Home Page Forums General Discussion Ambulant with hidden disabilities

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  • #9299



    My partner and I have hidden disabilities, we are ambulant and don’t use wheelchairs. I suffer from chronic pain in my spine which makes walking and queuing extremely painful after more than a few minutes. My partner has Ataxia, a rare condition which affects balance, coordination and fine motor skills which causes him extreme difficulty with stairs and uneven surfaces under foot. Often his condition is mistaken for being drunk due to his unsteady gait. We live in Scotland, UK, and neither of us has any official disability ID. I have a few questions I hope someone could help with please?

    1. What would happen if a Japanese official, or other worker, suspects my partner is drunk? Given the language barrier how do we make it known he has a disability?

    2. Does Japan have a symbol you can wear that discretely indicates to people you have a hidden disability? For example, here in the UK we have a sunflower lanyard we can wear around our neck. These are becoming more widely recognised and it helps convey to staff the need for assistance without having to explain the disability repeatedly.

    3. As we can both walk, albeit for a very short distance only, how can we explain we have hidden disabilities while using public transport or attending a tourist attraction etc in order that we may be provided with a seat for waiting? Is it worth bringing a fold up chair of some sort and carrying it around to different sites? Would we even be allowed in with such an item?

    4. With regards to the main tourist attractions, are there plenty of places to sit and rest, say in the grounds surrounding castles and temples, or in museums? The research I’ve done so far doesn’t seem to show much in the way of seating but that may be due to aesthetics so I wanted to check.

    5. Are there any day trip operators in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka that are hidden disability friendly? We want to take advantage of day trips but are worried that a lot of walking may be involved at the destination but that we won’t be able to convey the problem without a wheelchair.

    6. Does anyone have any general advice with regards to visiting Japan with hidden/mobility disabilities?

    Many thanks for your help, any and all advice greatly received.

  • Author
  • #9302


    The Japanese are very rule oriented. They also don’t speak much English so verbal explanations will be very hardIhard. have a blatantly obvious disability and use a wheelchair and I was asked for proof to buy discounted disability tickets to attractions. I knew this going in, so I had my doctor sign a note explaining my disability in both English and Japanese (used Google translate and had a friend in Japan double check) and put it on her letterhead. I then had it laminated at Staples and took it everywhere I went, to deep appreciation by all staff I encountered. You should do the same, it will save a lot of hassle. Also the Japanese have a badge with a symbol for invisible disability. I was waiting for the Osaka Castle elevator and a woman with an invisible disability also waiting showed it to me so I wouldn’t think she was scamming the elevator system lol.  You can read about it here: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/217/

    Also if you tire easily, you may be better off just renting a wheelchair for the trip. The trains are incredibly accessible and easy to use to get around. I was able to rent a Whill in Tokyo and it’s a ridiculously low monthly fee – something like 15,000 yen for a whole month.

    • #10912



      Your comment is very interesting.

      Did you rent an electric chair in Tokyo ? For how long and is it possible to rent it for one or two weeks ? I have Multiple sclerosis (invisible symptoms) and I can walk but not a long distance and sometimes I can’t because I get tired very quickly. I can’t even stand in line..

  • #9303



    Annatated, thank you for your excellent suggestion!  It is also great to hear that it was welcomed at various tourist sites.  The wheelchair rental suggestion is also great.

    Cookeh, to go through your other questions:

    1. As mentioned, the Dr note or Help Mark lanyard would clear up any confusion.  Additionally, Japan doesn’t really have any public drunkenness laws to worry about.  In fact it is so common that people would either not notice, or offer to help (particularly the police).
    2. As Annatated mentioned, there is the “Help Mark” lanyard.  They are free and don’t need any paperwork.  Check out this post for more info and how to get one: https://www.accessible-japan.com/forums/topic/tag-for-those-with-invisible-illnesses/
    3. You could rent a wheelchair as Annatated mentioned, or maybe get some sort of camping stool like this: https://amzn.to/3gp6fcJ .  In combination with the Help Mark, I don’t think there should be an issue.
    4. Public benches are very rare outside of parks and most/many tourist sites do not have places to rest (though they are increasing).   So, bringing something or renting a wheelchair would be best.
    5. For Tokyo, the organizer of this day tour is very accommodating.  Just let them know your needs in advance and they can adjust the tour.  I may have a lead for Kyoto…
    6. We’ll see if we can find someone!
  • #9326


    Also the distance you will need to walk to catch the trains are absurdly long, especially if you need an elevator, so another reason you may want a wheelchair for the trip even if you don’t need it in your everyday life. Also if you rent the chair, rent an extra battery. You will be putting a lot of mileage on it because everything is so spread out!

