With Japan hosting the 2020 Paralympics it is refreshing to see positive change within Japanese society as they develop a new vision to cater for people with disabilities.

If you visited Japan before 2000, you would have noticed a distinct lack of facilities for wheelchair users or even people with baby strollers as many train stations did not have elevators and there were very few hotels with wheelchair-friendly facilities. However, in 2006, the government enacted the “New Barrier-Free Law” which is an update and consolidation of previous laws from 1994, that encouraged both national and local governments and railway companies to improve standards for people with disabilities. As of 2020, around 88% of train stations have implemented barrier-free toilets and 95% have tactile paving (for visually impaired people). In the past 10 years, most train and subway stations in major cities have introduced platform barriers to stop people from falling on to the tracks and there is a continued effort to make improvements.  On any train or subway, you take in Japan now, there will be at least one carriage with a designated space for wheelchair users and wheelchair-friendly taxis known as universal taxis can be found nationwide.

However, when compared to other nations Japan still has a way to go. For example, while 45% of all hotel rooms in Australia are wheelchair-friendly, that number is only 0.4% in Japan. In Japan the government has issued a new target of 1% for accessible hotel rooms, but loopholes mean that smaller hotels and ryokans don’t have to follow the suggested government guidelines. The end result is that the number of accessible rooms will still remain too low to accommodate the potential number of disabled travellers wanting to visit Japan.

With the pandemic and downturn of inbound travel to Japan, destinations, restaurants, and hotels are definitely re-evaluating their accessibility infrastructure. Despite issues with the lack of knowledge of accessible safety standards and funding, there have been many success stories especially in regional areas of Japan. For example, the Tottori Sand Dunes are the biggest tourist attraction in Tottori and listed as a ‘Must See’ attraction when visiting the Prefecture. This unique landform is only found in Tottori and the Tottori Sand Dunes Park Service Center now offers free rental of two beach wheelchairs for use on the sand dunes.  The extra-large tires prevent the wheelchair from sinking in the sand so wheelchair uses can now experience the sand dunes up close. Wheelchair rental is now very common at major tourist sites in Japan and many sites have made their facilities accessible for those with disabilities. Assistance dogs are also allowed throughout the country.

Accessible information for a disabled traveler planning a trip to Japan is not always easy to source. Japan Holidays has extensive knowledge of what is available and understands the long process or hours of research that a disabled traveler can undertake to gain peace of mind prior to departure. There are specific web sites and promotional materials available to assist with arranging a specific itinerary, however, the personal attention to detail is not a given. It’s knowing where to find the lifts at the train stations, who to speak to in order to arrange the easy access on and off the Shinkansen, and using the paved sections as opposed to the gravel paths at major sightseeing spots and similar experiences that make the difference. These details are vitally important for the disabled traveler to Japan. Another service provided by Japan Holidays is English Speaking assistance Guides.

So make sure you talk to Japan Holidays to plan your next visit to Japan.