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Accessibility Challenges in Japan: A Reflection on Cultural and Systemic Factors.


Over the course of the past three weeks, I had the opportunity to explore the enchanting landscapes and rich history of Japan. However, amidst the awe-inspiring cultural experiences and picturesque scenery, a glaring issue caught my attention – the significant lack of accessibility in Japan's public transportation systems. This observation prompted me to ponder the challenges faced by individuals with mobility impairments in Japan and to draw comparisons with the accessibility standards in my home country, Australia.





Navigating through Japanese train stations revealed a notable absence of wheelchair-friendly infrastructure. The predominant mode of moving within stations involves negotiating staircases, with a sparse presence of elevators – a stark contrast to the heightened accessibility measures, such as ramps and increased elevator usage, implemented in Australia. The juxtaposition of Japan's developed status against its deficient accessibility infrastructure left me intrigued, prompting an exploration into the underlying factors contributing to this disparity.


My research unveiled a stringent disability support system in Japan, where eligibility for a disability pension is categorized based on the severity of physical disabilities. Strikingly, mental disabilities, including conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar disorder, or psychosis, are not explicitly considered in the eligibility criteria. Moreover, the financial support provided to those in the most severe cases is capped at approximately $9,000 USD, representing a mere fraction of the average monthly wage in Japan (Social Security Administration Research, Statistics, and Policy Analysis, n.d.). This raises questions about the financial sustainability for disabled individuals, highlighting a discrepancy in societal support.


Another cultural nuance I observed was the prevalent reliance on family members for assistance. In contrast to Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which provides professional caregivers to families in need, Japan seemed to lean heavily on familial support. While some may argue that this reliance on family is due to the absence of a comprehensive system like the NDIS, I propose that it might be deeply ingrained in Japanese culture to prioritise familial care over external assistance (Yamaguchi et al. 2016). This cultural distinction could potentially contribute to a lack of widespread awareness regarding accessibility issues, as the disabled community remains largely within the confines of familial care networks.


As a tourist, I delved into the experiences of others with mobility, visual, or hearing concerns in Japan, discovering a recurrent theme of inadequate accessibility both locally and in popular tourist destinations. While Japan has made strides in the past decade to improve accessibility, it remains evident that these efforts fall short in comparison to Western standards (accessible-japan, 2018).


In conclusion, we in Australia are not perfect and need to continue to make efforts to increase our accessibility in our country, however the lack of accessibility in Japan appears to be a multifaceted issue, stemming from a combination of cultural nuances and systemic limitations. As a global society, it is imperative to foster awareness and understanding to bridge these gaps. Japan, as a developed nation, has the potential to further enhance its accessibility standards, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of physical or mental abilities, can fully participate in and contribute to society. A collaborative effort between government, communities, and individuals is crucial to achieving a more inclusive and accessible future for all.


Resources:

  1. Social Security Administration Research, Statistics, and Policy Analysis. (n.d.). Permanent Disability Social Insurance Programs in Japan. [online] Available at: https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n1/v70n1p61.html#:~:text=Pensions%20for%20the%20Permanently%20Disabled

  2. accessible-japan. “Understanding Accessibility in Japan.” Accessible Japan, 5 May 2018, www.accessible-japan.com/understanding-accessibility-in-japan/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

  3. Yamaguchi S, Cohen SR, Uza M. Family Caregiving in Japan: The Influence of Cultural Constructs in the Care of Adults With Cancer. J Fam Nurs. 2016 Aug;22(3):392-418. doi: 10.1177/1074840716655530. Epub 2016 Jun 30. PMID: 27364869.



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