Just walking (or rolling) around in a wheelchair is very easy in Japan. Sidewalks are smooth and curbs are cut. Many smaller roads don’t have a sidewalk but just a painted line to indicate where you should go. For the most part Tokyo is very flat, but – being a mountainous country – many areas can feature very steep roads. Charge your batteries!
For those with visual impairment, sidewalks and train stations are equipped with special tiles to indicate safe and unsafe paths.
Trains and Subways
Trains make perfect sense in Japan and have been the backbone of transit since the 1860s. While stations were not originally made with wheelchairs in mind and have many flights of stairs, a tremendous amount of effort has been made and stations are now nearly all accessible. This is usually accomplished with elevators, but in some cases stair lifts are used as well. By far the most interesting – and terrifying – are the escalators that can carry wheelchairs by having three steps form into a platform.
Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
The Bullet Train, or Shinkansen, is the ultra-fast train that Japan is famous for. Advanced reservations are recommended. When reserving a seat, you will tell the staff where you want to go and when you want to arrive. They will then contact the special arrangements office to book the ticket. If the special wheelchair area is available, they will reserve it and give you your tickets. If not available, they will suggest another departure time. The process can take between 30-60 minutes.
Most buses that run between cities and the airports are not accessible.
City buses, on the other hand, generally are wheelchair accessible (though, can vary with city/location/route/time). Unfortunately, the system of loading is a bit more inconvenient than the train and requires the bus driver to physically take out and set up the ramp.
Accessible Vans And Taxis
New taxis called “JapanTaxi” are modelled after London Cabs and can be found fairly easily at airports and even on the street. They can seat one manual wheelchair user and a companion.
For those who use an electric wheelchair, vans with lifts as well as mini-buses are available. However, they are not readily available and need to be booked in advance