Visually impaired group creates pictureless gourmet guide

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Gourmet reporter Tomoyuki Iwata, center, and “Unpictured Gourmet Guide” creators Shun Kitaura, left, and Shohei Okawa.

A unique gourmet booklet for Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, titled “Unpictured Gourmet Guide,” was released by a group of visually impaired people in autumn, in an effort to realize the vision Shibuya has for itself of having a diverse and unified culture.

The booklet does not have a single image of a dish or restaurant. Instead, all that appears are pictures of the tableware and a description.

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Unpictured Gourmet Guide

Only empty tableware and reviews

Bistros, Chinese restaurants and coffee shops are some examples of the 18 eateries listed in the 50-page booklet. Each restaurant is introduced on a double page spread, with a photo of empty bowls, glasses, and other tableware on the left side and a descriptive article about the restaurant and its food on the right.

Within these descriptions are comments like, “It smells so good. I can see sheep deep in the vegetables,” “I feel like I’m on the seaside, not in Hiroo,” and “So, so, so cheese!”, which really give the book its distinctive flavor.

The pages are filled with interesting language, and although there are no photographs, this gives readers the chance to use their own imaginations to conjure up images of what the dishes look like.

The booklet was written by 12 visually impaired people between the ages of 7 and 58. Shun Kitaura, 25, who works for an advertising company and Shohei Okawa, 29, came up with the idea of creating the guidebook as they wanted to share what it is like to be visually impaired.

When Shibuya Ward sponsored an event to drum up ideas for solutions to social issues, their idea won the grand prize — thus resulting in the publication of the booklet.

Kitaura and Okawa had initially planned to describe three things: taste, aroma and texture. However, they soon decided to add the atmosphere of the restaurant and the personalities of the owners, as many of the reporters commented a lot on how comfortable the restaurants are, how pleasant interactions with the staff are, and even brought up the background music.

“These were viewpoints that we had completely overlooked, even though we had been thinking them as indicators for selecting restaurants,” Kitaura said.

The booklet is distributed free of charge at the ward office and tourist information centers throughout the ward.

Voice guidance is also available on the video-sharing website YouTube and the music distribution service Spotify.

Reporting on the food scene

Born and raised in Shibuya ward, Tomoyuki Iwata, 36, a well-known disabled athlete played a pivotal role as a reporter for the booklet.

Iwata developed Leber’s disease, an intractable illness that causes visual impairment due to an abnormality in the optic nerve, in the summer of 2012, when he was working at a restaurant with hopes of becoming a sommelier.

He lost most of his vision, and had no choice but to quit his job at the restaurant. Unable to face his disability, he spent day after day reflecting until he came across low vision futsal, a sport that even people with visual impairments can enjoy. He is now skilled enough to play for the Japanese national team.

When Iwata, whose dream of becoming a sommelier had been shattered, was asked to help create the gourmet guide, he said it was “an unexpected encounter with the food scene, which I thought I would never be involved in again. Having a disability made me feel alienated from society, but this request helped me think that I could be something useful.”

For a while, he has kept his distance from Shibuya, a vibrant town full of young people with a bright future, but now he feels that he can face it again through the creation of this booklet, saying, “I hope that the society will deepen its understanding of disabilities, and that everyone will be able to blend in naturally with the town and its people.”