AGEO, SAITAMA PREF. – Every month, a unique event is held at a temple in Saitama Prefecture to help people get a better understanding of visual impairment by having them walk through the temple wearing eye masks and depend more on their senses of hearing and smell.
The event is catching on not only with acquaintances of the visually impaired, but also with people interested in learning how they experience the world as Tokyo prepares to host the Paralympics this summer.
Minori, a nonprofit organization based in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, holds the event every month at Henjoin temple in the city. About 10 people take part each time.
Minori says it wants people to learn that anyone with a visual impairment can be creative and enjoy life. Some participants say they learned how little they use their noses and ears every day, and that the experience also improved their hearing.
Wearing eye masks, participants walk through the temple as Minori staffers lead the way with helpful hints such as, “We are getting close to some stairs” or “Turn left.” They also come into contact with Buddhist religious tools and listen to sermons while using the masks.
“I was relieved because a staff member guided me as a helper. I was relying on my ears and hands more than I usually do,” said Akiko Katsuki, 51, who joined November’s event.
Tea cakes were served to the blind participants to hone their taste buds. Made with 13 flavors of konpeito (Japanese sugar candy), some said they couldn’t identify their flavor without visual cues at first, and that the task showed them how colors actually affect their sense of taste.
Junko Okada, a 50-year-old executive at Minori who created the event, said she drew inspiration from visually impaired children who were listening to a drum and touching a Buddhist statue at the temple.
Okada, who has a visually impaired daughter, said people should not be left feeling sorry for the visually impaired.
“Walking is possible with help. Close your eyes and enjoy,” she said.