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Accessible Travel Guide: Tokyo

For this very special Accessible Travel Guide we have partnered up with THE GUY who really knows the country from a wheelchair user’s point of view.  Meet Josh Grisdale, author of the essential guide to Japan for travellers with disability: accessible-japan.com.  Born in Canada, Josh moved to Tokyo in 2007 and is a Japanese citizen since 2016, which makes us guess that he actually really loves this country.

Josh has cerebral palsy and has been using a wheelchair since he was four years old, and on the side of his day job he has been writing in his website with passion and detail about how to visit this amazing country, and has also recently published an accessible guide book to Tokyo, which we totally recommend as your main reference for preparing your holiday in Japan (you can buy a Kindle version or a real printed copy here).

He deals in his website with practical aspects, such as how to best book and take trains and use public transport, and gives a ton of great addresses for monuments, attractions, shopping, restaurants and hotels. His You Tube channel is a must if you want to see beforehand the places you’ll want to visit in person, as he really shows everything in detail from a practical point of view.

We asked him to recommend three places to visit in Tokyo and for some practical information about how to move around in Japan.

Harajuku

Photo courtesy of Josh Grisdale

Let’s start with some hard-core shopping and a great place to meet Japanese youth culture and the world reknown “kawaii” culture.  To get an idea of what Kawaii means, just mix a ton of Hello Kittys with all your favourite big-eyed manga characters, add glowing pastel colors (lots of pink) and sugar coated muffins. Then shake. 

If you want to shop Kawaii (but not only), Harajuku is the place: streets and streets of all you can wish for (and things you probably didn’t know – or wish- even existed). The internationally famous, ever changing, colourful Japanese youth culture and fashion have their headquarter here. From vintage clothes and accessories, to Hello Kitty printed on anything you can think of, to the “Hedgehog café”, where you can actually touch real hedgehogs, a day spent here will make your head spin a bit but you will end up feeling very kawaii, so it will be worth it. Prepare for a crowdy experience and not all shops and food spots have access ramps. Still, there are so many things and people to see, especially on Sundays, that it may be worth risking the crowds. Also, you can always go to chill out in the nearby Meiji Shrine!

Meiji Shrine

Set in a forest of 70 acres, the shrine is accessible for wheelchair users thanks to ramps pretty much everywhere and features a well equipped accessible toilet. There are two elements that complicate things a little: a 700 mt access way to reach the shrine (path is gravel but there is a paved lane also) and a bit of a steep bridge at the end. But it is a nice walk surrounded by trees and visiting this monument is totally worthwhile (and you may get to see a traditional Japanese wedding if you lucky).

traditional wedding at the meiji shrine in tokyo

Photo courtesy of Elisa Tommasi (IG @lunaelisa)

Sensoji Temple

Highly accessible and well equipped with toilets, this is Tokyo’s oldest (Buddhist) temple and a must-see. Dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon (Goddess of mercy and compassion), it is surrounded by around 89 shops which sell amost everything, following a long tradition of providing goods to the pilgrims who came to the temple. Except today you can get anything from a kimono to a Godzilla toy! Since there are many ways to get there, check beforehand your itinerary, but since the train and metro network in Japan is excellent and very highly accessible, moving around will be much easier than in many European capitals.

Photo courtesy of Elisa Tommasi (IG @lunaelisa)

General Accessibility of the area

Tip: Some models of electric wheelchairs and scooters are not allowed everywhere  (most notably on some trains) and the voltage in Japan is different, so do your research beforehand to avoid surprises. You will find plenty of information in Accessible-Japan’s website.

The level of accessibility of Japan, and Tokyo in particular, is very high. Also, the city’s accessibility is currently being improved due to the Olympics and Paralympics that will take place there in 2020. Public transport and trains are well equipped with elevators and signaling of accessible resources is often very visible and the staff is very helpful. Accessible toilets are spacious and frequent in train stations, monuments, museums and shopping centres, less easy to find one in some more traditional neighbourhoods, so the best option is to use the ones in train stations.

Critical issues: most restaurants have a step at the entrance to evoke the tradition of taking one’s shoes off. Even if this is not a custom anymore, the step persists. But perhaps the most worrysome element can be the crowds. The most interesting spots to visit or the best shopping streets are often very crowded, and although people are very polite it may be uncomfortable to some. There are always calmer times to visit places though, and weekdays are generally less crowded, but also in some cases it is people who make this country extremely fascinating, so do not get scared and try out a bit of every place!

woman in traditional japanese attire looking out into a beautiful japanese style garden with rocks and bushes

Photo courtesy of Elisa Tommasi (IG @lunaelisa)

Airport Accessibility

You may arrive and depart from either Narita or Haneda airport. Both are perfectly equipped as you will see from the long list of facilities and services that they offer for visitors with all disabilities.

Narita airport accessibility information

Haneda airport accessibility information

Want to know more?

This guide is just an “appetizer”, for the most complete and detailed information visit www.accessible-japan.com and make sure you get the Accessible Tokyo Guide too.
In this guide Josh Grisdale touches all issues, focusing mainly on accessibility for wheelchairs, but giving some very useful information also for travellers with visual and hearing impairments. If you want to organize your holiday by yourself this is the best resource, as he gives plenty of information also on hotels and practical services.

If you have questions you can also join the Japan Discussion Sub-Forum at Accesisble Travel Forum 

Photo and credits:

The photo in the header is by Elisa Tommasi, you can see more of her wonderful photos of Japan in her Instagram account @lunaelisa

 

Rating: 5

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