For those with disabilities, traveling can be a nightmare in Japan, especially in Tokyo and other large metropolises. City sidewalks can be so jampacked that getting around on crutches or in a wheelchair is exceedingly difficult; some busy thoroughfares can be crossed only via pedestrian bridges.
Most major train and subway stations now have elevators, but they can be difficult to locate. Otherwise, smaller stations, especially in rural areas, may be accessible only by stairs or escalators, though in recent years some have been equipped with powered seat lifts. While some buses are now no-step conveyances for easy access, subway and train compartments are difficult for solo wheelchair travelers to navigate on their own due to a gap or slight height difference between the coaches and platforms. In theory you can ask a station attendant to help you board, though you might have to wait if he's busy; you can also request an attendant at your destination to help you disembark. Although trains and buses have seating for passengers with disabilities -- called "Priority Seats" and located in the first and last compartments of the train -- subways can be so crowded that there's barely room to move. Moreover, Priority Seats are almost always occupied by commuters, so unless you look visibly handicapped, no one is likely to offer you a seat.
As for accommodations, only 10% of the nation's hotels have barrier-free rooms (called a "universal" room in Japan and used primarily by seniors), mostly in the expensive category. Only a scant 1% of Japanese inns have such rooms. Lower-priced accommodations may also lack elevators.
Restaurants can also be difficult to navigate, with raised doorsills, crowded dining areas, and tiny bathrooms that cannot accommodate wheelchairs. Best bets for ramps and easily accessible bathrooms include restaurants in department stores and upper-end hotels. Even Japanese homes are not very accessible, since the main floor is always raised about a foot above the entrance-hall floor.
For information on traveling with a wheelchair, including limited information on a handful of sights and hotels offering facilities for travelers with disabilities, visit the Accessible Japan website at www.tesco-premium.co.jp/aj.
When it comes to facilities for the blind, Japan has a very advanced system. At subway stations and on many major sidewalks in large cities, raised dots and lines on the ground guide blind people at intersections and to subway platforms. In some cities, streetlights chime a theme when the signal turns green east-west, and chime another for north-south. Even Japanese yen notes are identified by a slightly raised circle -- the ¥1,000 note has one circle in a corner, while the ¥10,000 note has two. Many elevators have floors indicated in Braille, and some hotels identify rooms in Braille.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.