“Hidden Anpanman” Braille Blocks Draw Concern From Museum Visitors

“Hidden Anpanman” Braille Blocks Draw Concern From Museum Visitors

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Blind woman walking
Picture: ソライロ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
A gimmicky use of Braille blocks at the Anpanman museums has some blind users concerned the facilities are elevating novelty over safety.

If you’ve ever walked around a city in Japan, you’ve probably seen rows of raised lines or dots at certain points along the sidewalk, road, or in front of subway lines. Known as “点字ブロック” or “Braille blocks” (known more commonly in English as “tactile paving”), these aid visually impaired individuals. They indicate traffic direction and warn of potential hazards.

You can see Braille blocks at crosswalks, the edges of station platforms, and just in front of slopes or staircases. However, recently,some argued that one particular set of Braille blocks looked like a hazard rather than an aid.

The Anpanman Children’s Museum locations in Sendai and Kobe sports Braille blocks in front of doorways, staircases, and other areas of potential concern. However, some of these Braille blocks are not simply the standard raised bumps. Instead, they feature a metal imprint of Anpanman’s cheery, smiling face.

The museum calls these “Hidden Anpanmen” and they’re comparable to the “Hidden Mickeys” scattered throughout Disneyland and Disney World locations.

A Possible Danger

Braille blocks
Picture: bee / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Initially, the decision to decorate the blocks like Anpanman may not seem like a surprising one. Fans know the superhero for his trademark round head, which is made from anpan (red bean bread). The character, who stars in the long-running anime series of the same name, fights evil alongside other bread-themed superheroes.

Anpanman’s friends include Melonpanna, who is as sweet as the melon bread she’s made from, and Karepanman, who can shoot liquid curry from his head. Over the past several decades, his iconic round head and smiling face have appeared on merchandise ranging from fans to purses to actual edible anpan rolls. [1]

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While the blocks’ “Hidden Anpanman” designs are certainly cute, some visually impaired museum visitors have expressed concern. They feel that the blocks’ nonstandard texture could distract people who rely on the blocks for navigation, and could easily cause confusion. Additionally, some are concerned that children will stop to look for the “Hidden Anpanman,” causing traffic jams and collisions.

ライブドアニュース on Twitter: “【憤り】点字ブロックに「隠れアンパンマン」視覚障害者が指摘する危険https://t.co/XpyuEJSzWO神戸と仙台のアンパンマンこどもミュージアムに設置されているという「隠れアンパンマン」。「探している子どもに気づかず蹴ったりしてしまったらどうするのか」と当事者から憤りの声も。 pic.twitter.com/HpEUIlwq7R / Twitter”

【憤り】点字ブロックに「隠れアンパンマン」視覚障害者が指摘する危険https://t.co/XpyuEJSzWO神戸と仙台のアンパンマンこどもミュージアムに設置されているという「隠れアンパンマン」。「探している子どもに気づかず蹴ったりしてしまったらどうするのか」と当事者から憤りの声も。 pic.twitter.com/HpEUIlwq7R

When Livedoor News covered the issue, they reached out to the Kobe Anpanman Museum with a request for comment. The museum initially declined to respond, but later stated that they had heard the objections and were “considering the issue.” [2]

Currently, the blocks are still in place at both the Sendai and Kobe locations. There’s no indication the museum will remove them. The museum’s three other locations, in Yokohama, Nagoya, and Fukuoka, currently do not have any “Hidden Anpanman” blocks and likely do not intend to install them in the future.

The Goal: A Barrier-Free Society

Blind person using a cane
Picture: Graphs / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The official name for “Braille blocks” is “視覚障害者誘導用ブロック,” or “guidance blocks for the visually impaired.” They were first installed in 1967 near the Okayama Prefectural School for the Blind in Okayama Prefecture. Following the success of these first blocks, rail companies added them to rail station platforms in 1970.

Today, you can find Braille blocks in cities and towns throughout Japan. As part of its improvement efforts prior to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the city of Tokyo added hundreds more installations of these blocks at street corners, crosswalks, and train and subway stations. [3]

Japan utilizes two types of Braille blocks. “Guidance blocks” have raised parallel lines and indicate the direction of traffics. You find them most often at crosswalks or along busy streets.

“Warning blocks” are circular blocks that indicate a person should stop or be aware of their surroundings. You’ll spot these on station platforms and near environmental hazards such as bumps or potholes.

Most Braille blocks use yellow paint so pedestrians won’t trip over them. Alternatively, they can be made of shiny, eye-catching silver or bronze-colored metal.

Will Braille Block Standards Change?

Current standards for the installation of Braille blocks prohibit people from standing or loitering on top of them. It is also forbidden to place anything on top of a Braille block, whether temporarily or permanently.

Currently, there is no standard dictating whether you should or shouldn’t decorate Braille blocks . However, it is possible that authorities may consider further regulations given the current situation with the Anpanman Children’s Museum.

The designers of the “Hidden Anpanman” likely had zero malicious intent. However, the situation highlights how designers and companies fail to take the needs of visually impaired users into account when designing public facilities.

Hopefully, the ongoing situation will raise awareness regarding the visually impaired and the difficulty they experience navigating day-to-day life, especially in crowded cities like Tokyo. Additionally, if the museum does choose to continue hiding Anpanman’s adorable face around their various locations, they will hopefully do so in less potentially dangerous ways.

After all, Anpanman himself has always been a safety-conscious superhero – it’s what he would want!

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Sources

[1] Anpanman Children’s Museum Web site. https://museum.anpanman-acm.co.jp/

[2] Livedoor News. 「隠れアンパンマン」点字ブロックの仕掛けに視覚障害者から指摘も. https://news.livedoor.com/article/detail/23867009/

[3] Japan Federation of the Visually Impaired. 点字ブロックについて http://nichimou.org/impaired-vision/barrier-free/induction-block/

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Kay Benton

Kay is a longtime Japan enthusiast and former participant in the JET Program. Their favorite thing to do when traveling in Japan is visiting as many onsens as possible.

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