Meet one of your best sources for accessibility in Japan

If you have a disability, its a good place to start.

What kind of questions do you usually ask, and what kind of decisions do you usually make, when you’re planning a trip?

You think about when to fly, your accommodations, where to go, what to see, how much money do you need, the food you want to eat…

Oh, and if these places happen to have a ramp or a lift too.

Not so simple when you have a disability, huh? Sometimes even a step or a gap on the floor can greatly affect how you get from point A to point B.

Japanese interior
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Josh Grisdale, the creator and founder of Accessible Japan, uses a wheelchair and knows the feeling. Restaurants and stores with stairs, as well as closed doors, might mean you won’t be able to get in.

But it hasn’t stopped him from travelling – and travelling around Japan – though. It’s just that he has to plan a lot. 🙂

“I guess I’m a little older now. When I was younger I was more adventurous,” he says.

“I try to go to places I’ve never been to before. I look things up on the internet and get in touch with hotels and experts in the area.”

He’s an expert himself

Accessible Japan is a source of useful information for people with disabilities to help them navigate the country and its attractions more conveniently. It covers transportation, hotels, restaurants, disability discounts, rentals and tours, just to name a few.

Where are you off to in Tokyo?

Josh has been living in Japan for 14 years now, too, and you can learn a lot from his experiences. For example, the lack of accessible features at train stations before (like the absence of a lift) meant that he sometimes had to go the long way round, or work his way through a different exit.

“There’s progress in the infrastructure, and the trains, buses and taxis are getting better and better,” he observes. “The attitude the past couple of years has changed too. People are more open and they are also now thinking of accessibility.” Japan hosting the recent Paralympics has helped. 👍

What does he enjoy the most about running the site? “When I hear that people use the website and find it useful. They thought Japan wasn’t accessible before and that they couldn’t go. But they realised they could go, and they have the tools. It has encouraged them to take the challenge and come to Japan.”

How can we help?

Josh relates that “not every disability is the same”, so it’s good to be flexible and rethink some physical barriers.

“There’s an impression that accessibility is expensive,” he says. But a small tweak can already do wonders; for instance, he points out, installing a sturdy piece of wood over a few steps can turn into a working ramp. For us, here’s more:

#1 Good communication

“Ask people with disabilities what they need.”

#2 Plan

If you’re accompanying or travelling with a person with a disability, also do your research. “It’s a different culture. Try to follow the rules as much as you can. Adapt to the way Japan works,” he suggests. “It’s also important for people to make their concerns known.”

#3 Make eye contact and smile

Acknowledging the person – and a simple “Can I help?” – could make it easier for them to ask for your help, Josh adds. So if you see a person with a disability and would love to assist them, go ahead and ask. 👍

#4 Raise awareness

Josh believes in encouraging businesses to become more accessible, promoting accessibility online, tourism certifications, creating more space for wheelchairs in public transportation, and making the information easier to find.

“The main goal, the final goal, is to close the website,” he says. “It exists because there’s a problem, and there isn’t enough information for people with disabilities to plan a trip to Japan. If there’s proper information from the tourism sector and businesses, there’s no need for Accessible Japan.”

But before that happens: “We want to add more information, more locations, and more volunteers,” he muses. “In the site you can review places and ask questions. We want experts who can answer those questions. We want to expand and cover more.”

In the meantime, though, let’s take advantage of the tips found in Accessible Japan, as well as a quick list of Josh’s favourites – which you can try when you travel to Japan.

Favourite app in Japan: WheeLog!

Great for wheelchair users. You can find out if an establishment is wheelchair-accessible. Feel free to review facilities and post helpful information too.

Favourite spot: Okinawa

“The culture is a bit different. The people are kind and it’s a good place to visit.”

For this view alone, definitely (Photo by Sho K on Unsplash)

Favourite experience: Nagasaki

“I went to Hashima Island. In the past people lived there, but now it’s abandoned and the buildings are falling apart. It was in a James Bond movie as well.”

Favourite month: April to May

For the cherry blossoms. 👍

Favourite tradition or custom: New Year’s

“You can take time off with the family.”

Find Accessible Japan here and on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.