Day 2 in Tokyo was very full. I checked out the Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and the Ueno neighborhood today. It is certainly a shopper’s paradise. All of these neighborhoods, with the exception of Ueno had lots of food 🥘 and shopping 🛍 places. Here are my observations from day 2:
1. Wheelchair accessibility in Tokyo is a hit or miss, with a lot of misses. I experienced today that some metro stations don’t have any elevators. But the exciting thing is, their escalators turn into wheelchair lifts. It was the coolest thing I’ve seen in awhile. Tōkyō certainly has the most variety of ramps and lifts I’ve ever seen as well. They have ramps even when it makes no sense to have ramps. For instance, I saw a short ramp built after a set of steps outside of an old restaurant...
2. Most Japanese people really don’t speak any English at all. It is quite hard to find a local who is even decently fluent in English. For instance, when I hand out my phone and ask them to take a photo for me, many people just walk away. Same with when I ask them where the metro is even though their metro logo is “M” shaped. Why? Are they just being rude? It is rude, but they actually just have no idea what’s coming out of my mouth. For all they know , it probably looks like I am trying to sell them a phone. So brush up on your Japanese before you come if you don’t want to be frustrated or spend loads of time navigating yourself around.
3. They are apparently only two wheelchair accessible hostels in all of Tokyo other. Sakura Hostel in Asakusa and Tokyo Central Youth Hostel. And trust me when I say they used the broadest acceptance of “accessible” possible. For instance, I have to use the bathroom with the door 🚪 open because it is too narrow to go in while blocking three other stalls. I scooted into the shower with a plastic waste basket flipped upside down because it is, once again, too narrow for my wheelchair.
4. With the 2020 olympics just around the corner, I know this event has already brought a lot of attention and progress to making the city more accessible, but it feels all too temporary. I can’t help but notice how new some of these temporary wooden and metal ramps look. Will it all be stripped away once the olympics are over? The thing that gives me hope is I do see more people in wheelchairs and/or people with other physical impairments out and about. I saw four or five more wheelchair users again on my second day out.
5. Just a warning to my fellow wheelchair users, when you get out of the train, it is not quite clear whether you should go left or right for the elevators. Perhaps they are written in Japanese? The elevators in the train station and the train platforms are not well marked.
6. For the most part, the people here are very courteous and willing to help if they can understand me. For example, I had a classical music producer go out of his way to help me navigate the complicated and big Ueno station. And two Japanese men went way off course from their daily routine to make sure I got to my hostel successfully. They were hesitant at the beginning, but as soon as they understood me, they went above and beyond; talking and laughing with me along the way.
It is easy to write people off because of their lack of fluency in English or other external factors, but then we deprive ourselves of the deeper reason and complexity of the culture. I know for a fact that most people in DC won’t even be able to mumble a word of Japanese out, and yet I expect everyone to be fluent in English here. It is simply unfair to them. As I readjust my expectations, I know it will allow me to gain a richer understanding of this bustling, crowded, and yet, orderly and quiet city...more to follow on the quiet observation in my next post...