Three great travel destinations that prioritize accessibility.
Understanding that travel should be fun and enjoyable for all, regardless of age, ability, or nationality, Japan is making remarkable strides towards accessibility across the country. Recently, the Japan Tourism Agency has been cooperating with local governments and NPOs to promote universal tourism and make information available for travelers. One great resource is the Accessible Travel Japan website (https://accessible-japan.jp/index.html) They provide a wealth of information to plan ahead with peace of mind and offer services to help find and book accessible hotels, taxis, and more. Here are several featured destinations that offer diverse charms and fantastic accessibility.
The prefecture off the southernmost tip of Japan is famous for its sub-tropical climate and unique culture, but it also drafted Japan’s first Barrier-Free Declaration in 2007. Since then, Okinawa has stayed true to that promise and continues to be a welcoming destination for travelers regardless of age or physical limitations. In fact, Naha Airport has a dedicated Barrier-Free Tour Desk with friendly staff ready to help you make the most of your visit. They also have a website that is useful for planning.
One of the highlights of visiting Okinawa is how easy it is to get out in nature. At Chura Sun Beach, a fifteen-minute ride from Naha airport, visitors can rent a “chair boat” with inflatable tires, enabling you to ride along the sandy shores and into the beautiful clear water with stability and comfort.
At Yanbaru Discovery Forest, a wooden path makes the forest walk accessible for anyone. Listen as local guides explain the ecology of the forest, and consider a stay overnight, where barrier-free rooms and gender-separated indoor and outdoor baths are available. An hour from Naha by air, Ishigaki is known for its beautiful beaches and rich nature. The airport is barrier-free, and no-step buses and taxis are available. One recommended activity is a cruise in a glass-bottomed boat in Kabira Bay. The coral reefs and tropical fish can be comfortably seen while seated, and staff are trained in helping passengers embark and disembark. With these being only a small sampling of accessible activities on the islands and ample resources for planning, Okinawa is truly a fantastic destination, particularly for nature enthusiasts.
If you’re keener on big city life, Tokyo is an excellent choice. Despite the size and complexity of the metropolis, there are ample resources for travel planning and getting around, aided by a city-wide effort to support access to information and comfortable mobility. Accessible Tokyo, a resource of the Japanese Red Cross Language Services, provides travel tips for wheelchair users in Tokyo and Yokohama. With their detailed information, you can research the areas you’d like to visit, learn about tourist spots and buildings, and check their accessibility. This includes descriptions of the overall ease of getting around the venue, availability of wheelchairs and parking, and even details such as which train cars are closest to the elevator. A particularly nice feature is that they make note of which destinations benefit from more pre-planning, such as the labyrinthine Shinjuku Station. Whether you are interested in museums, shopping, architecture, or anime, the whole kaleidoscope of Tokyo culture is available to you with these resources!
About an hour and a half north of Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train), Sendai is another excellent choice which combines the attractions of a big city and the beauty of the countryside with a deep historical richness. The largest city in the Tohoku region, it was founded in 1600 by Date Masamune, one of the most powerful lords in feudal Japan. Accomplished in both the political and military spheres, Masamune was also highly cultured, and put significant work into developing the culture and craftsmanship of his domain. His influence can still be felt in the remarkable artistry of Sendai’s temples, shrines, and historical buildings. If you visit the Site of Sendai Castle, you can see the statue of Lord Date Masamune on horseback as well as a panoramic view over Sendai city. Wheelchairs are available free of charge, as are wheelchair accessible toilets. Beef tongue is the most famous culinary specialty of Sendai, and there are restaurants with space for wheelchairs and no steps at the entry. The famous Sendai Tanabata in early August sees the city decorated in giant, colorful streamers, making this a beautiful time to visit. Nearby Matsushima, about 40 minutes outside Sendai by train, is one of the three most scenic spots in Japan. The beautiful bay is dotted with 260 small islands covered by pine trees. A pleasure cruise from Marine Gate Shiogama will take you around the bay for remarkable views and is accessible by wheelchair. The tourist center also lends wheelchairs for free. For more details when planning a visit to Matsushima and Sendai city, you can reach out to Accessible Japan and Accessible Sendai and receive more personalized information.