After staring at his phone and almost crashing into a blind pedestrian in Tokyo, our reporter decided to walk a mile in his shoes.
You may not suspect it while he’s tasting porn-star recommended candies or posing nude (save for a single postage stamp stuck to his body), but SoraNews24’s Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun is actually a very conscientious guy. Whether he’s going the extra mile to be a good father or ruminating on how to be kind to the elderly, P.K.’s conscience is always there, whispering in the back of his mind even as his crazier urges shout in their own loud voice.
Recently, P.K. was walking to work, and looking at his smartphone as he strolled down the sidewalk. Suddenly, though, his divided attention made him almost walk right into a blind pedestrian.
While he avoided the collision, P.K. was left with a deep feeling of guilt. As the days he passed, he couldn’t get the encounter out of his mind, and he kept thinking about how much more difficult navigating Tokyo must be for those who’ve lost their sight.
So to better appreciate their circumstances, P.K. decided that for one day, he would commute to the office while wearing an eye mask that completely blocks his vision.
Honestly, P.K. didn’t think this would be that hard. After all, he’s been making the commute every working day for years, and his particular route is a pretty easy one. His door-to-door commute is an enviable-for-Tokyo 30 minutes, 20 of which is spent on the subway, leaving just 10 minutes total for the walk from his apartment to the station plus from the station where he gets off to the office.
That said, for the sake of safety, we sent fellow SoraNews24 reporter Yoshio to meet P.K. at his home in the morning to accompany him on his journey and keep an eye out for impending danger, as well as to document the experience.
▼ Hopefully this team won’t get in any trouble with the law this time.
As soon as he stepped out his front door, P.K. put on his mask. He also grabbed an umbrella with which to search for obstacles in his path, using it as a substitute for the white canes carried by blind pedestrians.
The first order of business was to get to the station, which takes P.K. just two minutes when he has the benefit of sight. On this day, though, things didn’t go nearly as smoothly.
While many pedestrian pathways in Japan have textured paving to act as guides for those with impaired vision, it’s not a universal sidewalk feature, and P.K. realized for the first time that there are no such aids between his apartment and the station. Using his umbrella, he was able to maneuver around obstructions, but being unable to see meant he had no way of utilizing landmarks to tell where he needed to turn or how far he’d progressed.
Desperate for any sort of reference, he began groping his way along the fronts of buildings and running his hand along the metal guardrails that stand at the edge of the sidewalks in busier sections of the street.
▼ This isn’t the station. It’s a restaurant advertising its wine selection.
After 20 minutes of trudging progress, P.K. finally got to the intersection he has to cross to get into the station. This, he would later tell us, was the most terrifying part of the entire commute.
On the plus side, the sidewalks near the intersection have textured paving. But the sounds of cars accelerating or braking, coupled with the rush of wind against P.K.’s face as they drove past, was extremely unsettling without being able to see what was going on. Moreover, while some crosswalks in Japan play a chime or piece of music to indicate when it’s safe to cross, this intersection didn’t have that setup.
▼ There is a button blind pedestrians can press for audio guidance, but P.K., not being able to see, didn’t realize it was there.
In the interest of not getting P.K. hit by a truck, Yoshio stepped in once again to assist. On the way to the intersection, he’d called out multiple warnings to P.K. when it looked like he’d been drifting towards danger, and when walk sign came on, Yoshio told P.K. it was safe to head to the other side of the street.
Now at the subway station entrance, P.K.’s next task was to make his way down the stairs. This turned out to be relatively easy, thanks to the handrail that he could hold and follow to the bottom of the steps. Getting through the ticket gate was a snap too. Wireless prepaid cards and train passes have become the norm in Tokyo, and setting yours down on the gate sensor is easy to do even without the use of your sight.
Now on the platform, P.K. made his way towards where the front of the train would stop, since that would place him closest to his desired exit when he got off. Once again feeling his way along the wall, he moved down the platform without any serious trouble, but encountered a problem once the train pulled up: he couldn’t tell where the doors were, as shown in this video.
Listening for the hissing sound made when the automated doors slide open, P.K. could get an approximate idea, but he still had to tap the exterior of the train (and inadvertently a passenger) with his umbrella before he could get inside.
P.K.’s subway ride takes 20 minutes, and after the harrowing journey to get to this point, his time onboard came with a sense of blissful relief. With no need to move about on his own, he stood and relaxed, listening to the regular audio announcements for the upcoming station. Once he heard that Higashi Shinjuku Station was next, he waited for the train to stop and the doors to open, then stepped out onto the platform.
Following the floor guides, he passed through the gates and headed for the escalators that would take him back up to street level. These proved to be pretty easy to deal with as well, as the bumpy grating in front of them made it easy to see where the ascending steps start, and once they leveled off P.K. knew it was time to get off.
P.K. was now in the final stretch, but since SoraNews24 headquarters isn’t on a particular bust street, there are no textured pavement guides. So once again, he had to alternate between carefully searching for dangers with his umbrella and reach out with his free hand to see where nearby walls and buildings were.
Finally, P.K. arrived in front of our office building, managed to board the elevator, and was finally at work. Instead of his usual 30 minutes, the commute took P.K. two hours, and he was physically and mentally exhausted from the ordeal
P.K. realizes that many blind pedestrians who do this sort of thing every day, and that with that frequency comes more highly developed non-sight navigation skills than he has. Nonetheless, the experience hammered home how many more things blind pedestrians have to be cautious of, and P.K. is now more convinced than ever that inattentive people staring at their smartphones while walking shouldn’t be one of them.
With no one available to watch out for him on his way home that night, P.K. decided against trying to make the return portion of his commute in a sightless state. So he stuck the eye mask in his pocket, and did the same with his phone.
[ Read in Japanese ]