Though many Asian countries conjure up images of inaccessibility, Japan is surprisingly accessible to seniors and those with disabilities.
In 2020, Tokyo will be holding the Olympics and Paralympics. This has led to an ever increasing flow of foreign tourists and a strong effort on Japan's part to continue promote Japanese "omotenashi" ("hospitality") and make visiting Japan accessible to all.
For those with physical disabilities, simply tell the staff member at the ticket gate where you want to go and then wait while they make arrangements. They will call ahead to your destination (including any transfers along the way) and then a staff member will direct you to the track. After helping you on the train with a portable slope, you can rest easy knowing that another staff member will be waiting to help you get off. The vast majority of train and subway stations in urban areas are accessible and have accessible toilets available. Check out this video to see it in action:
The Bullet Train, or Shinkansen, also features spaces for wheelchairs (including a private compartment if needed) and a toilet that is large enough to handle a wheelchair.
While Japan may be famous for its toilets that clean your behind for you, it also has another great concept: the multipurpose toilet. Unlike many other countries that may have a stall at the back of the restroom that is a bit larger than the other stalls, throughout Japan multipurpose toilets are located in-between the men's and women's toilet. They are often spacious, feature handrails, facilities for those with ostomate bags, and even a full-sized changing table. (Please note that there is no apparent standard and they can vary quite a bit.) Unfortunately, they often don't have backrests - making it hard for people with difficulties balancing.
These multipurpose toilets can be found across Japan. Almost every train station has at least one, as do shopping centers, public spaces, attractions, museums, many tourist destinations and - thanks to Japan's safety and cleanliness - even in local parks.
More information: www.accessible-japan.com/accessible-toilets-in-japan
Due to the aging population and the bubble economy of a few decades ago, there are many seniors in Japan with a disposable income who love to travel. This, in addition to many laws similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, has led to the majority of the tourist attractions becoming accessible.
As many of Japan's tourist attractions are cultural heritage sites, attention must be paid to integrating accessibility features with the aesthetics of the site. This may mean a slight inconvenience (ie entering via a hidden side entrance), but more often than not it will come in the form of a ramp made of aged wood or an elevator designed to look like a temple building. As some may not be immediately obvious, make sure you ask a staff member or security guard.
The majority of these sites have multiple wheelchair accessible washrooms that are clean and are clearly marked on maps.
A number of hotels have accessible rooms but they're either not listed on the hotel website or are only on the Japanese version of the hotel website. They are often listed, not as "accessible," but as "universal".
Some can be found here: www.accessible-japan.com/accessible-hotels-in-japan/
Josh Grisdale has cerebral palsy and has been living in Tokyo for nearly a decade. He runs Accessible Japan (www.accessible-japan.com) - a source of information on accessibility in Japan including general tips and a database of hotels with accessible rooms.
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