DIY Manhole Rubbings
With so much to see strolling the streets of Japan, it’s easy to overlook the beauty that lies underfoot. But oh, what a shame to do so! Japan is blessed with having some of the most gorgeous manhole covers that I have ever seen. Designed to highlight the famous facets of each region, covers often depict local landmarks, people, flora, fauna and festivals. According to the Japanese Society of Manhole Covers (日本マンホール蓋学会), there are currently around 6,000 different designs to spot throughout Japan! During my time in Osaka and other parts of Japan, I’ve found myself falling for these unique pieces of functional art and really wanting to take more than a picture of them home with me. Rubbings seemed like the perfect way to do just that! In addition to being a great souvenir to remind one of their travels, DIY Manhole Rubbings also solve the common traveler dilemma of having both limited cash and suitcase space.
• large paper
• rubber band
• oil pastels/crayons/charcoal/rubbing block
• After collecting the supplies you’ll need, go exploring until you find a manhole or placard that you like.
• Once you’ve made your selection try to brush off any sand or pebbles to prevent ripping the paper.
• Place the rubbing paper over the manhole/placard and secure the edges with tape. We used Japanese washi tape as it easily peals off the paper without damaging it and also leaves nothing behind. We made our rubbings on a pretty windy day so the tape was essential in keeping the paper from blowing away or moving. If you don’t have any tape you can also use stones or other heavy objects to hold down the corners. Keep in mind that rubbings made on walls or other vertical places will require tape.
• Once secure, begin to rub the high relief with either an oil pastel, rubbing block, crayon or charcoal. We opted for oil pastels.
• Once you are satisfied with the transfer, lift off the paper and remove the tape.
• To keep our rubbings from smearing, we placed a blank sheet of paper over the transferred image and carefully rolled the two pieces up together and secured with a rubber band. The paper can also be folded but keep in mind this may cause creasing.
• Take home, display and enjoy!
Good To Know
If you’re keen to find out more about the wonderful world of Japanese manhole covers, Reno Camerota’s aptly named book, Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is a beautifully laid out photographic guide.