Access all areas

Barry Joshua Grisdale is a travel journalist and creator of He became a Japanese citizen in 2016 and won Citizen Watch’s Citizen of the Year Award in 2017. Here Grisdale, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair, shares some valuable insights about the role accessibility could play in Tokyo’s future as a global financial city

Tokyo is easy to get around

“When I first came to Japan 20 years ago, not even 30 percent of rail stations in Tokyo were accessible. Currently, 96 percent of rail stations are accessible. It has become the norm and the few non-accessible stations are now surprising to see. It’s wonderful to see how Japan has improved.”

Shared spaces aren’t always accessible

“Lots of tourist attractions like Meiji Shrine and Sensoji are also barrier-free. Efforts are made for this even in old buildings. On the other hand, it’s difficult in restaurants and small private businesses. I feel like there are a lot of things [the owners] don’t notice, and they don’t attempt to improve because the laws haven’t changed.”

It’s wonderful to see how Japan has improved.”

Improvements may be driven by demographics

“Tokyo’s major shrines and temples are advancing because of the aging population. Recently I went to a shrine in Miyazaki Prefecture, and I thought it wouldn’t be very accessible. But there was a slope there, and there just happened to be a wedding going on. The grandpa and grandma in the family were both in wheelchairs. I think that’s why the slope was installed. So I get the feeling that a lot of places are thinking about the future.”

There’s a business case for accessibility

“Business owners may see barrier-free operations as something that they must comply with, resulting in a loss of funds. I have heard people involved with hotels complain that they end up losing money by creating barrier-free rooms. However, ramps can be purchased for about 10,000 yen. This investment could be quickly paid off with the visit of only three additional customers, meaning that any customers beyond that would represent profit.”

Covid-19 has shifted people’s priorities

“In Japan, the predominating thought has always been that you had to go to an office to be able to work, but now that everybody is realizing that people can work virtually in their own homes, I am hoping that more work opportunities might open up for people with disabilities. Going to an office is difficult for many people with disabilities, but if virtual work opportunities at home increase, then it might become easier for those people to get a job at a company.”

5G could help shape the future of accessibility

“Although I live in Tokyo and often use trains and public transit, there are times when I want to use a car in a rural area but I am unable to drive. With self-driving vehicles using 5G, however, I would be able to get around freely, which would give me more freedom. I also often use delivery services. With 5G, packages could be delivered by robots, allowing us to get what we need even more easily. Currently, many problems are linked to Japan’s aging society, but I see these as opportunities. If combined with Japanese technology, solutions to these problems – such as caretaker robots – could be sold to future aging societies. I think Japan could become a global leader in this type of know-how.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Keisuke Tanigawa