The Yomiuri ShimbunEfforts to enhance barrier-free tourism in Tokyo are gaining pace ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Organizations are devising tours catering to people with disabilities and creating sightseeing maps showing the locations of restrooms with disability access and the incline of roads.
On Feb. 16 at Sensoji temple in the Asakusa district of Taito Ward, Tokyo, Kazumi Nakayama, a 33-year-old wheelchair racer who competed in the Rio Paralympics, meandered among the crowds of tourists while listening to a tour guide explain the site.
Nakayama was a guest participant in a tour for wheelchair users devised by Trip Designer Inc., a travel agency based in Tokyo.
Starting from the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, the tour took participants to the Kaminarimon gate, Nakamise shopping street and Sensoji temple before finishing with a view of Tokyo Skytree from Sumida Park.
For Nakayama, it was her first time sightseeing in the Asakusa district. “The Sensoji temple was interesting and had fewer steps than I expected,” she said cheerfully. “I would like to take athletes from overseas to this place during the 2020 Paralympics.”
The tour was accompanied by a licensed guide interpreter who is also a licensed visiting care service provider for persons with severe disabilities.
The course, supervised by a Canadian man using an electric wheelchair, also caters to people with disabilities from overseas.
“We would like to expand tours of this kind,” said Takeshi Sakamoto, 34, president of the travel agency.
Efforts are also under way to create sightseeing maps for people with disabilities and the elderly.
In March last year, the Tokyo metropolitan government created a Tokyo sightseeing guidebook featuring barrier-free information that introduces 10 popular sightseeing sites, including the Asakusa and Shinjuku districts, and Mt. Takao.
In addition to information about sightseeing facilities, the guidebook includes whether the sites have restrooms and elevators with disability access, the angle of road inclines and recommended routes.
It also introduces points of caution, such as that an area around the entrance to Tokyo Tower has a steep slope requiring a helper for manual wheelchair users.
In Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, nonprofit organization Live With Dream created two kinds of maps containing information about barrier-free facilities in the ward: a “community map” introducing areas around stations and public facilities in the ward, and a “sightseeing map” featuring sites such as the Imperial Palace and Yasukuni Shrine and their surrounding areas.
It took the NPO about eight years to cover the entire ward.
“In the future, we would like to create a map that takes into account the viewpoint of helpers,” the NPO’s representative Kumiko Kaneko said.
“In central Tokyo, barrier-free environments have been developed and improved in terms of facilities and equipment, but some examples remain in which elevators and restrooms accessible to people with disabilities are in inconvenient locations,” said Kazunari Tachibana, a senior consultant at the JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co.
“Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, it is necessary to enhance the ‘soft’ aspect, such as by encouraging Tokyo residents to assist people with disabilities and making it easier to understand information about barrier-free facilities,” he said.Speech