Wheelchair Accessible Tokyo: 9 Transit Tips
Tokyo's urban rail network has 158 lines, 48 operators, 2,210 stations, excluding Shinkansen services. Complex is an understatement. The good news is, many of Tokyo's subway stations are wheelchair accessible, and many train stations are barrier-free. (Accessible areas are great for families with strollers too!)
Taking either a JR train, or Metro subway in Tokyo is a must-do. Below are some tips that help you navigate the behemoth known as the Tokyo transportation system.
1. Tokyo's More Accessible Than Meets the Eye
Many Train Platforms in Japan are Barrier-Free -- Photo by Julie Fader
Most of the stations on the Japan Rail East (JR), Tokyo Metro, and Toei Subway lines have elevators and ramps for wheelchairs. After searching out your route on Google Maps, check the individual station maps to make sure your station is wheelchair accessible. Note that a handful of stations are only wheelchair accessible on one side. The Japan-Accessible Tourism Center has a list of station maps as does the Accessible Tokyo website. Main JR train stations are above ground and can sometimes be barrier-free from the gates to the train platform. The key is to know which stations are above ground and where elevators are to save time.
2. Find Wheelchair Accessible Routes on Online Metro Station Maps
Mitsukoshimae Tokyo Metro Station Map -- Image Courtesy of Tokyo Metro Website
The Tokyo Metro offers station maps available online that trace an accessible path (coloured red line) through the station. These detailed maps are in Japanese, but the icons, such as for elevators and washrooms, follow international symbols. Save yourself some stress by seeing which car number of the train is closest to the elevator, and where the exit gate is.
In general, expect that elevators are usually at the ends of stations. Wheelchair spaces in trains are also often at the first or last compartment of a train.
3. Never Buy a Train Ticket Again
Train Station Gates Take Contactless Cash Cards, such as SUICA and PASMO -- Photo by Julie Fader
When travelling through Tokyo, you may switch from the JR trains to the Tokyo Metro, or to another private train line. Buying tickets each time is a hassle and time consuming. Your simple solution is to get a smart, contactless, cash card. The two cards to use are the Suica, available at JR train stations, or the PASMO card. Both are sold at station automated ticket machines and station offices. With a PASMO or Suica card, you only need to swipe in and out of any station gate, and your fare will be automatically deducted. You can charge the cards at station machines, and all stations in Tokyo take both cards. These cards can even be used at convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and large supermarkets.
4. People Are Here to Help
JR East Staff are Ready to Help! -- Photo from Flickr cc iMorpheus
Station staff are available to assist people onto the train and stations provide ramps for wheelchairs. While it is possible to ask station staff after arrival, visitors can potentially phone ahead to make arrangements. The Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway do not offer this advance phone service, but station attendants at information booths, usually right beside the ticket gate, can help. Below are phone numbers for the JR Trains and Tokyu (a private rail company).
- JR Train Phone (English) can arrange help at the station in advanceTel: 03 3423 0111 (Open weekdays 10:00-18:00)
- Tokyu Corporation Train Phone (English) arrange help at stations in advanceTel: 03 3477 0109 (Open weekdays 09:30-17:30)
5. Use a Translator for Assistance
Use Technology to Communicate -- Photo from Flickr cc by Simon Blackley
The Japanese are known for going out of their way to help you as long as they can understand what you need! Yomiwa is a handy translator to help you communicate with people.
6. Most Train Stations Have Accessible Toilets
Wheelchair Accessible Toilet at a Tokyo Metro Station -- Photo by Julie Fader
Tokyo is a super convenient city for toilets. Free-to-use public toilets can be found at convenience stores, train and subway stations, malls, parks and random corners. If a Tokyo metro station has toilets, usually at least one accessible toilet is available too. You can check the Tokyo Metro station map layouts to see whether the toilets are wheelchair accessible. Facilities may be located in odd corners and cubicle sizes can vary.
7. Avoid Tokyo Rush Hour
Crowds in a Tokyo Train Station -- Photo from Flickr cc Shibuya246
Don't be turned off by photos of Tokyo's crowds. Those images are usually taken during rush hour or special events, and at the city's busiest stations. Most stations are not crowded during off-peak hours. Aim to take trains after 9:30 and before 16:30 so that there is enough space for a wheelchair. Also, try to go to popular areas on weekdays, while saving hidden gems and local neighbourhoods for weekends.
8. The Smaller, the Better
Spacious Station in Tokyo -- Photo from Flickr cc Chris Jongkind
Having said that, some stations will always be busy and chaotic. In 2013, 45 of the 51 busiest train stations in the world were in Japan, according to Rocket News. These stations are busy because they have multiple platforms, train tracks, and exits. The stationsto avoid in Tokyo are Shibuya, Shinjuku, Kita-Senju, Otemachi, Tokyo, Shinagawa, and Ueno stations.
The good news is that most of these stations are located in popular areas and therefore have alternative stations close by. Generally, stations along one line, without transfers, are safer bets. Even if a small station is a bit farther, the sidewalks in Tokyo are quite wide and flat, so it will be more pleasant to explore the streets rather than find your way around a big station.
9. Sightsee on One Line
Station stops on Tokyo Metro's Ginza Line -- Photo from Flickr cc Eric Flexyourhead
One of the best ways to see Tokyo is to hop on and off a single train line, making your trip simple and equally rewarding. Tokyo's main lines feature some great spots to visit that require no transfers and the stations are close to landmarks.
Interested in taking an accessible day trip in Tokyo?