Helping the blind to "see" birds


Uchiyama, a native of Gifu Prefecture, began his woodworking career making traditional inlaid wood pictures, in which colors and textures of different woods are blended in various figures and patterns. He learned the art from his father, and eventually started his own business in Tokyo.

Then 25 years ago, when business was slow, a friend showed him how to make a bird carving. Before long, Uchiyama was showing his handiwork at crafts events around Japan.

At one, a blind person ran his fingers over one small carving.

“Its song is so loud, I never imagined it to be such a little bird,” he commented.

The words resonated with Uchiyama.

He decided he wanted to help blind people “see” his birds.

Since he is so exacting with his work, his wood carvings tend to be pretty expensive. Here’s what he does to make his models accessible to more people:

First, Uchiyama makes a carved wooden mold of a bird figure. Then, he pours a resin mixture into the mold, enabling him to make many copies of the same carving. He has used this method to replicate carvings of eight species, including the kingfisher, sparrow and the great tit.

The models feature each species’ characteristic curve of beak, feather details, even down to the shape of the claw. He embeds a recording of the bird’s song in each figure.

Listening to the birdsong, a blind person can feel the bird’s shape and imagine how it flies.

This is a really neat story.