When thinking of accessible travel Japan may not be the first place in people’s minds. According to at least one Canadian immigrant, it might be time think again. Josh Grisdale has cerebral palsy, has been in a wheelchair from the age of three, and has lived independently in Japan for almost the last decade. He is also the founder of accessible-japan.com, a website of reviews and tips for travelling in the country. According to Josh, people will be pleasantly surprised by the range and quality not only of services but the sites and attractions that suit the mobility impaired tourist.
“A lot of people have the image that (Japan) is not accessible, so when I tell people I find it more accessible than my native Canada, I think both Japanese people and foreigners are surprised”.
Overall, he says, accessibility to public transport in major cities is excellent. Any train station that has more than 3000 users per day are required to install a lift to and from the platform. Lots of stations have a raised area of the platform which means wheelchairs can be driven directly on to the train. For those that don’t most stations have dedicated staff member with a portable ramp that clips on to the doorframe of the train. Inside, there is a place set aside in many carriages to park a wheelchair.
But for Josh, getting the infrastructure right is not the end of the story in Japan.
“I think the biggest thing I notice is the service attitude here. When you go and use the public transit someone will take to the right train and call ahead to the station and someone will be waiting to help you. I’ve been to other countries where, say, the subways are really good but I can’t quite use them by myself and people won’t help you, so that’s a difference I notice.”
He also singles out the public toilets in the country as being readily available, large enough, and widely distributed. You can even find them in public parks. One nice feature is that they are always accessible directly, and you don’t have to pass through the men’s or women’s entrances – a big help if you are travelling with a carer of the opposite sex.
Josh himself was surprised by the gap between his preconceptions about Japan and the reality he found when he landed here in 2007, “I had this image of Asia with tonnes of stairs and small spaces and I thought it was going to be impossible to get around and when I found the reality, and I found how accessible things were, I really wanted to tell people about that.”
A number of factors have been driving changes in attitudes to mobility in Japan. One is demographic. Recent data from the government shows that a third of the population is above 60 and nearly 12.5% are aged 75 or above. Some of them have mobility issues, there are over 2 million wheelchair users in Japan, and the government has been active in providing “barrier free” options for them to get about. Another is the looming Olympics and Para-Olympics. The country has plans to welcome 40 million tourists a year by 2020, many of them will in wheel chairs or need other types of mobility support.
You can find out more about accessible travel in Japan through Josh’s website www.accessible-japan.com.