It was a Saturday in Tokyo and we’d planned to meet some friends for an outdoor, distanced, winter picnic (yep) in Yoyogi Park. Naturally, I jumped online to look for any Shibuya ward manhole cards. These days, whenever I’m going somewhere—which isn’t often during the pandemic—I’ll check to see what cards are nearby. May as well pack as many experiences into my rare outings, while I can, eh? Lo and behold, I found a series of colourful Sendagaya manoles, a perfect complement to the picnic. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was to find a cool new shrine to bring visitors to. Here’s how it went…
Sendagaya: home of shogi (Japanese chess)
The first part of the manhole mission is research. There’s always a rhyme or reason to the manhole designs, which means there’s going to be something important to see or learn when you’re in the area. My research revealed that the Sendagaya card was available from the Shogi Hall (Shogi Kaikan). ‘Shogi’ is actually Japanese chess and the Shogi Hall is the National headquarters. I knew my husband would be excited for this one as he’s chotto obsessed with online chess. If you’ve never heard of this game before, here’s a rundown:
It was becoming clear that the suburb of Sendagaya had a strong connection to Japanese chess, but it turns out in more ways than one! The design featured on the manhole/manhole card is actually from a popular manga/anime/movie about shogi, called ‘March Comes In Like A Lion.’
March Comes In Like A lion
This manga, by Chika Umino, started in 2007 and follows the life of 17-year-old professional shogi player Rei (meaning zero). Sadly, Rei lost his family in an accident, feels estranged from his foster family and has hardly any friends—except for a local family of women..and shogi, of course. In 2017, it was adapted into an anime TV show AND live-action movie. Here’s a taste:
In the series, Rei is a frequent visitor to the Sendagaya area, praying at the local shrine and playing in the Shogi Kaikan.
Collecting the manhole card from Shogi Hall
Shogi Hall is just a few minutes walk from Kita Sando or Sendagaya Stations. Before entering the very 1970s building, we stand to watch the players on the second-floor dojo.
Inside, we see a cardboard cutout of Rei from March Comes in Like a Lion but head left to the gift shop. We waste no time in collecting our bounty; we approach the counter, ask for the manhole cards (manho-ru ka-do ga arimasuka?) and receive two immediately. With them safely tucked away, we explore a little. Upstairs, the vibe is very serious. We poke our head into the dojo, though you need to pay a fee to enter and play so we don’t abuse the rules. Back down in the gift shop, we check out the shogi sets, gasping when we see some costing over $2,000AUD. Not being able to resist, I bought my husband a set as a Christmas gift—he picked the Kumon version for beginners (kids) which comes with instructions and directional arrows on the tiles.
Having learned a little about the world of shogi, we decided to see what else Sendagaya had to offer. The Shibuya ward website outlined another important stop on our shogi tour.
Hatonomori Hachiman Shrine
Located just opposite the Shogi Hall, the Hatonomori Hachiman Shrine is what’s known as a ‘Power Spot.’ Inside this ancient Shinto complex, you’ll find the hexagonal ‘Shogi-do’ hall which houses a giant shogi tile. This is where people pray to improve their skills in the game. You can even buy a little amulet from the good office to bring you luck (pictured below).
What I found most impressive about this shrine, though, is the Mini Fuji—a small replica of Mount Fuji that you can climb on. It’s a gentle 2-minute experience as opposed to the gruelling overnight hike on the real thing. The shrine’s website says this mound was created back in 1789 and is a ‘Tangible Folk Cultural Property.’ It includes replicas of shrines and other monuments on the journey. We visited in early winter and I had the pleasure of seeing the rocky mountain blanketed in fallen gingko leaves.
Finding the Sendagaya Manholes
This time, the Sendagaya manholes were super close to the card distribution place. In fact, the first one is located just across the street from the Shrine, at the beginning of Sendagaya Odori shopping street. Lucky for us, it’s Rei—the manhole to match the card.
There are actually 9 design manholes along this street, with 6 different designs to see (there are a few doubles). They all feature characters from March Comes in Like a Lion. The females are all members of the friendly Kawamoto family, while the guy in the orange design is Rei’s best friend/lifelong rival Harunobu Nikaido. According to Wikipedia, this character is wealthy, obese, chronically ill and modelled after actual real-life shōgi player Satoshi Murayama who died of bladder cancer, choosing shōgi over treatment. Bleak.
We crisscrossed from left to right, tracking down all the designs along the street, finally ending on King Meow (Ōsama nyā / 王さまニャー). My favourite is the pink ‘Hinata Kawamoto’ design—how about you? Let me know in the comments!
The Shibuya website also told us to look out for a super old manhole, nicknamed the “Senhole,” which was installed in the early Showa period (circa the late 1920s). The design features the character for “thousand” (sen) in the centre, hence the name sen-hole. Apparently, there is only one like it in existence, so it seemed only fitting to include it in our tour of Sendagaya manholes.
Another successful manhole card mission. As usual, I’ve managed to expand my knowledge of Japanese culture and history in the process. God, I love this hobby! Next, I travel to Setagaya ward to find an Ultraman Manhole!
Manhole Card Address: Shogi Hall, Sendagaya
Nearest Stations: Kita Sando (Tokyu Toyoko Line), Sendagaya (Chuo, Chuo Sobu Lines) and Kokuritsu-Kyogijo (Oedo Line)
Ask: “Manhouru kado ga arimasuka?” (マンホールカードがありますか？)
Manhole Locations: Beginning here, and continuing down the street.
Distance between card and hole: 2 minutes on foot.
More info: here, on Shibuya’s website.
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