Today I spent some time hanging out with The Penpal and some of her friends from NICE (Numazu Association for International Communications and Exchanges). We went to karaoke together in the afternoon which was memorable for two reasons: there was no drinking, and I learned how challenging it could be in Japan for someone in a wheelchair. Since these are two very different themes, I am going to make them into separate posts.
Japan in a wheelchair
One of The Penpal’s friends was a young Japanese man in a wheelchair. I had never really considered it before, but there are a lot of challenges to having a wheelchair in Japan. There are good facilities in large businesses and train stations for people in wheelchairs – elevators and accessible bathrooms for example, however there are a lot of places with narrow aisles, minuscule elevators, tiny washrooms, and lots of stairs. There are some older places that would be difficult or impossible to navigate in a wheelchair, and I can’t imagine what life would be like in a mountain town like Atami where steep streets make bicycle travel only possible for diehard cyclists.
The karaoke place we went to had three steps from the entrance area to the karaoke rooms. There was no elevator or ramp, so the group of us worked together to help move the wheelchair up the stairs. A chair and passenger can be a lot heavier than you would expect! The entrance door to the karaoke room was also just barely wider than the chair, which made getting in a bit difficult.
Japan is not completely inaccessible to wheelchairs, but the experience is very different from Canada where basically everywhere is required by law to provide accessibility.
If you are planning to travel to Japan in a wheelchair, there are some good resources online to help you get around. Check out Japan Accessible at www.japan-accessible.com. You can also find an interesting personal story on lonely planet here.