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The West Australian
Tokyo’s must-see destinations, cultural experiences and even off-radar places are becoming more accessible to those with mobility issues.
Camera IconTokyo’s must-see destinations, cultural experiences and even off-radar places are becoming more accessible to those with mobility issues. Credit: Will Yeoman/The West Australian

With the Paralympics underway in Tokyo, InsideJapan is focusing on developing accessible trips to Japan — with the help of Tokyo resident, and accessible travel guru, Josh Grisdale.

Having already launched their Wheelchair Accessible Golden Route trip, the Japan specialists have made it their goal to continue to provide cultural adventures for all travellers to Japan.

“Many travellers with disabilities perhaps think of Asia as beyond their grasp,” InsideJapan accessibility consultant and Accessible Japan founder Josh Grisdale says.

“However, as I discovered when I visited for the first time twenty years ago, it is very well suited for travellers with accessibility issues like me — unlike some other countries in Asia. It opens up horizons.”

Those who visit Japan often rave about its culture and the breadth of unique sights and destinations the country has to offer. Although there’s still some way to go, those must-see destinations, cultural experiences, and even some of the more off-radar places are becoming much more accessible to those with mobility issues; but perhaps more importantly, it’s the everyday things that are getting easier for disabled travellers to contend with.

View of Mt Fuji and Tokaido Shinkansen.
Camera IconView of Mt Fuji and Tokaido Shinkansen. Credit: Torsakarin/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Easy-to-use trains 96 per cent of Tokyo’s train stations are accessible these days — and there are an estimated 882 of them in the Metropolitan area alone.

“Getting around the city has always been one of the most impressive things for me,” Josh says. “In many countries, you have to call in advance to warn officials that you are travelling and will require assistance. In Japan, you just turn up. Some stations are fully traversable, while some need assistance with ramps and the like; but all the facilities are there, with staff trained and happy to help. The staff also call ahead on all journey stops to make sure there are no surprises.”

Speeding like a bullet Japan’s flagship train, the Shinkansen, is also improving. “The number of accessible seats on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka has just been tripled. Also, you can now go online to book accessible spaces a month in advance of a trip.”

Japan Rail (JR) recently removed the gap and height differences between the train and platform at Tokyo station to make the Shinkansen accessible to those using wheelchairs, and there are plans to roll out this approach at more stations across Japan.

Toilets. Oh, the toilets “Everyone loves Japanese toilets because of their range of unexpected functions — but I like them because there are so many accessible toilets around. They are so well equipped — and they usually remain unlocked so people can use them when they need to, rather than having to go and find the guard with a key.”

Accessible toilets can be found easily at train stations, tourist attractions, public buildings, department stores, larger supermarkets and in parks. Not sure where to go? Accessible Japan has a great ‘Check A Toilet’ app just in case!

Entrance to Meiji Ginju forest and shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan.
Camera IconEntrance to Meiji Ginju forest and shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Accessible attractions “Some of the major attractions across Japan have adapted to allow access to travellers in chairs. Sensoji, for example, has a well disguised elevator on the side of the main hall — it’s so well hidden! What’s more, Meji Shrine, Skytree, and other major sites all have ramps and elevators, so it’s very easy to turn up and experience the attraction as most people do.”

Accessible hotels There’s a surprising number of accessible hotels across Japan. Pretty much every hotel has a ‘barrier-free’ accessible room, but they really vary in style, comfort and practicality. It’s harder to find traditional ryokanguesthouses with accessible rooms, but there are a few out there; the situation is changing as the domestic population ages and continues to travel.

And there’s more... Travellers with mobility issues needn’t miss out on Japan’s unique culture. With traditional baths, or onsen, being such a big part of Japanese life, accessible adaptations are on the rise; one onsen in Shimoda has a pneumatic floor to allow for wheelchair users. And it’s not just the onsen that are opening up — there are now accessible buffalo-drawn cart on the tropical island of Taketomi, and even accessible paragliding in Yamagata. Things are changing.

Accessible Japan and Tabifolk founder Josh Grisdale has worked with InsideJapan in an advisory role centring on disabled travel in Japan, allowing the specialists to develop more accessible trips.

fact file

  • For future travel, InsideJapan Tours has a 10-night Wheelchair Accessible Golden Route trip costing from $6327 per person (excluding international flights), which includes 10 nights’ accommodation in Tokyo, Osaka and a traditional town house in Kyoto, breakfast every day, transport across Japan (including Bullet Train bookings and private guiding with wheelchair-accessible transport around Mount Fuji, Kyoto and Nara).
  • InsideJapan can design travel to suit individual requirements, interests and budgets.

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