Nagasaki is a rainy city, meaning it’s perfect for Hydrangea. These thirsty b’s love the wet and humid summer months and bloom beautifully around that time. Not only are they the city flower, but they’re also celebrated annually during the “Nagasaki Hydrangea Festival” from late May to early June. Of course, I knew none of this; only learned it after seeking out my one and only (so far) Nagasaki manhole card.
For those late to the game or who need a refresher, Manhole Cards are free collector cards sporting images of Japan’s special sewer lid designs. (More info on them here.)
I’m posting a little out of order here; this Nagasaki trip came about in the early days of my new hobby meaning this card would be my second acquisition. By now I’d worked out how to find the cards and pinpoint the actual drain cover location thanks to my time in Shibamata.
Looking at my work schedule, I saw one manhole card that was available from where I’d be. I was confident. I’d saved the card ‘distribution place’ on my phone; it was conveniently positioned near Oura Church and Glover Garden—two attractions I needed to visit for work. I approached the museum, taken by the shabby baby pink weatherboards.
Shoes had to come off to enter this building, to be replaced with plastic slippers. Just inside the door at the admissions window (free admission) I quickly secured my second card. The staff member urged me to look around, so I wandered the rooms, admiring the vintage furniture.
I ventured upstairs, hoping to get a nice view but instead interrupted a meeting being held in the rentable community rooms. The delegates were coming out of one room and going into another; I’m sure we mirrored each other’s expressions.
Once outside, it was time to study my new Nagasaki manhole card. A quick Google translate told me that this 1986 design commemorates the 100th anniversary of the municipal organization. It also mentions Siebold, a German doctor at the Dutch trading house in Dejima in the late Edo period, who named the local Hydrangea flowers “Otakusa”, after his wife.
The next step was to follow the map coordinates to find the special coloured design. I’d already seen the regular covers around town, but it’s always fun to match the card properly.
It seems that I must have typed in a digit incorrectly in the map coordinates, as I went on quite a stroll through the tightly-packed houses on the hill behind Oura Church. With every step through someone’s laundry or past an open window and crying baby, I became less sure of myself. I couldn’t spot the coloured design and now felt like a total prowler, so I just took a quick snap here with this drain cover, showing the stunning hilly landscape of Nagasaki.
I made my way back down, passing the same old man who looked just as confused to see me the second time around. It wouldn’t be until later or perhaps even a different day that I’d find myself back in the area and spot the correct design, one that I had definitely walked over at least once as it happened to be between the card location and Oura Church.
Now that I’d learned about Nagasaki’s love of Hydrangeas, I kept seeing them everywhere, including on other storm grates and fire hydrant lids.
Luckily my visit didn’t coincide with the rainy season. While it would have been lovely to see the flowers, I was quite happy to have dry shoes for my long days on the beat. I left with the city firmly in my heart and five harder-to-access designs on my dance card for future visits.
Manhole Card Address: Minamiyama District Townscape Preservation Center
Open: 9AM–5PM (closed Mondays).
Nearest tram stop: Oura Cathedral
Ask: “Manhouru kado ga arimasuka?” (マンホールカードがありますか？)
Manhole location: Near Oura Church, or here.
Distance between: 1-minute walk.
*note: this information may change; best to check here.
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