Dialogue in the Dark, a franchise with presence in over 20 countries, will start to offer limited exhibitions in English for its special Totonou exhibition. What sets the Tokyo edition apart is the main theme, which is Japanese nature and culture.
Step out of your comfort zone and into the darkness where you can experience and see what is invisible to the eye. With the help of your visually impaired guide, Jelly, as she likes to be called, you can put yourself in the shoes of the blind and experience how it feels to rely on the rest of your senses for navigation.
In the dark, everything goes. Dig your feet in pebbles or pick them up with your hands to feel their texture. There is only one condition though; keep talking with your groupmates about what is in your head and what you think about your surroundings. During the tour, each one pictures their one world, which can differ greatly from the one your imagining.
With a bit of encouragement of Jelly, you let go of reservations that would otherwise stop you from hugging trees or playing with crispy leaves. No one can see you after all. She is also very informative about the culture elements in the exhibition. Before crawling through a low, wooden door which used to be the way of entering a tea house in the older times, you are asked to let go of any discomfort and fear, the same way the samurai had to leave their status at the entrance to be allowed in.
During the short footbath, you learn about trees native to Japan through the sense of smell as Jelly pours their fragrances into the pleasantly warm water. As you go navigate through your surroundings your thoughts start to become deeper and you become more aware of the changes around you. You can recognize the pattern in the background sounds from nature, you can tell the changes in volume, and the white cane you were given at the beginning becomes one with your hand.
To end the tour, you are guided onto a Noh stage and asked to walk the same way Noh actors do. Knees bent, feet sliding on smooth wooden planks and feeling the gap between them to walk in a straight line. As Jelly bangs a gong by the stage, you realize that your sense of sound has critically sharpened as the long-lasting sound from the gong echoes through your body more than you would expect. For about 10 minutes, you can make yourself comfortable, even lie on the stage if you would like, as an instrumental Japanese melody runs in the background. After discussion with your groupmates, it becomes apparent that silence and internal dialogue can have varied effects on one’s mood and mentality.
About Dialogue in the Dark
Andreas Heinecke, the founder of Dialogue in the Dark, opened the first exhibition in Germany in 1989 after he realized that blind or visually impaired persons did not have equal access to education, the job market and other things that sighted persons take for granted. By inviting sighted persons to go in a dark room with the blind, he hoped that they would experience how it is to live with no sight and empathize with and understand the hurdles that the blind have to navigate through.
Dialogue in the Dark Totonou, in collaboration with Mitsui Garden Hotel Jingugaien Tokyo Premier, will be available in English twice a month, accepting up to 8 persons per group at ¥12,000 for a single ticket. Advance reservations are required and tickets are available online.