Unexpected request changes attitudes about sidewalk manners and being considerate of vision-impaired residents.

Recently, Japanese Twitter user @sunapon’s wife was walking to work on a snowy day. Along the way, she encountered a man who was shoveling snow on the sidewalk, and he called out to her as she passed by.

She probably expected a polite “Good morning!” or “Sure is cold today?”, but instead the man made a request that changed @sunapon and his wife’s entire perspective about walking around town when snow is falling.

The man said to @sunapon’s wife:

“This is something I’m asking everyone who’s wearing boots, but could you walk on the tenji blocks?”

You’ll find “tenji blocks” on just about every major sidewalk in Japan, and plenty of minor ones too. A type of tactile paving, the ridges and bumps are designed to provide guidance to blind pedestrians, telling them in what direction the walkway continues and warning of steps, drop-offs, and intersections with other flows of walking traffic.

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Tenji blocks are an invaluable part of the urban and suburban landscape, allowing blind residents to make their way to work, school, or wherever else they need to be as part of a viable, sufficiently self-reliant lifestyle. But while tenji blocks help Japan’s blind take care of themselves, sometimes the blocks need a little help in doing their job.

Generally, tenji blocks are positioned in the center of walkways. However, most pedestrians in orderly Japan stick to their left when walking on the sidewalk, mimicking the rule for cars driving on Japanese road). So while numerous footsteps and the heat-retaining properties of the concrete used for most of the sidewalk knocks away much of the snow along the sides of the walkway, the tenji blocks in the center, made of a rubberized material, often remain obscured by packed snow.

Compounding the problem is that under ordinary conditions, common courteousness would dictate that people who can see should not walk on the tenji blocks, in order to leave that path clear for those who rely on the non-visual guidance. There’s also the fact the uneven texture of tenji blocks makes them uncomfortable to step on in less-cushioned footwear, which is perhaps why the man who called out to @sunapon’s wife was voicing his request to people wearing ostensibly thick-soled boots, in hopes that they would be willing to walk on the blocks and clear them of ice.

For those whose shoes aren’t up to the task, one online commenter recommended using your umbrella to brush the blocks clean as you walk past, provided you don’t need to use it to shield yourself from falling snow at the moment. It’d definitely be a warmhearted gesture on a cold winter day.

Source: Twitter/@sunapon
Featured image: Twitter/@kuraunranran
Insert image: Wikipedia/Haragayato