You might have noticed when walking the streets in Japan, many of the sidewalks are lined with yellow pannels, some with raised lines, other with raised dots. They sort of look like legos? But what are these for? In Japanese, these are called 点字ブロック (tenji blocks), tenji being the Japanese word for braille.
These blocks were made to help aid those with visual impairments or blindness as they navigate public spaces. So what about those bumps and lines?
The lines indicate the direction in which a path continues.
The bumps indicate intersections and crossings.
While recently, you’ll find more subtle colors used for the tenji blocks, yellow is still the most widely used color in Japan. It’s said yellow has greatest visibility, while the lighter blocks often go missed by people who have the ability to see color. The blocks are built into the sidewalks, and provide important paths along main roads and along shopping streets. Another important place you’ll find these tenji blocks is inside train stations. In addition to helping people make their way around these crazy bustling areas, the tenji blocks provide an important guide for the area between the home platform and the train tracks.
In places like Tokyo, different lines are tackling the project of putting automated gates on all train platforms that only expose the track area after a train has safely docked. These gates prevents accidents where passengers (or their belongings) fall to the tracks, in addition to being an important suicide prevention measure.
For now though, the yellow tenji blocks provide an important guide for all people as to the safe distance between the platform and the oncoming trains. Even for places with the track guards, having limbs or other body parts too close to the track are dangerous when trains are arriving.
March 18th is actually the commemorative day for the tenji block and their creator, Seiichi Miyake.
Wanting to help a friend who was beginning to lose their vision, Miyake invested in these blocks and first produced them using his own money. The blocks first came into use on March 18th 1965 in Okayama. They were placed around the perimeter of a local school for the blind, and the local community was thrilled.
These blocks have been adapted and now exist all over the world.