Japan is, without a doubt, one of my favorite travel destinations, but for various reasons I have not been able to make it there recently. So this time I decided to write a post about one of the things that really surprised me in Japan: “Braille Blocks” (点字ブロック).
Braille Blocks are specially-designed structures that have been built into the sidewalks into many of Japan’s major cities, whose purpose is to help the visually-impaired travel safely. They were first used in 1967 in Okayama prefecture, conceived by Seiichi Miyake (三宅精一氏). Their official name is “視覚障害者誘導用ブロック”, which translates to “blocks for guidance of the visually-impaired”. While at a glance they look like a yellow raised surface designed to prevent slipping, if you look closer there are actually two different types of patterns with specific purposes.
The first is “誘導ブロック” (guidance blocks) which are made from a series of four raised parallel lines and are used to indicate a certain direction. For example, you will commonly see these running down the sidewalk in between stores, parallel to the street. The second is “警告ブロック” (warning blocks), which are a grid of dots used to indicate some important or potentially dangerous area. They are often used before stairs, crosswalks, elevators, and at intersections of guidance blocks. Visually impared persons use these blocks by feeling along either with their feet or a cane.
When I first came across these (I think it was somewhere in Tokyo) I was curious but didn’t think about it much at the time. But now that I know what these are used, and how widespread they are in Japan, I’m really impressed with the amount of consideration and effort that has been put into making the life of visually-impared persons a little easier. I’ve heard from some people that individual differences are taken into account much more in countries like the U.S. compared to Japan, but this is a great counter example of where Japan really shines in terms of supporting those with disabilities.
Japanese has the term バリアフリー (barrier free) that refers to the act of removing barriers that may impede the elderly or those with disabilities, or the spaces that have been designed with that in mind. This includes things like steps and other areas that can be problematic to use, but the word can also be applied to a much wider sense and refer to non-physical things.
After a few trips to Japan I’ve become somewhat used to the Braille Blocks and even expect them in any major city. Japan has so much interesting culture, but these are one thing that you are not likely to discover in places like Manga, novels, or movies; it’s only when you are on the streets of Japan that you really take notice of them.
You can read more about Braille Blocks in Japanese on this page.
(Note: image of braille blocks taken from here, which is under a Creative Commons license.)