BLINDNESS IN TOKYO / Anna Kaneda

A few days ago, around ten at night, I was on the platform waiting for a train to get back home. I looked around and saw a man, aged around thirty, alighting the train that just arrived on the other side. I immediately noticed that he was blind, as he had a white cane in his hand. He took his first clumsy step onto the platform, making sure of his footing with each tap of the cane. A large crowd of business men and women also stepped out of the train with him, but to my surprise, none of them seemed to be aware of his blindness. The people were all busy checking their smartphones as they rushed towards the exit. The blind man was pushed, bumped, and forced to move with the crowd, but nobody showed any sign of care for his expression of bewilderment and fear, nor the fact that he was trying to change direction. Everybody just kept running to the stairs as if they were a flock of sheep chased by a dog. The people in Tokyo were just as blind as the man at the platform, who was struggling to keep himself from missing each step on the stairs.

Just as the blind man relied on the cane and felt the world through it, the people pushing him were feeling and creating their lives through their smartphones. The tiny devices in their hands could show them which train they should take, along with lovely texts from their family who were waiting for them. Smartphones certainly enable people to know which action they should take next, but in exchange, they are kept from truly seeing the world around them. The so-called “intelligent” devices could not show the action the people should have taken to avoid collision, while the white cane could for the blind man. In a sense, the smartphones were less “smart” than the white cane.

Other cases of the blindness of people in Tokyo can be seen anywhere on the train. It happened on my way to university the next morning when a young man, his hair dyed yellow with loud piercings on his ears, stood right next to me. Everybody kept glancing at him because of the music leaking from his headphones. It was annoyingly loud but he was oblivious to the fact, too busy with the messages from his girlfriend, which I accidentally read while withstanding the noise. His eyes were glued to the screen as if his girlfriend was actually there. According to her texts her colleagues at her workplace were aggravating her and she needed his advice. He should stop irritating people with the large, violent volume of his music first before dealing with people elsewhere.

During the afternoon that same day, as I rode the train again, a middle-aged woman took the last vacant seat. I could see the screen of her iPhone showing an article about the relationship between Japan’s declining birth rate and the increasing pressures new mothers face in raising their children. The train arrived at a station where a young mother holding a crying baby got on. She wasn’t wearing any makeup and looked exhausted. Someone needed to give her a seat, but the woman reading the article didn’t even look up at her. Perhaps she was unaware of the mother’s presence, captivated by her smartphone, or pretended to be in order to protect her precious seat.

Another evening, I saw a business man who was enjoying a brief rest from his hectic life on the train. He was tapping away at the website of a travel agency, searching for the best place with beautiful scenery. Some pictures caught his attention, and he sighed slightly at the images of Paris at night and Machu Pichu in the clouds. But unfortunately for him, he was so enraptured by his smartphone that he was missing the most magnificent sunset in the sky outside. It was right at the time when day and night met. The sky was mixed with a gradation of colors, yellow, pink, orange, and light blue that were about to vanish, and wine red, purple, and dark blue that were falling from the heavens above. It was as graceful as any European city filled with artificial lights and as mysterious as any heritage deep in the mountains. There would have been no need for him to sigh so forlornly if he had only opened his eyes to the unique, priceless, and irreplaceable view just before him.

The people on the trains in Tokyo are shut off from the world around them, living most of their lives on their smartphones. What I saw on their small screens could even be a window into the social problems Japanese people carried, such as bullying in the workplace, the decline in the birth rate, and the lack of aesthetic appreciation of the landscape. I believe these issues come partly from the blindness of people unable to look around themselves. They were missing precious things they shouldn’t, but ironically, they never missed a step down the stairs.

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