Pokémon have been a big name since their creation in 1996 with new series and games continuing to appear even 25 years later! When the PokémonGO app game was launched, everyone's attention focused on them even more. People of all ages all over the world were spinning Pokestops and hunting for rare Pokémon. The game went a step further and collaborated with the Tohoku region to entice more people to visit and help with regional recovery through tourism! Thousands flocked to Tohoku to catch the mythical Pokémon called 'Lapras'. Nowadays, official Pokémon tourist ambassadors can be found across Japan - prefectures choose Pokémon with a symbolic connection to what they are known for: Tottori famous for its sand dunes is represented by the Pokémon Sandshrew.
However, the Pokémania did not end there! For the past few years people's beloved creatures have been appearing all over Japan on special manhole covers! Called Poké Lids, they can be found from northern Hokkaido to southern Miyazaki prefecture on Kyushu. It all started in Kagoshima’s Ibusuki in 2018 when the first Poké Lid was installed but now you can find 148 Pokémon manholes all around the country! The ‘legend’ goes that they are secretly hiding tunnels created by Diglett, a mole-like Pokémon, which have been later covered by eager artists. We can neither confirm nor deny the truth to these claims but you won’t really know the truth until you see them in person. Manholes in some areas only represent Pokémon associated with the area but others like Ikaruga in Nara have a variety of monsters meaning you really can catch ‘em all! And for all avid trainers, every manhole is a PokéStop with special rewards! You can find all of them on the official page here but we have picked our top four areas with the most manholes in closest walking distance of each other.
Ojiya City, Niigata
We will start our Poké-journey in Niigata prefecture’s Ojiya City where you can find the one and only fan-favourite Magikarp, well known for its lack of abilities. Magikarp is so unfortunate, there even is a famous Japanese song about his weaknesses. You can find four manhole covers with Magikarp around Ojiya. Why would Magikarp be a part of the local landscape of a town in Niigata prefecture? That is because it’s famous for a carp theme park called Ojiya Nishikigoi no sato (the village of Nishiki carp)! Nishigoi is a famous carp variety that can be found across Japan and it was born here in this town! It takes around 2.5 hours to get here from Tokyo Station so we recommend exploring the area a bit more and staying overnight! Niigata prefecture is where you will find the real Snow Country described in Yasunari Kawabata's novel, don't miss out on Echigo Yuzawa and the Sado Island when you're in the area!
Next, we are travelling down south to Otsu which is 10 minutes away from Kyoto Station by local train. Home to two PokéLids with Gyrados, you will find them just by the shore of what is Japan’s largest lake – Biwa-ko! It has been featured in Japanese literature for centuries and it's the perfect retreat. The area is stunning all year round and you can rent bicycles by the station to enjoy a refreshing day out cycling around the lake. You can also hike or take a cable car up Mt. Hiei which will give you incredible views of both Biwa-ko and Kyoto. Visiting in the summer, you can even take a break on the local beach!
The most recent addition to the Pokéfamily is Ikaruga in Nara, with five PokéLids each featuring a different Pokémon! Ikaruga is well known for the beautiful Horyuji Temple, one of Japan’s first acclaimed UNESCO World Heritage sites. With stunning natural backdrops filled with rice paddies and magnificent mountains, Ikaruga is an oasis filled with historical temples. We especially recommend taking a break to walk along the local Tatsuta River flanked by reds, oranges and yellows of Japan's irresistable autumnal colour palette. The best way to reach this historical gem is taking a 10 minute train from Nara station.
The final destination of our tour is Ibusuki, a quaint hot spring town in Kagoshima prefecture on the southern island Kyushu, where the whole Poké-craze began in 2018! It’s the perfect place to unwind, and enjoy a day at the seaside or a dip in the hot springs. In Ibusuki, throw everything you thought you knew about hot springs out the window. Aside from fantastic outdoor soaks, what attracts people from all over Japan, are actually volcanic sand baths with scenic seaside views! Once you’ve purified your body and mind, you're ready to hit the town in search of Poké Lids! With different evolutions of Eevee all around the town, there are a total of six PokéLids around the station and two in the coastal Uomidake Natural Park! Ibusuki is located an hour away by train from Kagoshima and two hours away from Kumamoto but we would highly recommend an overnight stay for the full experience.