Some months ago while at an unfamiliar Tokyo subway station, I was startled to hear the clear sound of a cheerfully twittering bird. Here, 30 meters underground, in the all steel-and-concrete bowels of the Tokyo Metro? It seemed that some birds aren’t very picky with places to nest.
After listening for a while, though, I eventually realised that it just was a recording of a bird call playing at 10 second intervals. At the time, i dismissed it as a futile attempt to humanize the sterile steel and concrete environment of the Tokyo Metro, to cheer up exhausted, overworked salary men during the crush of rush hour. Somehow, I don’t think a bird call is going to do it.
Tonight, however, I finally got the crucial clue to solve the mystery. The loudspeaker making the bird noises is mounted at the base of the platform’s exit staircase. Looking closer showed a small symbol of a man with a white cane.
In other words, blind people can follow the bird call to navigate their way out of the dense maze of the subway. Better yet, it does it in a way that’s unobtrusive and even pleasant for other passengers. Fantastic design.