Japan Access and Assistive Technology (Part 2)

Image description: Blog: Accessible Japan Part 2 with an image of Jackie and her daughter, who's sitting in a travel chair with her cane.We are back with Part 2 to share our insights into ability-specific access when in Japan.

Co-written by Jackie O’Sullivan and Jos Franciscus.

Vision Impaired Access

  • JF: There are many (in fact the most I’ve ever seen in one city!) tactile tiles all over most footpaths and many buildings. The further out from Tokyo, the less tactile tiles there seems to be.
  • JO: In many places, the tactile tiles are bright yellow and very helpful if bright yellow is your best visually assistive colour. We were able to follow the yellow tactile paths with the cane very easily and crowds would clear off the path as we used it.
  • JF: At some crossings there are sound indicators to cross, the best way to describe it is a bird chirping sound and it’s quite faint. That being said, a quirk about Japan is that they don’t like noise pollution so many crossings don’t have this – or if they do, you have to press a sidewalk crossing button.Image description: a photo of a cross walk with tactle markers
  • JF: Braille is present for eg on elevators, toilets, signs in museums – although beware the Braille is in Japanese, but numbers are universal.
  • JF: General barriers: I think it can be a challenge navigating Japan solo. There are a lot of unexpected steps/uneven surfaces and navigating crowds can be tricky.

Hearing Impaired Access

  • JF: If you’re hearing impaired, possibly the biggest challenge you’ll encounter is the language barrier. Otherwise there’s a lot of signs written in English, including visual cues via onboard TVs on trains and buses. Japanese people tend to use a lot of non-verbal cues which makes travelling with a hearing impairment easier.
  • JO: We found it difficult to hear announcements, though on trains there were always many message boards which would announce the next train station. These days, signage is written using the Japanese word in the English alphabet.

Sensory Considerations

  • JF: Japan can be very hectic at times due to the sheer number of people who live and travel there. If you have autism, sensory processing difficulties or mental health conditions I’d advise pacing yourself, not traveling at peak hours, staying at quiet accommodation in less busy areas and bringing along noise-cancelling headphones.
  • JF: Thankfully the Japanese people culturally are very quiet and travelling on public transport is mostly in silence – such a breath of fresh air. Tokyo is surprisingly quiet at night too, no beeping horns here.
  • JO: During the day and especially in the evenings, you will hear regular sirens which are followed by some loudspeaker messages. This is just local authorities diligently testing their equipment and conducting community drills for earthquakes, and other potential disasters.

Communication Access and Intellectual Impairment Access

  • JF: People who have a communication or intellectual impairment may have challenges with the language barrier – using apps like Google Translate will help with communication. It may be a good idea to have some key phrases in Japanese you wish to use prepared either on cue cards or written on your mobile device.

Mobility Aid Access

  • JF: Due to the nature of the age and size of many shops and restaurants there are a lot of steps! You can get around this by bringing portable ramps however it helps being mentally prepared that you may not feasibly have access. That being said, there are a lot of accessible places to go, so you’ll never be short of places. As Tokyo gears up for the Olympic & Paralympic Games in 2020 there will be increasingly more access.
  • JF: Footpaths are generally quite wide and flat in Tokyo, and in places where they’re not (for example the laneways of Harajuku or old Kyoto) I found it quite ok to carefully drive on the road as car drivers are considerate.
  • JO: We travel with a “Travel Electric Wheelchair”. Instead of using our main power chair, which is the best for everyday school and home situations, my daughter has to sit in the chair. We had to buy this ourselves, but it is worth having this option for travel if you are able to use this sort of chair. The upside is, it is easy to fold down, maneuver in small spaces, take up one step with assistance from behind and for a carer to push it if necessary. It has dry cell Lithium ion batteries that are acceptable to most airlines and they last 28km before needing a charge. The chair can be folded down and put in the boot of a standard taxi.

Image description: A [pole with a button on a crosswalkCultural Considerations

  • JF: One of the great things about Japan is the people are generally very polite and helpful should you need assistance. One of the refreshing things I noticed is that they generally don’t offer help unsolicited, and wait to be invited to assist. However they are often quite conservative and follow rules to the letter – they’ll often say something can’t be done if it seems in their mind risky or out of the box. As long as you know your limits, I’d recommend self-advocating what you need.


All-in-all don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, everyone (including tourists) is generally willing to help. Hopefully these accessible insights are helpful, and you enjoy Japan!

Feel free to contact us should you need any other accessible advice: atchat@ilc.com.au

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