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Few know what to expect on their first trip to Japan, but travelling in a wheelchair requires a little more forward planning. Lorna and her husband Mike share their experiences of accessible transport, accommodation and sightseeing in Japan.
What made you want to go to Japan?
L: We have a friend who travelled to Japan to visit his daughter who lives there, and he told us how amazing it is, so we went to see it for ourselves and visit his daughter while we were there.
M: I travelled a lot with work but only managed a brief visit to Beijing, so Japan would be somewhere new for both of us.
Did you have any concerns about travelling to Japan?
L: I did, it is a long flight and I was worried about coping with jet-lag. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and did not want my condition to ‘flare-up’ because of feeling overtired.
M: No more than the usual ‘excitement’ of air travel – will my wheelchair get damaged? will our bags make it? Spoiler alert: It all worked perfectly.
What information needs to be asked when making travel arrangements?
L: I think the most important thing is having suitable accommodation. Interpretations of accessible accommodation varies across the world and it is unlikely to compare with what you have at home, so people with disabilities who like to travel need to accept that accessible hotel rooms may not exactly meet their needs.
Travel companies should clarify if they require a wet room/shower chair/seat in shower or can manage with a bath board over the bath. Or if they require a commode, toilet with grab rails or can manage on an ordinary toilet.
M: I left this all up to Lorna! I agree with her comments that the definition is very personal. I’m paraplegic and am quite happy to transfer onto a toilet, bath board or into a vehicle as required. The information provided showing the hotel rooms and particularly the bathrooms was useful, so I could see that they would work for me.
L: Private transfers and taxis need thought. Some of the transport we had would not be suitable for a person in a wheelchair who cannot transfer into the front seat. In a few cases the front seat was too high making it quite an effort.
M: We had several private transfers and vehicles when out with a guide. I didn’t want to stay in my wheelchair in the back of an accessible van, so we specifically requested normal vehicles. These were nearly all vans; the Japanese love their vans, with luxurious seating in the back but I needed to transfer into the very high passenger seat in the front. This mostly worked for me but would be a problem for a lot of wheelchair users who aren’t able to transfer independently.
Do you feel Japan is well-equipped for travellers with reduced mobility?
L: Yes, we were very impressed with how accessible it was; especially the transport network. A lot of the main attractions have made an effort to be accessible.
M: There are lifts everywhere, some quite well hidden, but they’ve clearly tried to make it as accessible as possible. The worst aspect of this, as a wheelchair user, is all the tactile paving which goes everywhere to aid visually impaired pedestrians!
The Japanese public transport system is a fantastic and fun way to get around and explore. I was surprised by the ‘ramp’ used to bridge the gap to get on and off the shinkansen (bullet train) – we have cracks in the pavement bigger than that!
How did you find getting around Japan?
L: It was easier than expected because the transport system is very accessible.
M: They have a timetable for underground trains, and they all run on time. Station names are also announced and written in English and Tokyo metro numbers its stations which helps. The luggage forwarding service was also extremely useful as it meant we could forget about our bags and travel light.
What were the highlights of your trip?
L: It was all good! I particularly loved Nara and the Great Buddha at Hase (I like a Buddha!), the trip to Miyajima island to see the torii gate was also great. I enjoyed Tokyo far more than I expected and seeing Mount Fuji from our bedroom window in Yokahama was fantastic. The whole trip was one big highlight, the shrines, gardens, food, people, train stations were all great!
M: It was all an experience. I particularly liked the respect and consideration people had for each other.
Any recommended restaurants?
L: All of them! The restaurants on the 11th floor of Kyoto Station are excellent, as are the restaurants in the Hiroshima train station food court. We also found great places to eat in Osaka (difficult not to!).
M: Lots of smaller places to eat weren’t accessible or were so small with stools fixed to the floor that it wasn’t possible to get in, but when we did find them we enjoyed the atmosphere.
Did you face any challenges in Japan?
L: Apart from jet lag – no!
M: Getting into a couple of larger vans was difficult for me but everything else was surprisingly easy.
Could we have done more to assist you?
L: The attention to detail you gave was outstanding and an enormous help for us when we were travelling on our own.
M: The itinerary was extremely detailed and comprehensive, it meant we could enjoy our travel without a lot of the worry you get from visiting a foreign culture where you don’t speak or read the language.
And finally, would you go back?
L: Most definitely, yes!
Contact our team for more information about accessible travel to Japan – happy planning!