Tokyo can be a nightmare for travelers with disabilities. City sidewalks can be so jam-packed that getting around on crutches or in a wheelchair is exceedingly difficult.
Although most train and subway stations have elevators, they are often difficult to locate. A few stations are accessible only by stairs or escalators, but 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 that someone at your destination help you disembark. Finally, although trains and buses have seating for passengers with disabilities, subways can be so crowded that there's barely room to move. Moreover, these seats are almost always occupied by commuters -- so unless it's obvious that you have a physical disability, no one is likely to offer you a seat.
As for accommodations, most expensive hotels have at least one or two barrier-free rooms (sometimes called a "universal" room in Japan), though lower-priced hotels and Japanese inns generally do not. Lower-priced accommodations may also lack elevators. In a positive move, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government provides subsidies to hotels wishing to upgrade their facilities to make them more accessible for people with physical disabilities; for a list of accommodations that have received the subsides and to see the work they've accomplished, go to www.tourism.metro.tokyo/jp/English/administration/barrier_free/barrierlist.html.
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 restrooms include restaurants in department stores and upper-end hotels. Even Japanese homes are not very accessible, since the main floor is traditionally raised about a foot above the entrance-hall floor.
For information on traveling in Japan with a wheelchair, see Accessible Japan at www.tesco-premium.co.jp/aj/index.htm. It gives limited information on a handful of sights and hotels that offer facilities for people with disabilities.
When it comes to facilities for the blind, Japan has a very advanced system. At subway stations and on many major sidewalks in Tokyo, raised dots and lines on the ground guide blind people through intersections and 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 area in their top corners -- the ¥1,000 note has one circle in a corner, while the ¥10,000 note has two. And finally, many elevators have floors indicated in Braille, and some hotels identify rooms in Braille.