(writing 3/16/2021) We went to Tokyo on a business trip for me in late July-August 2019. My artwork was being shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. I spent a few days installing while my husband and daughter went wandering and then we got to look around together for about a week.
I used this Accessible Japan website to get around and it was very helpful.
Are AMAZING. They have sliding doors and you just push a button and they slide on their own and it is easy to get in! Some places have hoists and medical things and panic buttons in the accessible bathrooms. The real trick is not pressing the wrong button because there are also buttons for flushing, rinsing and playing music.
Subways in Tokyo
I found the subway system the easiest way to get around. Everything is accessible, but you need to ask for help when you go through the ticket stall. You tell them where you want to get to and they give you your very own white-gloved assistant who carries a wheelchair ramp with them and leads you to your train. They help you board and then when you get to where you change trains or your destination there is another assistant waiting for you there with another ramp. They guide you through the labyrinth to the next train and so on. Frankly it was easier to navigate transit with a wheelchair than I could have without one! My husband confirmed this when he and my daughter went alone.
Note that eating and drinking on trains is not allowed and they are very strict about it. Talking or talking on your phone is considered extremely rude.
Buses in Tokyo
Again everything is accessible, but the buses you have to figure out for yourself. It is doable though. When you find your bus stop and the bus comes, go to the front so the driver can see you. They will have you board in the middle of the bus and strap you in. You tell them your destination and they come back to take you out again when you get there. Again with no eating, drinking or talking.
Cabs in Tokyo
You need to book wheelchair cabs in advance. We got a cab to and from the airport by appointment and then to other places like Tokyo Disney and Teamlab. They are big vans that you enter in the back.
Gardens and Meiji Jingu Shrine At Harajuku station. Lovely. We stopped for tea in the restaurant. In this picture you see stairs, but there were ramps everywhere. There are nature trails in the area surrounding the shrine that a rugged wheelchair can handle some of. It’s a little island of serenity in a very busy part of town. If you are in the area for other things and get sensory overload, it is a great refuge.
Right near the Harajuku station. Tiny elevator, need to transfer to a seat.
Shibuya and Takeshita St. At Harajuku station
Shibuya has a lot of trendy shops.
Takeshita street in Shibuya is a pedestrian only street full of crazy shops and fun street food (note- don’t eat and walk- very bad manners!). Lots of character, but also older buildings, many of which are not wheelchair accessible. I recommend going anyway though. It reminded me of a Japanese version of a cross between Haight St. in San Francisco and Melrose Blvd. in Hollywood, but pedestrians only. So much to see.
Alice on Wednesdays is an adorable Alice and Wonderland themed shop at the same station if you can walk short distances or switch to a cane. It is not wheelchair friendly.
This was one of my favorite things. We went for my birthday. It not only was the best food we ate on our trip (foodie quality), but it was entirely magical in setting and presentation. I had to enter a less magical way in the chair, but the atmosphere is amazing once you are in! The corridors are set like alleyways in a feudal town in twilight. People dressed as ninjas serve your ninja-themed food, and towards the end you get a private magic performance at your table! Each table is in a tiny private cell or cave. They removed the chairs for me to use my chair at the table and it wasn’t an issue even with the big chair. It came recommended as one of the best restaurants in Tokyo by my friend who lives there. Website
I was lucky enough to see one of my favorite artist Chiharu Shiota’s retrospective. The Mori Museum has incredible, cutting edge exhibits. Everything is accessible.
Team Lab Borderless is AMAZING. Go. It is an incredible series of interactive installations which use video projections.
You need to book tickets ahead on the website and there is information on accessibility there. There are rooms where you can’t go in a wheelchair because the objects are too close together or the floor is too irregular or there are stairs but for the most part it is manageable and there is a ton to see. There is a section where there are stairs to get to something, but there is an accessible version on the lower floor.
They want you to use one of their wheelchairs, but theirs did not have a recline or headrest and I was able to convince them to let me bring in my own.
