Last week I came across an interesting place and decided to bring Fu there over the weekend.
I was super secretive the rest of the week, and he had no idea where it was or what to expect, except that it was happening around dinner time :D Even right up till the point when we were standing inside the place, he still didn’t know what was going on LOL
I won’t be playing secretive here, since you might decide it’s not worth the effort and can so easily close this window D:
This was the place I brought him to:
What is Dialogue in the Dark?
The concept of Dialogue in the Dark is simple: visitors are lead by blind guides in groups through specially constructed dark rooms in which scent, sound, wind, temperature and texture convey the characteristics of daily environments – for example a park, a city, a boat cruise or a bar.
Official Japanese website here.
Basically, the people who made reservations for the time slot gather in the lounge (our time slot had 8 people including us) and we are briefed by our guide before exploring the world of darkness.
During the briefing, I learned a few things like how to hold the white cane (the proper name for the guiding stick they use), how to check for obstacles in front, and how to behave while in the dark. Not so much to do with propriety, but rather for the safety of everyone, which includes announcing aloud what you are doing “I’ve come to a complete stop!!” or “I’m stooping down to feel the ground”.
The interesting thing is that they change the interior of the rooms frequently, so I’m not afraid to share this here since I have no the fear of spoiling anyone’s experience. For the record, the current setup I went for will run till March 16, so uh, just don’t go there before then (not that I expect anyone to, but just in case).
I think they deliberately picked a basement location, so that absolute darkness is ensured. We were lead through the rooms with not a single hint of light. Not even a pinhole spot worth.
We each picked up a white cane, made up a nickname for ourselves for others to call us by in the dark. I was “Rin Rin” (name of the famous panda in Ueno zoo but died in 2008), Fu was “Ko” and our guide was “Kurage” (Jellyfish). She told us we could call her “Jelly” too. Haha, so cute!
With that, we started our journey into another world, with Jelly at the helm.
The first room…
The ground was rough and uneven, indicating a rocky pavement.
There was a lot of chatter all around, as everyone was thrown into a foreign environment.
“Wow, it’s so dark!”
“Oh? What is this?”
I was the last to enter, and could hear people gradually announcing things they discovered. Someone heard the sound of running water. Was it a tap? A stream? A waterfall?
Then someone else exclaimed “Ah! I think this is a swing!”
It felt so crowded, although from the way the voices traveled, I felt like the room was actually really spacious. In my mind’s eye, I imagined we were coagulated into a little ball of mass in a huge room LOL. So Fu and I wandered away on the group while everyone headed towards the swing to have a go.
I passed some trees as I moved around and I stepped onto sandy ground just as Fu discovered a structure. When I made my way over and felt the the structure, I realized it was a see-saw!
We felt our way to the seats and was happily playing on it while announcing to everyone else so that they can come try as well.
Soon, Jelly told us to gather to move on to the next location.
The second room…
This was an emptier room, as the temperature was lower and the voices echoed far more compared to the previous room.
There were 8 people of us and we were told to form groups of 2 people, and we did so rather quickly. Next, Jelly told us to make groups of 4, and number ourselves from 1-4.
We were to find the person with the same number from the other group to form the new group.
When we found our partner, we were handed a 2-piece puzzle, which we were to put together.
I was grouped with a middle-aged man who was here with his wife and daughter, and in the dark, our hands were fumbling all over the pieces and it felt quite awkward, so I just gave the puzzle to him to piece together. He couldn’t do it, so I told him to pass it to me. Back and forth, until he eventually put it together, or so we thought LOL.
Jelly asked us to guess what the completed puzzle was, and I think Fu got it first. He said it was a heart. Then my partner and I went “Huh?! Heart???”
We were all “Uh oh…” and back to fumbling to un-piece and re-piece them lol. Turns out we were the slowest group and Jelly even started counting down from 10, where we would fail if she reached 0 before we finished it D:
At about 1 second left, we did it!!!
*wipes imaginary sweat off brows*
With that, we moved on to the next place, but not before having a mini obstacle.
We were to cross a bridge!
Everyone was chiong-ing to the front, so I fell back and let them go first. Fu was lost somewhere in front but he’s big enough to take care of himself XD
From what I hear from the people in front, the bridge was those suspension-type bridges, connected by chains and that sway when there is any pressure on it. Therefore people were extra cautious and taking their time crossing it.
I was the last to go on the bridge, but the people in front of me were so slow zzzzz. I felt with the back of my hand (the correct way to feel for things in the dark) and she was still there. I tried again a few seconds later and she was still there. And again, and again. I stood at the same spot for what felt like an eternity.
Finally, she wasn’t in front – in fact, no one was left on the bridge – and I confidently brisk walked across the bridge, one hand on the railing and the other holding the cane, almost as quickly as I would be with sight.
I think one reason I was so yayapapaya was because I navigate in pitch-black darkness every night when going to bed hahaha. That, and my curtains are never drawn during the day (hello, the sun!). You can say I’m rather comfortable in the dark!
Besides, I knew they wouldn’t create any dangerous scenarios, haha. Imagine if someone breaks their leg or cracks their neck… this place would be done for! Of course, my confidence could have possibly been misplaced, but well, I still have my leg and neck so it’s all good :D
The third room…
This room felt smaller than the previous two rooms, and also warmer. You could hear something metallic, like the rattling of the lid of a boiling kettle.
Jelly started pairing people up in the order they arrived, and guided the pair to what I heard as “love” (ra-bu in Japanese) :? :? What on earth are we doing?!
Anyway, since I’m last, I decided to explore my surroundings. I felt something at calf level and when I felt it, I found that it was a low bench, so I sat down to wait.
I was listening to the random chatter going on around me when I realized Jelly was right beside me with a couple and was guiding them to sit on… me. LOL.
