On August 15th, a blind man fell to his death at a Tokyo subway station without a guard rail. 55 year old Naoto Shinada was walking with his guide dog along the narrow platform when a station staff member warned him of his precarious position, but it was too late and Mr. Shinada tripped and fell onto the tracks.
The platform at Aoyama-itchome Station on the Ginza Line is only a few meters wide and has a series of large pillars running down the center – leaving only a meter to walk on either side of each pillar. Mr. Shinada walked along the track side which has nothing blocking people from the tracks.
It is customary for people with guide dogs to have the dog walk between themselves and the tracks, but Mr. Shinada was nearest the tracks with his dog on the other side. This may indicate that he was unaware he was next to the tracks.
Despite losing his vision to a disease in 2002, Mr. Shinada was very active. In addition to working as a mathematics teacher, he was also involved in Christian missionary work overseas. He was on his way home from his office when the accident occurred.
In addition to the tenji-blocks (braille blocks) located throughout stations, visually impaired riders can request an escort to the train from a station staff member. Unfortunately, the vast majority of train stations in Japan have nothing blocking passengers from the tracks. This can be particularly dangerous for those with visual impairments and as well as wheelchair users. While most train lines are working towards building guard walls, technical complications and lack of budget are often sited as reasons for delays.
For those visiting Japan with disabilities, we strongly recommend taking full advantage of station staff members’ assistance and exercise caution when using Japan’s busy train and subway stations. We also hope that Mr. Shinada’s tragic and needless death will be a wake-up call to train lines of the need to put the safety of their passengers ahead of budget concerns and technical challenges.