Most of you reading this post already use a wheelchair to get around, and for many a wheelchair is a required mode of travel. So, when a wheelchair is out of commission and in need of repair on a vacation, it may feel like you’ve been shackled in your room with everything you want to see just on the other side of the door. In this article we will be looking at ways to avoid damage as well as where to start looking for help if your wheelchair breaks on vacation in Japan.

First and foremost, it would be best to avoid further damage or, if possible, repair it yourself, for that there are things you can prepare for. Here’s a list to keep in mind during early trip planning:

  • Maintenance Checkup. Contact the local company that supplied your wheelchair to you and inquire about a maintenance checkup appointment (ideally covered by your healthcare). Getting a wheelchair checkup before a trip can potentially help you discover a small problem before becoming a big problem. It’s recommended that you schedule an appointment at least a month (or more) before your trip, so that there’s time for any replacement part(s) to be ordered and shipped. Also, use this appointed to speak with the technician so you or your caregiver can be familiarized with preventative maintenance that you can do (e.g. checking tire pressure, cleaning wheels, main power and manual mode switch locations, parts that should be removed before flight, which bolts commonly come loose, etc.).
  • Repair Services and Brands. While talking with the local company that supplied your wheelchair ask for contact information for repair services in Japan/internationally (if they know of any), ask about contact information for the brand of your wheelchair, and possibly brand info for parts that may not be the same as the base wheelchair itself (i.e. a custom backrest could use different tools than the wheelchair base). If they don’t have any information on this, see below for information on a few of the top brands.
  • Tool kit. If you’ve lucky, your wheelchair company will provide you with a small tool kit for tightening mischievous bolts that won’t stay put. This usually consists of a small set of Allen Wrenches/Hex Key that fit your chair (seems to be an industry standard, but sometimes other nuts/bolts/screws are used). If you don’t have a set of tools they can be found in Japan or easily online in Small Travel Size sets.
  • Tire repair kits, Replacement tire innertubes, and Hand pumps. These are probably the easiest things to find locally because of the significant use of bikes in Japan. Nevertheless, if you want to be prepared ahead of time you can easily put together a small inexpensive kit. For repair inflatable tires, Bike tire repair kits are fairly inexpensive and you probably won’t need many patches. For manual wheelchairs, replacing an inner tube isn’t difficult but will depend on the size you need (usually 22in-26in or 56cm-66cm) which are the same as bike standards (check your manual). Lastly, there are a variety of pumps available including Compact hand pumps that you may even be able to attach to your chair making it always available (make sure to get one with a PSI gauge to ensure proper inflation).
  • Battery Charger and Voltage. First a small note about outlets in Japan worth mentioning, they typically don’t have three-prong outlets and run at 100v. The voltage shouldn’t matter much if you are using a US charger, however, make sure it is a two-prong plug or you’ll need a converter (ideally it would be best to get a two-prong from your wheelchair provider for safety reasons). However, if your charger runs at 220v, even with a plug adapter your wheelchair will not charge properly and you will need a voltage converter as well. Beyond that, if your charger is damaged, lost, or not working, then make sure you know what voltage is required and the type of plug needed to connect to your chair. If you did lose it, having a physical and digital picture of the information on the charger and its plug available can help order a new one at a local shop. For more information on voltages and battery chargers, please see our guide here.

If prevention or self-repair isn’t an option, then seeking out help is the next step. To help you start we’ve collected information from three of the top wheelchair manufacturers in the world. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Invacare Corporation
    US Phone: (800) 333-6900
    While an international phone number is not available, the website has a Provider Locator for customers abroad, here’s a provider in Japan (Note: May need translator assistance):

    Showa Boeki Corporation
    Japan Phone:  (81) 6 6441 8122
    Email:  [email protected]
    https://www.showa-boeki.jp/
  • Sunrise Medical
    US Phone: (800) 333-4000
    No international number available, but they have a Japanese branch (Note: May need translator assistance):

    Japanese Phone: 0480-31-6480
    Email: [email protected]
    https://sunrisemedical.jp/
  • Permobil
    US Phone: (800) 736-0925
    No international number available, but they have a Japanese branch email address and there are many dealers of Permobil wheelchairs in Japan listed on the dealer list below (Note: It’s only in Japanese, may need translator assistance):

    Email: [email protected]
    https://permobilkk.jp/support/dealer-list

Ideally, with your brand information in hand you should be able to get in contact with an international connection to find help. If your wheelchair company brand isn’t listed here and you haven’t been able to get information about it, you can try asking on the Japan group of tabifolk. In fact, if you have other issues as well, the members in the group are eager to help! This sibling-site to Accessible Japan, it serves as a forum for questions, concerns, ideas and more. You can inquire here about accessibility before traveling or of course if you find yourself in trouble. While we can’t guarantee to have all the answers, there are many people in the growing tabifolk community that will try to find an answer for you and so you can get back to the fun!


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