My next choice for the ole manhole card collection was made easier thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic. As we’d been avoiding public transport and simultaneously craving exercise and fresh air, I looked for cards in wards that were easily accessible by bike. That is, close enough that I’d arrive with some acceptable level of decorum—no running nose, red cheeks and sweaty pits. Spoiler alert: I ended up with all of this and more!
The day in question was a freezing cold Saturday and our zoom calendar was crystal clear. It was one of those days that disappear inexplicably; one minute you’re waiting for the kettle to boil for the morning brown, the next, you’re panicked because you forgot to put the electric blanket on before bed. Lunchtime came and went and we’d achieved nothing except for making some excellent coffee and BLTs. This is when I floated the idea of getting a manhole card—like I hadn’t been thinking on it all day. My semi-willing partner in crime agreed; he didn’t have any other ideas.
I’d settled upon the Ultraman manhole card. The card itself was available in Sangenjaya, but the manholes were further west near Soshigaya-Okura station—both in Setagaya Ward. After a little research, the donning of multiple layers and eyeliner in lieu of proper makeup, we set off on our bikes.
What and why Ultraman?
Ultraman is a Showa Era (1926-1989) superhero who first appeared in Japan in 1966. Since then, he’s been featured across just about every medium and merchandise you can imagine…. including manhole designs in the vicinity of Soshigaya-Okura.
But why, you ask? It’s simple. Tsuburaya Productions, the creators of Ultraman, once had an office in the area. As such, there was no question when it came to choosing a design for the local manhole lids.
Getting the manhole card
We rode our bikes to Sangenjaya, the crowds increasing the closer we got, and parked in the racks in front of Carrot Tower. After consulting the map, we found our destination. The easiest way to reach the card distribution point (SANCHA3 / サンチャキューブ) is to go around the right-hand side of the tower and enter the paved clearing behind it. You’ll soon see Sancha Cube tourist information center near the entrance to Sangenjaya station. (Full details at the end)
We approached the booth, used the hand sanitiser spray and parted the vinyl curtain to find the staff member sitting all rugged up. We asked the question: “Manhoru ka-do ga arimasuka?” to which he happily replied that he did, in fact, have manhole cards. He wanted to know where we were from, if we liked anime and how many cards we had—my 6th and my husband’s 3rd. He seemed really tickled that we were going to track down the manholes next.
Ultraman manhole. Destination: Soshigaya-Okura
We rode about thirty minutes through some charming backstreets to get to Soshigaya-Okura. As is usually the case, I arrived lacking any and all decorum. The layers necessary to keep me protected from the cold and wind turned against me at some point, leaving me a sweaty mess. Ah well.
Once we parked our bikes, we set about locating the Ultraman manholes. That’s right, there was more than one, just like with the Shogi Hall card and the Fukuoka Hawks card. Sadly, I didn’t really know what I was doing in Fukuoka and didn’t manage to find the matching manhole. What I’ve learned since my first bungled attempts: research is key. The ward website (found via the manhole card site) actually lists the locations which I then pinned on my maps ahead of time. As a special gift to you, I’ve included a map at the end of this post.
As we were finding the holes and getting our necessary photos, a group of Japanese bros walked by us, chatting away to each other. Suddenly, when they were right about level with us, one said “I like Yoshinoya” in English. It’s always surprising to hear random English when out and about, and this English was extremely random and possibly just for our benefit. A few moments later, we saw the Yoshinoya in question. Perhaps, I thought, they’re guerilla inception marketers who would get some sort of kickback if we went in and ordered a beef bowl. I like to think so.
With our card in hand and manholes photographed, it was time to check out the area! We’d never been to this suburb, let alone heard of it, so we wanted to see what was up.
What to see in Soshigaya-Okura
The manholes aren’t the only tribute to Ultraman here. Oh no. Around the station, there are actually THREE shopping streets (shotengai in Japanese). There’s the Soshigaya Shopping Street, the Sancha Soshigaya Minami Shopping Street and finally the Soshigaya Shoshinkai Shopping Street, all jutting off in different directions. You’ll find all kind of shops and restaurants, including Ultraman souvenir shops, plus there are flags and other design elements fans will love.
Also worth noting are the statues around the area. This one appears right beside the station, in front of the Police Box, which also happens to be designed like Ultraman’s head.
We went for a stroll down one of the shotengai and soon came to this statue of Kanegon sitting on a park bench. While I was taking this picture, I became aware of some people waiting for me to finish so they could have their time with this fan-fave kaiju. What I’m just finding out now is that this character’s back story is: a greedy boy gets swallowed by a cocoon and transforms into this monster with a coin purse for a head. That explains the money people were putting in its mouth.
It was getting colder and we decided to leave soon so we could get home before dark. I just wanted to see one more statue, so we continued along to the end of the shopping street where I knew one would be.
Boom, there he is. To the untrained eye (mine) this looks like Ultraman, however it’s actually “Zoffy”, commander of the Inter Galactic Defence Force. An online search tells me that he’s stoic and almost emotionless, taking his job extremely seriously. Sounds like a laugh.
We were freezing by this point and didn’t make it to the flying Ultraman statue, however, I have pinned it on the map below if you’d like to find it. Have fun finding the Ultraman manhole and let me know in the comments what you liked about Soshigaya-Okura!
Manhole Card Address: Sancha Cube (Tourist Info Booth)
Nearest Station: Located at Sangenjaya Station, Tokyo.
Ask: “Manhouru kado ga arimasuka?” (マンホールカードがありますか？)
Manhole Locations: Around Soshigaya-Okura Station (Odakyu Line).
Distance between card and hole: 30 minutes by bike or train. Train: Sangenjaya to Yamashita, then transfer to Gotokuji Station and ride to Soshigaya-Okura Station.