  • #9327


    More excellent points!

  • #9329


    Hi there. I work in the tourism industry in Kyoto and while I personally cannot offer any tours at this time, I wanted to share a few points:

    Consider renting wheelchairs. Maybe even just one and you and your husband can take turns at each destination so you can rest while still sightseeing. There is much more walking required here than you expect. As mentioned above, even just going through a major train stations like Tokyo or Kyoto could be an ordeal. The sightseeing locations are similarly spread out. It’s not uncommon for temples and shrines to feature loooooong walkways up the entrance, plenty of stairs, gravel paths, and high thresholds in gates and doorways. Please consider all of this. There is nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair here, and staff at sightseeing locations will be happy to accommodate you as much as they can, but remember that things are a bit different here. Something that seems like “can you just help me a bit with something simple” may simply go against the rules here. And rules are not bent often in Japan. Be patient, observant, and respectful and the locals will return the favor. Also, you need to accept that there will be many, many places that are off limits to wheelchairs. The good news is that there are many, many places that are accessible, as I’m sure you’ve found on this website :)

    I think you should look into touring with a guide and private vehicle. My recommendation would be http://privatetour-kyoto.com/ehome.htm The owner of that business is extremely caring and patient, and if he is available to help you I know he will do all he can to make you comfortable. He uses his own vehicle for touring so you don’t need to worry about public transport. Only a highly experienced guide like that will be able to put together a realistic (unfortunately short) list of sightseeing locations that will be appropriate for your needs. Don’t just go with anyone.

    Also, please think about how often you will be taking your shoes off here, and decide if that will be an issue. Let your guide know ahead of time if removing your shoes and walking in socks will be painful or time consuming. If you end up somewhere that requires you to remove your shoes, you need to accept that you have two options: remove your shoes, or don’t go in. Do not be stubborn and insist upon entry, even if it’s a medical issue. Please please please do NOT choose to die upon that hill. I have seen visitors refuse to remove their shoes, get angry, and then the Japanese are SO kind that they sometimes will let the guests in anyway. It puts the hosts in a very awkward position to have to refuse entry, and they really do hate to say “No” here. I don’t think you would do this as you are obviously careful and thoughtful in your concerns, but I just wanted to put that out there. Just simply let your guide know if you cannot remove your shoes early on and there will be no problem!

    As mentioned in a previous post, there are very few public benches and places to sit here. It’s very strange. Even train stations will maybe only have one small bench for an entire platform if you’re lucky. You may be tempted to stop and rest on a low wall or steps, but please be aware that sitting on something that isn’t made for sitting can be seen as poor manners here. Sitting on the steps of a temple or shrine is even worse. Of course, for medical reasons exceptions can be made, but be observant about what the locals are doing and where they’re (not) sitting.

    Finally, maybe you should invest in some of those canes that fold out into a small tripod stool. I see elderly folks with those here occasionally and they look quite handy. Something like this: https://www.top5reviewed.com/folding-cane-seats/

    I hope my straightforward tone isn’t insulting. I think it’s important to be honest about the realities of what it’s like here for disabled travelers. Keep an open mind and be patient and you’ll have a great trip!

  • #9332


    Thank you all so much for the fantastically detailed responses, I’m very grateful. Lots of really good points raised that I hadn’t considered and I appreciate the heads up!

    I will look into all the links you’ve sent me and add them to my ever growing list of things to consider while travelling Japan. If anything else comes to mind please feel free to add more responses.

    Many thanks!

  • #9336


    Our pleasure!

    You may also be interested in reading this with regards to removing shoes etc:
    (TabiFolk is a forum related to Accessible Japan)

    Please feel free to ask as many questions as you have (new post for each topic though please) – we are here to help!

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