Japan: An Accessible Destination for All

Japan is the host city of the 2020 Paralympic Games for a second time in the Games’ history, but Japan has been implementing barrier-free travel and accessibility throughout Tokyo and the entire country since 2006.

The New Barrier-Free Law was passed in 2006 to help make Tokyo a more accessible city for the elderly and those who have disabilities. By 2016, the Universal Design 2020 Action Plan was enacted to further improve infrastructures like railway stations and other forms of public transportation for those with accessibility issues.

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“For example, there are about 700 railway stations in Tokyo, of which about 95 percent have non-step passages and accessible toilets…In addition, 94 percent of public buses in the city can accommodate wheelchair users. This vast public transportation network enables virtually all people to travel to almost anywhere in the city,” said Kyoji Kuramochi, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) Executive Vice President.

Smooth train platforms allow for anyone to easily walk or ride onto a train.
Smooth train platforms allow for anyone to easily walk or ride onto a train. (photo via the Japan National Tourism Organization)

“There’s also an increasing number of easy-access non-step buses in cities around Japan. The buses are built with low floors to make it easier for everyone to board and alight. Most of the government-run Toei buses in Tokyo are non-step,” continued Kuramochi.

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Universal design is a concept developed by Ronald Mace, former director of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. With a focus on designing spaces, products and buildings that are accessible and usable for all individuals, universally designed spaces include things like better signage that not only takes into account differences in language but also in reading, seeing and hearing ability.

“In advance of Tokyo becoming the host city of the Summer Paralympics for the second time in its history, various barrier-free measures began to be promoted nationwide, not just in Tokyo, to ensure accessibility for travelers of all ages, languages, and disabilities,” said Kuramochi.

“Barrier-free travel encompasses more than accessible stations and facilities. It also includes barrier-free information, such as advanced signage, and barrier-free minds for the acceptance of disabilities and racial differences. Hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games has inspired Japanese society to further develop as a travel destination that not only invites but embraces all kinds of people from all over the world,” ended Kuramochi.

Tokyo is not the only destination in Japan that offers accessibility. Many other destinations offer accessible sports activities. In Shiga Prefecture, for example, individuals who use wheelchairs can paraglide over Lake Biwa using a specially designed wheelchair harness. Another example is the Zero Gravity Seisui Villa resort on Amami Oshima island, which offers barrier-free diving, snorkeling, kayaking, whale watching and cruising experiences.

Dual Skiing at the Fujimi Kogen Resort.
Dual Skiing at the Fujimi Kogen Resort. (photo via Fujimi Kogen Resort)

There is also a wide variety of resources for anyone with a disability thinking of traveling to Japan. The Japan Tourism Agency has created an accessible restaurant guide, while the JNTO has created a comprehensive accessible travel guide. Helpful websites like Accessible Japan and Accessible Travel Japan are also great resources.

The 2020 Paralympic Games can be watched on NBC until September 5, 2021.

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