When you live life with a disability, or provide care to someone with special needs, every day is an adventure. Constantly having to navigate new challenges and find alternative routes deters some people from traveling outside of their comfort zone. For example, taking an international trip is an adventure that seems impossible to even begin to wrap your head around, especially if you rely on accessible travel accommodations. How will you get around a country so unfamiliar, especially with a language barrier?
In a recent BuzzFeed story, a young woman, who is in a wheelchair, backpacked with her best friend to different countries around the globe. In the story, she mentioned that Japan was the most accessible place she traveled, which surprised her, and well, me! I wanted to learn more about the accessible travel options available in Japan, so I reached out to the Japanese Travel Bureau here in the U.S., as well as Josh Grisdale, the founder of Accessible-Japan, a website catering to those with disabilities that wish to travel to Japan, to get more information.
I was curious as to why Japan is so accessible, when other countries are so behind. I asked a representative from the Japanese Travel Bureau about this, and her answer was very interesting.
“Japan’s reason for having accessible travel for those in wheelchairs is because they have a disproportionately aging population who still travel,” she said. “As many know, people in Japan tend to live longer than in other countries, and these elders enjoy traveling domestically. The country responded to this with more accessible travel accommodations so that the elderly could travel with ease. These accommodations make it easier for all people who use wheelchairs to travel through Japan.”
Some of the accommodations that can be expected are elevators in all mass transit stations, wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, and bathrooms that are larger and equipped with call buttons in case help is needed.
Josh Grisdale, the founder of Accessible-Japan, fell in love with Japan after taking a Japanese class in high school. After taking a few trips, he decided he wanted to live in Japan permanently. He moved from Toronto and is now a resident in Japan. He decided to start Accessible-Japan due to his personal experiences.
“I have cerebral palsy and use a power wheelchair but always wanted to live in Japan,” Grisdale said, “I didn’t know where to start. After a lot of work, I arrived and have been living in Japan for over 10 years now.”
Though Grisdale’s reason for moving to Japan was not because of its accessibility, he does agree that Japan has more accessible travel accommodations than most countries. He did, however, find that though Japan has accessible travel accommodations, the country can be difficult to navigate because of the language barrier. This was his inspiration for creating Accessible-Japan.
“When I first came (to Japan) there was barely any accessibility information available in Japanese, let alone English. Japan has much better accessible infrastructure than most people think, but it remains difficult to find out about because of language barriers. Accessible-Japan. is my way of sharing with the world that Japan is an exciting travel opportunity – regardless of ability,” Grisdale explained.
In a nutshell, Accessible-Japan is a resource site for people with disabilities that are interested in visiting Japan.
“We have a wide range of resources including: general information on getting around, tips for finding restaurants, a database of accessible hotels, detailed tourist attraction reviews, Japanese phrases for people with disabilities, a blog with travel tips and stories, assistance with equipment rentals, a travel guide to Tokyo (on Amazon) and a community forum for people to ask us questions,” Grisdale said.
“Our general philosophy is not to say ‘this is accessible’ or ‘this is not accessible’ – there are too many types of disabilities – instead, we share as much information as we can get so that users can make decisions based on their own needs.”
Grisdale’s love for the country has empowered him to help other travelers explore Japan with ease. His website is intended for international travelers with disabilities who are in the process of planning their trip.
“Accessible-Japan helps them come prepared,” he said.
Grisdale also recently launched a forum where travelers can communicate, help one another, and keep the conversation about accessible travel in Japan going. Click here to check it out.
Though Japan has been steadily improving its accessibility, Grisdale thinks there will be more improvements to come in the next few years.
“With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, many government organizations and travel companies are just starting to think about foreign visitors with disabilities,” he said, “A few tours for people with disabilities have been created and tourist attractions and hotels are becoming more accessible, but there is still a lot of ground to cover.”
The Japanese Travel Bureau also mentioned that Japan has some work to do to ensure that all sizes of wheelchairs and scooters have accomodations.
“Things tend to be smaller in Japan due to the size constrictions. One issue they have is the larger scooters that come from the US,” the representative told me. “They are trying to accommodate this need to make more room for these scooters.”
You ready to plan a trip to Japan yet?! Keep an eye out for our next feature on Josh Grisdale and his website Accessible-Japan. We will provide you tips, Grisdale will share his favorite places in Japan, and more!