game of Jan Ken Pon (rock, paper, scissors).
Manhole Card Address: Fukuoka City Hall
Nearest Stations: Tojimachi Station (Kuko Line)
Ask: “Manhouru kado ga arimasuka?” (マンホールカードがありますか？)
Manhole Locations: Between Tojinmachi Stn and PayPay Dome, here.
Distance between card and hole: 15 minutes (train and walking).
More info: here, on the government website.
*note: this information may change; best to check here.