While mobility scooters have been gaining popularity around the world as an alternative to traditional wheelchairs, Japan has been slow to follow. Mobility scooters are not common at mobility goods providers and, as such, very few people own them in Japan. This rarity makes it hard for many institutions in Japan to recognize mobility scooters as legitimate mobility devices for people with disabilities.
Due to the crowds on trains and at train stations, rail companies have also been concerned about the maneuverability of mobility scooters (for example, getting out of a crowded train on a scooter may take extra turns when compared to a wheelchair, taking more time, requiring more people to move etc) and have been strict regarding what they refer to as “handle-type wheelchairs.” Here is an excerpt from Japan Rail West’s website:
JR-WEST provides service only for passengers that fall into one of the following categories regarding handle-type electric wheelchairs.
- Customers who, according to the complementary equipment benefits system or the complementary equipment expenses allowance system based on Japanese law, including the “Law for the Welfare of People with Physically Disabled,” the “Child Welfare Act,” or the “Services and Supports for Persons with Disabilities Act,” truly rely on the use of a handle-type electric wheelchair and who have received benefits or a complimentary equipment allowance.
- Customers who, according to the nursing insurance system based on Japanese law, specifically the “Public Nursing Care Insurance Law,” have been deemed as truly reliant on the use of a handle-type electric wheelchair and who have been lent a handle-type electric wheelchair.
Essentially, users must prove that their mobility scooter is needed as a mobility device due to a disability, based on Japanese law. Unfortunately, no one visiting from a foreign country will have those exact documents.
Application of the rules, however, is left mostly to the discretion of the staff at the station. This means some staff won’t blink an eye and offer help, others may ask for the above proof, still others may call their boss etc. and take the scooter separately like Maureen T. Corrigan experienced.
In general, it seems that most of the problems come from Japan Rail, while the private rail lines seem less concerned. We at Accessible Japan can only suggest that you get your local disability identification card, or a letter from your physician, translated into Japanese so that you have something available to show station staff if requested.
With the coming Tokyo Olympics and foreign visitors using a variety of mobility aids coming in larger numbers, the rail companies are being pressured to rethink their policies from various advocacy groups. Japan rail has an inquiry form that we suggest you use to show your desire to travel freely in Japan with your mobility scooter. Please use the form here:
We would love to share stories of your experiences in Japan with a mobility scooter. Sharing these stories on the blog can help many others preparing for their trip.
The following is a translation of the rules regarding mobility scooters on the shinkansen:
In cases where certain conditions are met for both the passengers and wheelchairs, it is possible to ride in the multi-purpose room on train cars operated by the N700 series used on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, the W7 series used on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line and the E7 series.
Customers/wheelchairs that can use this service
Handle-operated electric wheelchairs that can use this service:
- Wheelchairs that are approximately 120 cm in height and 70 cm in width.
- On traincars with a deck, the multi-purpose room will be used, so as well as the conditions above, the wheelchair will have to be able to turn at a 90-degree angle and rotate 180-degrees.
- Able to quickly turn a 0.9m-wide right angle up to 5 times, and turn a 1.0m-wide right angle.
- Able to turn 180 degrees in a space less than 1.8m wide.
- If the electric chair has a “3-star Rotation Ability” sticker or “improved handle-operated electric wheelchair” sticker, it meets the requirements mentioned above. If there are no such stickers, we will check with the customer that the requirements are satisfied.
In cases where the requirements are not satisfied:
Since the design of the facilities are based on guidelines from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport and the above requirements, wheelchairs that do not satisfy the requirements will not be allowed.
- A train attendant will guide the passenger and set up a ramp for getting on and off the train.
- We ask that passengers transport themselves. Please move at a speed no more than 2km/h and follow the instructions and warnings of the train attendant, and do not use routes other than the ones specified. Please be careful about other customers and the facilities.
- On the platform, please keep your distance from the edge of the platform, and when stopping, in order to prevent falls and slips, keep your electric wheelchair parallel to the tracks and turn on the brake.
Trains/Facilities that can be used
The multi-purpose rooms on train cars operated by the N700 series used on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, the W7 series used on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line and the E7 series.
- Only one room per train.
- Other trains cannot be used.
Stations that can be used
Every station on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen line (except Shin Iwakuni Station and Asa Station).
- Limited to stations between those that the N700 series stops for.
Each station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line (except Iiyama Station, Ueda Station, Annaka-Haruna Station, and Honjo Waseda Station).
- Limited to stations between those that the W7 series and E7 series stops for.
If the following conditions are met, you can transfer to and from non-Shinkansen lines.
- Able to transfer to and from the non-Shinkansen line platform.
- The train on the non-Shinkansen line is operated by an accessible train.
- The station on the non-Shinkansen line which you will be using is accessible.