There’s much more to see in Tokyo than just Asakusa, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. Learn about some lesser-known spots that are wheelchair-friendly and accessible by public transport. This article also features info from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s accessibility sightseeing guide, so you can get some ideas and inspiration to explore the city.
BY Fuchiyama Tomohiro
There are about 700 railway stations in Tokyo, about 95% of which have non-step facilities and accessible toilets (as of 2018). In addition, 94% of public buses in the city can accommodate wheelchair users. Using this vast public transportation network, you can travel to almost anywhere in the city.
In many stations, there are gaps or steps between the platform and train, so have station staff bring you a ramp to help you board. Depending on the time of day, there may be a wait, so make sure you come with enough time to spare.
Many train stations are large and complex, so they may be difficult to navigate using just information from the internet and station signs. Even local Japanese can get lost in these maze-like structures. I recommend reaching out to station staff or passerbys for help if you get lost along the way. As someone who has worked for a travel agency for 30 years and guided people through unfamiliar cities, this is my pro tip. Most Japanese tend to be shy, and few reach out to others to help out. It’s not because they don’t want to help, it’s just that they find it hard to approach strangers. If you need some help when you’re at a station or somewhere outside, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m sure you’ll find people gathering around you, ready to assist.
This article will introduce you to some fun sightseeing spots that I’ ve selected from the Tokyo Sightseeing Accessibility Guide.
Mount Atago is located smack in the center of Tokyo. It’s accessible from Onarimon Station on the Toei Line, which also happens to be near Tokyo Tower. Walk for about 11 minutes, for a distance of 630 meters, and you’ll find a long, steep set of stairs that towers like a wall. At about 26 meters above sea level, Mount Atago is the highest topological feature in the Tokyo Metropolitan area.
The 86 steps that lead to the top are known as the “Stone Steps to Success.” In 1634, when samurai were still active in Japan, Magaki Heikuro, a samurai warrior of the Shikoku Marugame Domain, climbed the steps on horseback. He later went on to become a master equestrian. This anecdote inspired the nickname for the stairs. Even now, this shrine is frequented by businessmen hoping for a promotion at work.
While it may seem impossible for wheelchair users to ascend these steep stairs, there is an elevator in front of them that will take you straight to the top.
Although the change in elevation is just 26 meters, the cool breeze passing through the lush trees is enough to make you forget about the heat down below.
At the top, you can pay a visit to Atago Shrine, which was established in 1603. It is associated with disaster prevention, prosperity in business, and romantic love. Offer a prayer and reap some good fortune to take back home with you. See below for detailed routes and nearby places of interest: Toranomon, Hibiya, Nagatacho Route
Head straight from Higashi-Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro to Kabukiza Tower. At the Kabukiza Theater, you can get a taste of Japanese culture through kabuki performances. However, this time you’ll be visiting the Kabukiza Gallery on the fifth floor of the tower, which was completed in 2013. The gallery exhibits props that were actually used in kabuki performances, as well as costumes and stuffed animals. You can get hands-on with them. The gallery also gives you a chance to listen to the sounds of traditional Japanese instruments played in the shows.
You’ll find “antenna shops” featuring special products from each of Japan’s 47 Prefectures in the Yurakucho area. The Iwate Ginga Plaza, which sells goods from Iwate Prefecture, is located right across from Kabukiza Gallery. A short walk from there, along Ginza Chuo-dori Street, are antenna shops from Yamagata (Oishi Yamagata Plaza), Okinawa (Ginza Washita Shop), and Ishikawa (Ishikawa Local Speciality Shop). In front of Yurakucho Station is the Tokyo Kotsukaikan building which houses antenna shops from places such as Hokkaido, Osaka, Akita, Wakayama, and Tokushima. Each shop has an impressive selection of local specialities, and some of them have restaurants that serve well-known local dishes.
Some of the shop spaces may be a little narrow for wheelchairs, but the shops mentioned above are conducting trial tours with wheelchair users to inspect the spaces. Browse the shops to see what you can find.
See below for detailed routes from Kabukiza Tower to Yurakucho and nearby places of interest: Ginza, Yurakucho Route
Tokyo Dome City Attractions is a theme park located just off the Tokyo Metro Korakuen Station. It’s right next to the Tokyo Dome Stadium, which hosts professional baseball games, and the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I recommend taking a 15-minute ride on the BIG-O Ferris wheel. This unique Ferris wheel has an empty center with a roller coaster running through it.
After arriving at the theme park, take the elevator to the fifth floor, where you can buy a ticket for the Ferris wheel. Out of the 40 gondolas, only two are wheelchair-accessible, so wheelchair users may have to wait a while.
You might think that it’s dangerous to get into a moving gondola in a wheelchair, but don’t worry—when the wheelchair-accessible gondola comes around, staff members will temporarily stop the Ferris wheel and bring a ramp to help you board.
Once you’re in, you’ll get a chance to enjoy beautiful aerial views for 15 minutes. You can peek over the top of Tokyo Dome Stadium, and on clear days, you can spot Mount Fuji and Tokyo Skytree in the distance. Many wheelchair users in Japan were delighted with the experience, exclaiming, “I never thought I’d have the chance to get on a Ferris wheel!”
See below for detailed routes and places of interest: Korakuen Route
Out of my 30 years working at a Japanese travel agency, I’ve been involved with accessible tourism for about 20 years. These are just a few of the many spots I recommend. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s website features 30 itineraries for wheelchair users which can be accessed by public transport. I’m sure you’ll find some itineraries that grab your interest. Use a bus or train to see the wonderful sights around Tokyo.
I’m a travel specialist who has worked in a travel agency for 30 years, with 20 years of experience in accessible tourism.