Yellow Tiles

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.”  Isaiah 42:16a

Yellow Tiles

New visitors to Japan are initially puzzled by the bright yellow lines of tile that often line certain streets and intersections. They are even more common near train and bus stations. These lines are technically known as “tactile ground surface indicators” (TGSI); in layman’s terms, they serve as a hazard guide for the visually impaired.  These special tiles are designed to be used by blind people as a means to navigate crowded public places by feeling the texture of the tiles with the help of a cane or through the soles of their shoes.  Differences in the tiles help to indicate directions and potential hazards.  The bright yellow color also serves as a useful reminder to others to be considerate of those who may be visually handicapped.

A closer examination of the tiles reveals that there are two major varieties. One has straight raised lines and the other type has raised circular bumps. Tiles with straight lines indicate it is safe to proceed forward in the direction of the lines. However, when one encounters tiles with bumps, it is a warning to stop or to proceed with caution. Some form of obstruction or potential danger like an intersection, stairs or a train platform edge typically lies beyond this type of tiles. In addition to the yellow tiles, many intersections in Japan play set songs or sounds to indicate which direction is safe for crossing. Braille signage is also quite common for the visually impaired.

When one observes these tiles, it is only natural to recall the classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” where Dorothy and her traveling companions are instructed to follow the yellow brick road to reach the Emerald City, where all their problems will be resolved. While none of those famous characters were visually impaired, the purpose of the yellow bricks was the same as Japan’s yellow tiles… to help travelers arrive at their intended destination without incident.

Most of us do not need yellow tiles to aid us in our daily travels, but in a spiritual sense, we are all visually impaired. It is certainly a good thing to be aware of the physical handicaps of others and take measures to assist them, but more importantly, we must acknowledge our own blindness to the things of God that can potentially lead us down paths of destruction. From the Bible, we know that the nation of Israel had turned its back on God and in its blindness, fell into sinful thinking and behavior that invited the wrath of God. But thankfully, God also cares for the spiritually impaired and took extreme measures to assist them… He sent His Only Son Jesus, to die on a cross, in order to save them and us from eternal destruction. In this manner God “will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths…” (Isaiah 42:16a). God Himself became our “yellow brick road” to deliver us from harm. An eternal city awaits those who travel upon it.

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