Workshop Report: Discover the Way That Visually Impaired and Sighted People Can Appreciate the World Together


  • #ESG
  • #Focus on the local community and the world.
  • #Inspiring
  • #Progressive
  • #Store Creators
  • #Understand and engage with others to create new values.

“Seeing” is the ultimate theme at JINS, a company that offers to enrich lives for everyone through eyewear. And a workshop provided by JINS as part of the Community Symbosis Business Department activities led by Michiyo Miwa, a blind sculptor, make us think deeply about “seeing.” Through workshop scenes, feelings from JINS creators who attended a workshop, and Miwa's interview, let's find out the essence of the brand vision of JINS, “Magnify Life.”

\Key points/

Point1:”Visible,” therefore “invisible.”
Point2:Discover the essence of “Magnify Life” by considering “seeing.”
Point3:Touching various senses in diverse people fosters a sense of customer care!

The Workshop Report

The workshop “Discover all the ways that blind people, people who have difficulty seeing, and sighted people can appreciate the world together” was held at a gallery on the first floor of YAMATO Inc., Maebashi City, Gunma, on November 5, 2022. The gallery held a group exhibition of five artists, including Miwa, and by making a group composed of eight people—two sighted people and six people who have difficulty seeing—they appreciated statues together.

During the workshop, a group gathered around sculptures made of wood, stones, and wax and touched or appreciated the statues in their own ways. The blind and people who have difficulty seeing were trying to grasp the essence of the statues carefully with their feelings through their fingertips; that was impressive. Following that, the blind and people who have difficulty seeing asked the sighted people questions in order to better understand the statues, and each of them described how they felt about the statues.

What was found out via opinions through interactive conversation among them was that the sighted people focused on superficial parts such as colors and shapes, while the blind and people who have difficulty seeing tried to scoop up invisible things like artists' intentions. Furthermore, the expressions of inspiration obtained through tactile perception from the blind and people who have difficulty seeing were so distinct that sighted people unintentionally spoke up, “Oh, I see.”

This time, three groups were made, and three JINS creators who work in Maebashi area (one area director, two store directors) and Miwa herself participated. Miwa was diagnosed with a disease that gradually robbed her vision in her mid-30s and has now completely robbed her sight. Since the disease robbed her sight, she has enthusiastically made her statues with a method called hollow dry lacquer. Currently, she is the representative of General Incorporated Association Menoki and planned to hold this workshop.

Forming a connection from the sculpture “Kaze-otoko (風男)” by Kenichi Obana displayed at JINS Maebashi Kojimata, JINS has met Miwa. What can JINS standing on a visible world and Miwa standing on an invisible world create? Some worries existed at the very beginning; however, while listening to the powerful story of Miwa, we were convinced that we could understand the true meaning of our brand vision, “Magnify Life,” more than ever before through her activities.

Eye disorder is just an individuality, and blind people knowing and perceiving visible things will expand the world. From now on, JINS is going to support Miwa's activities and, at the same time, strive to vanquish any boundaries between sighted people, people who have difficulty seeing, and blind people.

Comments from JINS employees who participated in the workshop

●Isohata(JINS Mebashi Minami, Store Director)

ー What did you make the most impressive?

An answering speed of the blind and people who have difficulty seeing through their own verbal expressions to a question, “What does this statue look like?” from a facilitator (an art navigator at Arts Maebashi)—that was impressive to me. It made me actually even think, “They might have seen something.”
Moreover, the blind and people who have difficulty seeing asked, “What is this color?” and the sighted people answered, “It's gray.” And they replied, “Well, its impression would be calm, cool, and possibly rigid.” Like that, our conversation went on and on. It was quite interesting to see how we developed our respective images through exchanging our mutual views.

ー What have you realized and how have you changed?

I've realized that it's fine to express what I feel freely. Sharing opinions in a group like, “Maybe the translation of this statue is like that” or “It could be considered as something like this,” has broadened my horizons and made the world look different.

Plus, I had tried to realize the vision “Magnify Life” from a sighted person's view, but I have begun to think of it from a blind person's view as well.

ー How would you utilize this experience in your daily customer service at JINS?

I think that it would be nice to put into words what I feel and think and share it with people around me in my daily work, and it can be started even today. For example, have everyone try on a new pair of glasses and share their thoughts with me, others, people who look at an eyeglass wearer, and an eyeglass wearer. Just by sharing those thoughts, I believe we will be able to better communicate with our customers. I will create opportunities to let our customers' imaginations expand about eyewear.

