Braille ‘meishi’ make new impression

For businesspeople in Japan wanting to make a strong first impression, “meishi,” or business cards, are as invaluable as an Armani suit or a reverential bow.

Indeed, the Japanese “sarariman” (salaried man) will often pay a little more for an innovative design that makes his card stand out. That, in part, was the stimulus behind Tokyo-based I.R. Care K.K.’s latest project — a meishi-enhancing device recently put on the market.

The company’s product, however, does not decorate calling cards with striking colors or eye-catching designs. But it certainly makes them stand out — in more than one sense. It imprints Braille.

“In Japan’s business world, meishi make a strong impact on the recipient,” said Katsuyoshi Ochiai of I.R. Care, whose headquarters are in Edogawa Ward. “So there are many ways people try to make their cards stand out.”

Any cosmetic enhancement achieved by the company’s product, however, is merely a platform from which Ochiai and his team can voice their true objectives: To increase public awareness of and provide job opportunities for the physically and mentally challenged — Japan’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind minorities. “Due to Japan’s economic situation, job opportunities for the physically and mentally challenged are getting tighter. This device is not difficult to use … (and therefore) suitable for the employment of such members of the community,” said Ochiai, himself wheelchair-bound.

The invention is a form of stamp-press, an adaptation of a hole puncher about the size of a toaster. Cards are placed onto a metal plate with a grid of holes into which tiny pins are inserted. With a simple pull of the handle, the meishi is sandwiched between this plate and an upper flat metal plate, bringing down pins to imprint the Braille that corresponds to the information printed on the card. Computer software converts the card-holder’s details into Braille, providing a layout from which the plate can be set. An adjustable gauge on the plate allows Braille to be printed also on postcards and envelopes.

Aids for the blind have increasingly found their way into Japanese society over recent years. The most conspicuous of these are the yellow dimpled tiles found on pavements, particularly near railway and subway stations and on platforms. Additionally, some foodstuff labels now feature Braille, as do subway handrails and many public elevators and facilities.

According to Ochiai, the appearance of Braille on such facilities is just one step along the long road to increasing public awareness of handicapped members of society. “It is difficult to understand the challenges that such people face unless their perspective is taken into consideration,” he said.

“Once I had a call from a company that was constructing an elevator with Braille on the operating panel. They thought the idea was all well and good, but wondered how a blind person would know where to find the elevator when it was installed,” Ochiai added.

So far, presses have been leased to several places, including Nishi-Mizumoto Social Services Center in Katsushika Ward. Their first order came from a local insurance company, Ochiai said. The supermarket giant Jusco, which played a hand in getting the press project off the ground, plans to do likewise, he added. He is hoping that more firms will get involved in the project.

Making a set of 100 cards, starting from preparing the plate to stamping the cards, takes around 30 minutes and generates a monthly income of around 15,000 yen. Such employment provides an invaluable opportunity, he added. “It allows such individuals to experience what most of us take for granted and to earn a wage, no matter how small — something that many of them are not able to enjoy,” he said.