Having an identification card for persons with disabilities can be a prickly topic.  Is it discrimination?  Is it security to protect your rights?  Whatever your thoughts on the topic, some countries have them, some countries don’t.  Japan is one of the countries that has disability ID.  It is called a 障がい者手帳 (shogaisha techo), or disability passbook, but can be translated by different tourist attractions as something like disabled card or disability passport.

The actual shogaisha techo is similar in size and shape to that of a passport, with a cover on the outside and the actual photo ID on the inside.  In addition to the individual’s name, the shogaisha techo also contains an ID number, date of birth, address, issuing authority, disability type and the severity.  These details are taken into account when dealing with local governments and medical institutions to work out what benefits the individual will receive.  It can be used as official identification, on par with drivers licenses. It is only available to residents of Japan registered with the healthcare system.

The ID also allows holders the opportunity to receive discounts on public transportation as well as tourist attractions and public facilities like museums and art galleries – often allowing the person to skip ticketing lines.

This is where it can be a point of frustration for travelers with disabilities.

Those coming from a country without disability identification cards will have nothing to show, and those who do have such an ID will have something in a foreign language that no one in Japan can verify.  At this point, the traveler is essentially left at the mercy of the person at the ticket counter. Some can be very strict about the rules and insist that discounts are only for people holding the recognized Japanese ID, others will not question anything and automatically give a discount.  More likely than not, the traveler will be asked for disability identification and then some confusion may ensue with managers being called and a decision coming after some deliberation.

Since each establishment and staff member is different, a traveler may experience a few different outcomes over the course of a single day.  It is best to remember that the staff isn’t judging whether a person is actually disabled or not, but deciding how the situation fits with policy.  (While unconfirmed, it is possible that some places may be reimbursed from the government for giving a discount and may be afraid they will be told by the government they won’t be reimbursed for foreign ID holders.)  Train companies never give a discount for foreign ID holders.

Our advice is to, if possible, get the ID from your own country translated into Japanese or a note from a doctor explaining your condition – even if it is obvious.  While this is not a guarantee, it may help staff understand your situation. Consider yourself lucky if you get the discount, and take consolation in the fact that with the influx of foreign tourists, tourist attractions are becoming more flexible.

Do you have an experience to share about getting a discount (or not!) while in Japan?  Leave it in the comments below!


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