ーWhat do you want to convey to JINS store creators?

“If you focus on broadening your horizons, you will enjoy your work more!” — that's what I'm trying to say. I transferred to Maebashi city this September, and I decided that I will participate in community symbiosis events which are only available in this area as many as possible. Recently, checking “JINS MEGANE STYLE” on JINS website has become one of my hobbies. Experiencing new things and diving deep into "seeing" by focusing on topics that interest you will undoubtedly make you feel more enthusiastic about your work. Please try this to put into practice!

●Tsuda(JINS Keyaki Maebashi Store Director)

ー What did you make the most impressive?

Blind people's speed in recognizing the shape of a statue by touching it was impressive. At the moment of touching, they grasped the shape, like “This is a nose, and this is a hand,” and their attitudes toward having a conversation with the sighted people about the statue were just amazing.
In addition to that, we all enjoyed the joy of appreciating statues by directory touching them, which we might not get from just seeing them.

ー What have you realized and how have you changed?

I recognized that I relied on my vision more than I thought. The sensibilities of those who are blind or have difficulty seeing are sharpened more than those of us who can see. It was a short time two hours—but I was glad to know that blind and people who have difficulty seeing actually have sensibilities like we do, and theirs are sometimes superior to ours.

ー How would you utilize this experience in your daily customer service at JINS?

I will use this experience in my customer service to show consideration for customers with low vision. For example, if a senior customer uses a tablet device to make an order reservation and feels confused due to the small word display, I will quickly enter the data instead of him or her.
At a workshop, there was a time to discuss impressions in a group by touching a statue. Even at a JINS store, if we wear a new pair of glasses, instead of just browsing them, and exchange impressions, our ways to provide customer service will be broader and more varied.

ー What do you want to convey to JINS store creators?

We regularly conduct eye tests for customers on a daily basis, and that job may have a huge impact on each of their lives. Needless to say, we recommend that seniors and customers with poor vision consult an eye doctor, and simultaneously, don't forget to keep in mind to bring our “sighted world” as close to them as possible. Furthermore, take on the challenge of looking for something that will “Magnify Life” for the customer in front of you.

Interview with Miwa

ー When did you start having difficulty seeing?

Since my late 30s, I have gradually lost my vision. I was diagnosed with an eye disease called pigmentary degeneration of the retina, which is categorized as a rare disease, and since then, slowly and surely, it has progressed over the next 15 years. About two years ago, I completely lost my vision.

ー How did you feel about losing your vision little by little?

I thought I was prepared to some extent mentally, but I didn't prepare anything in fact, like, “Well, let it be,” haha. I didn't get depressed like everyone else imagined, and I still have the same mindset, “Let's think about it when something actually happens,” and my life has been going on. However, it was very tough to me to accept that I had to give up on craving woods. However, it was very tough for me to accept the fact that I had to give up on wood carving.

ー Why did wood carving cease to be one of your art creation methods?

Wood has the grain direction, and depending on the chisel direction towards wood, you cannot carve even an inch if you take the wrong direction. Because I can't see, I carve wood by putting it in front of me and touching it, but a chisel will stop if it hits the wrong direction of the wood. Therefore, I tried to find the right direction by changing the wood's position or flipping it over, but those acts actually made me confused because my image was destroyed by them. As a result, I had to give up wood carving, which was a tough and devastated time for me.

ーNow, you are creating clay sculptures, aren't you?

When it comes to clay, I just put it in front of me without thinking; my hands flow and move freely to make a shape with it. Since what I want to create and my movements are synchronized, I can create my works to some extent in clay. My hand movement memorizes creation techniques, it's like 3D in my mind. Having that said, I can't see the final form of my work, so I have to rely on my own instincts, but I can create my work to a certain degree that I imagined in clay. That's the reason I chose clay.

ー What motivates you to keep on creating?

Because I love it. I will continue to create works until the day I die. There is no reason to love, and my willingness to create exists beyond reason.

ー  In your creation activities, what makes you fun?

Everything makes me fun, yet also painful. Fun doesn't solely make my creation complete. It's the same thing for every job, isn't it? Small happiness is hidden among the endless and enormous number of painful moments. That small happiness makes us feel as if we are lucky to continue to do what we have done. In my case, happiness lies in various occasions, moments, and spots, but holding an exhibition could be the best one.

ー  Is feeling people's reactions towards your works one of your sources of happiness?

Exactly. If not, I will not release my works to the public. The reason I hold an exhibition is to connect with people. Meet people and get energy for my next step—that's the reason to release my works to the public.

ー This workshop was planned by the General Incorporated Association Menoki, right?

Last year, I published a book “Inori no Katachi (a shape of pray),” which introduces cultural assets in Gunma. I named the book "low vision book" since even blind people can read this book, and I began to support visually impaired people with the help of my members who made this book with me. Eventually, I made up my mind to launch Menoki with those members. And from my wish of “taking a step toward creating opportunity where sighted people and blind people co-exist,” this workshop was planned.

ー What do workshops mean to you?

A workshop is not a place where I introduce my works. It's all about people coming and enjoying a workshop, then returning to their homes—that's the point. So, even if things aren't going well, I'm fine as long as my feelings reach the attendees. If they think, “What a good day today,” it's worth holding the workshop, and if art eventually follows suit with their lives, that would be ideal.
After all, the most important element is “people.” Despite my efforts to find ways to help visually impaired people, it is ultimately about us, people. There is no way but to create opportunities and human resources to respond to requests from various people, so I'm willing to create a place where sighted and blind people can interact in a deeper way through holding a lot of workshops.

ー What kinds of challenges would you like to take on hereafter?

I want to make initiatives to connect blind and sighted people together, started by Menoki, become the entire Gunma prefecture's organizational initiatives. Let me explain it. I want to remove the museum's boundaries and make it a place where people with disabilities can have fun whenever they visit, which means a place that always has tools to make people happy, even on non-exhibition days. This museum's entrance fee is free or half price for us, people with disabilities, but we are fine to pay the full price, so I would like the museum to have tools always that we can enjoy as well. I am thinking that instead of each organization doing this, Gunma Prefecture could do it as one team. For that, all I have to do is just experience a lot of things and connect with a lot of people. In the end, it all comes down to “people,” regardless of sighted or unsighted.

ー Finally, please give some messages to JINS creators.

Please develop “eyeglasses for people who have difficulty seeing” featuring neon colors. Neon colors are the only colors that even people on the verge of going blind can recognize. Therefore, if neon colors are on some part of an eyeglass frame, they can easily find the glasses.
And I'd like you to make the glasses a symbol to let other people know the wearer of the glasses is visually impaired. For a long time, pitch-black sunglasses have been a symbol of the visually impaired, haven't they? Similarly, as a symbol for low vision, I want you to create glasses with a neon yellow on the frame. That way, many people will not have to use a white cane.

Blind people aren't the only ones who use a white cane. Even people with grade 2 disabilities, who have almost the same vision as sighted people, use a white cane to avoid hitting other people. Using a cane requires us to have courage in some ways. Sometimes, very kind and helpful people, who assume we are completely blind, are attentive to us, but we have to use a white cane before becoming blind.
So, I believe that wearing glasses is the best way to indicate that we are having difficulty seeing. I will look forward to seeing you develop such glasses, which don't require any words from us.

Michiyo Miwa

Born in Shimonita city, Gunma in 1966 and live there.
M.F.A. in Conservation and Restoration Techniques, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
Involved in Buddhist statues and cultural asset work, as well as sculpture creation.
Diagnosed with an eye disease called pigmentary degeneration of the retina (loss of vision) in her mid-30s.

1989 B.F.A. in Sculpture, Tokyo Zokei University
1994 M.F.A. in Conservation and Restoration Techniques, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
1996 Held the first solo art exhibition at Galleria Grafica Bis in Tokyo
2001 Held the art exhibition at Takasaki city museum: "Realistic heart - A heart like pickles, Michiyo Uehara Exhibition"
2005 Held the art exhibition at Niyazama Forest Art Museum: “Moistness on Tatami, Michiyo Uehara Exhibition” (Nyuzen town, Toyama)
2007 Changed name from Michiyo Uehara to Michiyo Miwa
2021 Held the art exhibition at Tomioka city museum / Fukuzawa Ichiro memorial gallery: "Koki Miwa/Michiyo Exhibition - Connect the world from Tomioka" (Tomioka city)

Public Collection
Arts Maebashi, UEDA DAI-ICHI HOTEL, Takasaki city museum, Benesse Art Site Naoshima, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama Medical University, Shogen-ji (Oizumi town), Suwa Shrine Shishimai-Hozonkai at Misato town, Takasaki city, Todaiji Temple, Nikko-zan Rinno-ji Temple

※The department and area are as of the time of the interview.
※The contents of this article are the information on services and initiatives provided in Japan.

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