I quickly jumped up and she was surprised I was sitting there haha.
Finally it was my turn and when I heard her closer this time, I realized she was saying “log”.
Ro-gu, not ra-bu T_T That’s what happens when you can’t see. But luckily that also means no one can see my sheepish face :3
We were sitting on logs laid out in a square… I think. With something warm and rattling in the middle. Campfire? Were we going to roast marshmallows?! I love roasted marshmallows!!!
Unfortunately, no marshmallows. I suppose it’s a little too high level. Jelly started passing out bells, and everyone started ring ding dong-ing their bells. The moment I rang mine, I knew it was a high “Do”.
We were told to find the low “Do” and after some ringing, plus the discerning sharp ears (I’m one of them XD), we found it. Then we discovered the ascending notes in order, finishing off with my bell. It was actually quite lovely!
Then she told us to do it in reverse order, so I went first. Everyone played their own note in silence, perfectly. Until we got to “So”.
Guess whose note “So” is?
Haha! We had to prompt and call out “So” a few times before Fu was jolted to his senses and rang it.
When I asked him later, he said that the bells sounded exactly the same to him when everyone rang it together. When it was rung one by one, he could tell they were different, but that’s it. He could not tell what the difference was, much less what note it was.
I’m very sensitive to sounds and tones, so that is indeed a world that is very foreign to me…
After our little pseudo-campfire, we moved on to the final room!
The fourth and final room…
The table we stood at was a large, wooden table that felt sturdy and heavy. Somehow I imagined it to be a light wood color.
We were told to sit down and I felt for a bit before plonking into my my seat naturally. Fu asked me “Are you sitting down?” and when I answered yes, he went “So fast?!”
Since we couldn’t see, the menu was recited to us. The girl speaking had a very lovely voice, and could speak good English that was rather accented. An Australian in our group picked up on it and we discovered that she’s a Japanese who grew up in Australia!
We placed our orders and then it was time to pay. Fu asked how can they tell how much we gave them, and it’s here we learned something interesting!
Apparently, on the corner of Japanese notes, there is a symbol that helps the blind discern the notes. I just went to dig up my notes for this picture:
Refreshing to see a picture after the wall of text? ^o^
The symbol is slightly raised, so that’s how they tell.
There are also only 3 common types of notes in Japan (used to be a 2,000 yen, but it was phased out years ago), which makes things easier I suppose! Not like Euros, with the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100… Don’t even start on the coins. D: I remember I was having trouble even though I could see the money!
Our snacks arrived and we were asked to guess what it was. It was pretty easy for me. The moment I touched or ate it, I could immediately tell. Goes to show how much snacks I eat… :3
We started chatting in the dark and I found out that Jelly has been overseas before. That’s not the amazing thing.
She went to Canada.
For many Japanese, going overseas is a terrifying thought, because of the language barrier. Which is why travelling domestically is such a big industry. Either that or they love going to Hawaii, because people there can speak Japanese.
A Japanese going overseas alone, well, that’s a rarity of rarities. Unless they were reasonably fluent in English, it’s extremely uncommon.
A Japanese going overseas alone, while not being able to see… Nothing else even comes close. This is surely on a level of its own!
Fu told me later that he was extremely curious what she went there to do, since well, sightseeing is a little impossible. But he didn’t know how to phrase it (in Japanese, no less) without sounding inappropriate or offensive, so he kept quiet.
When he mentioned it, I realized I wanted to know too. But hmmm, not like we would find out. So I’m just listing the possible answers: For a cultural exchange? Since the other senses are heightened, maybe to immerse and discover the different sounds? Perhaps the air smells different too? To taste authentic Canadian food?
She also told us that she cooks her own meals! I just think that she is so amazingly courageous and adventurous! I admire her for the fact that she’s living her life to the fullest and not allowing anything to stop her. Many more people should live like that.
Let go of the fear.
Embrace the unknown.
Many amazing discoveries are often made this way.
We finally had to leave behind what was our world for 90 minutes.
There was a small debriefing session where we filled in a form. On the form, there was a big space for free play. Fu wrote stuff. Boring.
I drew what I thought the layout of the place was, complete with details of each room.
Maybe it’s entirely off target, I will never know. But just like people who cannot see encountering new things, they will never know how something truly looks like either.
Of the whole experience, this is perhaps the truest form of empathy. In which case, I’m happy to never find out the accuracy of my drawing.
To be honest, i thought it was going to be a dinner because this was what I saw on the site leading to the Japanese homepage:
It says “Dinner in the Dark”!!! And also “Tokyo, Japan”!!!
For the record, it costs 5,000yen (more than SGD $60) per person for this, so you cannot blame me for being misled!
It’s actually quite expensive when we think about it. We also had to pay for our own snacks in the cafeteria. Those were not expensive snacks so it would have been nice for them to have just included it for free.
Right up till before we entered the doors that led to the rooms, I was still thinking it’s going be a dinner. I couldn’t even express my surprise to Fu when I found out because I had to look like I was in control of the situation LOL.
He, on the other hand, kept thinking it was going to be a restaurant. Maybe because I mentioned “dinner time” when he asked what time I reserved it for hahaha.
Well, no matter, it was still a very eye-opening experience!
It seems like there are others around the world, including one in Singapore! The Singapore branch of Dialogue in the Dark really DOES have meals in the dark, it seems! “Lunch in the Dark”! And wah, why the ticket price in SG for the tour is only 1/3 the price I paid?! :G
I recommend for people to visit it; It’s definitely a very interesting experience. It lets you see things from a different light; Your surroundings, other people, and maybe a little about yourself too.
Where the blind becomes sighted while the seeing becomes blind…
Ending off with some pictures we took outside the venue: