The thing I love most about Japan’s manhole cards is that they’re designed to shed light on various corners of culture and history which helps me to piece together the grand puzzle that is Japan. When out collecting, I always end up learning something new about something (usually) old, or at very least get to check out a new part of town.
This manhole card adventure came about as a tack-on activity to a Yamanote Line walk I was doing with friends. The 32km loop follows the famous JR Yamanote Line and is somewhat of an urban pilgrimage. As we didn’t want to complete it all in one day, we broke it up into four fun-filled, corona-friendly outdoor walks over the Christmas/New Year period to help chase away those expat-missing-out-on-family-fun-time-during-winter-and-a-pandemic blues.
Walk three of four took us from Shinagawa Station to Ueno Station, a distance of around 10km and an estimated walking time of 2.5 hours. Of course, we veer and stop and snack, so it’s actually a whole day affair. After mapping out the route, I noticed there was an Astro Boy manhole card available slightly off-course from our walk. I must have pleaded my case effectively as the crew agreed to make the slight detour in search of Astro Boy.
Now, I’m not really an anime person, so my Astro Boy knowledge is limited, to say the least. But that’s the beauty of this hobby—my commitment to learning and sharing. Here’s the skinny (thanks Wiki).
Astro Boy started out as a manga comic book in 1952, though in Japan, it’s known as Mighty Atom (tetsuwan atomu or 鉄腕アトム). It was later animated and turned into a movie (1962), a TV series (1963) and many more Japanese and translated adaptations across TV, film and games since.
The series follows Astro Boy, an android boy with human emotions and powered by atomic energy—no doubt the energy source on everyone’s mind at the time. In the story, Astro was created by Umataro Tenma to fill the void of a recently deceased son, however, the inventor went on to sell him to a robot circus—yeouch! Eventually, Astro is rescued/adopted by Professor Ochanomizu and goes on to lead a ‘normal’ life punctuated with crime-fighting adventures.
According to Wiki, his powers include 100K horsepower strength, jet flight, high-intensity lights in his eyes, adjustable hearing, instant language translation, a retractable machine gun in his hips, and a high IQ capable of determining if a person is good or evil. Here’s a peek at the original 1963 anime series, which includes a surprising appearance by some white-hooded baddies:
The Ochanomizu-Astro Boy connection?
As we know, there’s always a good reason for manhole designs appearing in certain neighbourhoods. In this case, they were placed in Ochanomizu because it plays a part in the story. For starters, there’s Dr. Ochanomizu, Astro’s new daddy, and the school which Astro attends, Ochanomizu Elementary School.
Collecting the Astro Boy Manhole Card
Back to the task at hand—collecting the card. The plan was to veer off on this side-mission once we got to Kanda Station, the one after Tokyo Station. After a boozy lunch at an open-air yokocho in Yurakucho and a massive photoshoot at Tokyo Station, we were primed.
We needed to collect the card from the Chiyoda City Tourism Association. As Tokyo had been dipping in and out of ‘State of Emergencies’, I called ahead the day before to make sure they would be open and distributing cards. They were super helpful and said they’d be ready for us!
Buzzed from lunch and buzzing with the excitement of getting two of our group their FIRST EVER manhole card, we approached the building. Masks on, hands sanitized, we stepped inside and were greeted by a staff member who already had four Astroboy manhole cards laid out for us. This was definitely a first!
The design features Astro’s face, the word “Chiyoda” (ちよだ) and a few sakura. As the ward is home to Chidorigafuchi Park—a popular cherry blossom spot—sakura have become the ward’s flower.
Finding the Astro Boy manhole
The next part of the mission is to find the Astro Boy manhole. In this case, there are actually three different designs to find in the Ochanomizu area. The coordinates on the card lead to the blue Astro design, however, the Chiyoda website lists the locations of the other two—turns out they’re super close.
To get there, we walked via Jimbocho (book town!) and got distracted by literally everything but had a brilliant time doing so. This is why we break up the walk—to leave space for exploration.
A brief gachapon stop
Perhaps it was our lunch buzz still in effect, but we got really excited about collecting these “ojisan” drunk salaryman gatcha toys. For those who don’t know, gatchapon are like vending machine toys that usually cost between 200-500 yen. Each machine has its own theme but you don’t know which toy from the set you will get. The name is an onomatopoeia that comes from the noise of the handle turning and the sound of the plastic ball dropping into the collection shoot.
We heard these noises multiple times because we wouldn’t rest until we had the whole set of inebriated office workers.
I was lucky enough to take home the ojisan shoving his face into a block of tofu. Naturally, it always makes me want to do the same.
Once in Ochanomizu, we found the three manholes on Meidai-dori, around Meiji University. First was the Astro Boy manhole:
Next up were ‘Uranium’ (pink) and ‘Dr. Ochanomizu’ (yellow). As you can see, both also feature the sakura flowers and the name of the ward, Chiyoda (ちよだ).
Mission complete! I will get around to chronicling (wow, I have maybe never typed that word; my fingers didn’t know where to go!) our delightful Yamanote walk—there is a lot of content to sort through. In the meantime, please enjoy the manhole side-missions!
Manhole Card Address: Chiyoda City Tourism Association
Nearest Stations: Kudanshita (3min), Takebashi (6min) or Jimbocho (7min from A2)
Ask: “Manhouru kado ga arimasuka?” (マンホールカードがありますか？)
Manhole Locations: In front of the Meiji University, kinda here.
Distance between card and hole: 15 minutes on foot.
More info: here, on Chiyoda’s website.
*note: this information may change; always best to check here.
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