Don’t miss the tea room! If you need a moment of quiet it is the best space. Also there is interactive video projection tea (not included in admission price).
Team Lab Planets If you have to pick between the two, go to Borderless instead, but Planets has a lot of nice things too. You also need reservations ahead on their website. There is a water immersive section that you can skip in the wheelchair, though I believe if you want to use one of their wheelchairs to go through it you can. They have lockers to hold your things so they don’t get wet. Again, there are some things you miss in the chair, but overall there is enough to see to make it worthwhile.
Palace Gardens A lovely stroll around grand feudal era architecture and gardens.
Sky Tree This was right by the Museum of Contemporary Art where we were staying. On a clear day this is a great view. You can even see Mt. Fugi. We went on a hazy day and were able to se all of Tokyo below us. Here is the view of the Sky tree from our hotel window. It towers over the tallest buildings in the city. You nee to purchase tickets to get to the top. Website
Moomin Cafe at the base of the sky tree that we went to that was a lot of fun. A great place to have lunch if you are seeing the Sky Tree. They have Finnish-Japanese food and stuffed Moomin characters who sit at the table with you.
Alice and Wonderland Restaurant in Shinjuku. Don’t bother. Says it is accessible, but really isn’t (there is a horrific maze, and service elevators smelling of fish). Food sucks. Atmosphere is thinly veiled cheap diner.
Tokyo Disney and Disney Sea
This was really hard. I LOVE Disney, but Disney is not running this park, it is licensed. That means different ADA standards. You need to check in at guest services and bring proof of a disability. My ADA Parking paperwork that came with my handicapped placard was accepted.
I ended up crying twice and going back to the hotel early. The rides are not designed for a large wheelchair. They will not let a large wheelchair near many of the rides. You can borrow one of their push-chairs, but that would not have worked for me (no recline, no neck support). They are supposed to have one at each ride for you to transfer into. They don’t. In retrospect my husband should have borrowed one of theirs at guest services when we checked in for disability and pushed it along with us all day to get me the last bit to each ride. They may tell you it is a “short walk” to the ride, but unless you can see the distance don’t believe them. If you have a smaller chair that fits their standards it would all be fine.
Disney Sea is its own thing and worth seeing. It’s gorgeous and there is nothing there that you will see at another Disney park. If you love Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland is a bit disappointing. It just doesn’t have the detail that Disneyland has. It feels crammed together, with all the grace notes missing. They also don’t have characters going out in the summer because its too hot. But if you go don’t miss the Winnie the Pooh ride. It’s apparently the best thing (I missed it). I swear all the rides are shorter than at Disneyland. They broke my chair while I was on Pirates. Fortunately it was something I could fix (always bring an allen wrench). There was one lovely employee who was sweet to my kid, but overall it was disappointing compared to Disneyland. We ended up taking a trip to Disneyland when we got home just to wash the taste of that out of our mouths.
Hakone Round (The Lakes outside Tokyo). This was a weekend trip we took where you circle the lakes by boat, bus, train and (when it is open) the skyway. Amazingly it was generally accessible (link for accessible travel in Hakone). There was a point going from a border check museum to the area where the trains were that we were on the side of the road walking/rolling, but it worked out. When we went the Skyway was shut, but we did the rest of the round and it was mostly accessible. The hot springs really weren’t. I did go, but you have to walk and if you can’t walk far its just not accessible. There are lots of little shops by the train station, mostly accessible. One of the trains to/from Tokyo actually has a separate compartment for wheelchairs. In clear weather you can see Mount Fuji from the boat (it wasn’t clear for us sadly). Overall it was a great weekend trip to see a rural side of Japan and a kind of “classic” Japan (lots of older buildings).
Museum of Contemporary Art
There was a lot of things I might have seen in that time if I were going as a tourist, but I was there on a work trip. I installed my work in the museum as part of a larger exhibition on “mapping”. I did two installations, Identity Tapestry and Messages from Tokyo. If you are up for museums, this is another good one, and it is near the Sky Tree.