Scooter stir in Japan

Maureen Corrigan
I have just returned from a wonderful holiday in Japan where I caused a stir riding my scooter. People everywhere were caring, respectful and willing to help. But it seemed that no one had seen such a mobility scooter before, including a staff member at the Emerging Science and Innovation Museum. The railway system was very accessible but I was not allowed to ride my scooter to or onto the train. It was not an electric wheelchair and there were rules. Our guide told us that people with mobility difficulties stay at home. A local disability advocate asked me to return to Japan to give a talk on getting out with my scooter. I think I will.
Posted by: 
Maureen Corrigan on 06/01/2015
Maureen in a wheelchair with railway staff behind her.
I had to get into a manual wheelchair.

I had to use a manual wheelchair.

I recently returned from an enjoyable holiday in Japan where I used my mobility scooter. The scooter was a novelty for Japan, which surprised me. It is a country of many innovations but I saw no mobility scooters at all, let alone light easy travelling ones like mine. I caused quite a stir in many places.

The Japanese people were very polite, caring and respectful. Everywhere was clean, neat, tidy and in order. The food was fantastic and I enjoyed many wonderful meals. I also learned some of the Japanese table manners and a little about their culture. There were rules that everyone seemed to follow - lining up, following instructions, wearing uniforms with white gloves, bowing and handling money only from little trays or envelopes. There was no tipping and they were the ones who gave gifts to clients. They wanted to help but sometimes too much; such as at the railway stations.

Six railway attendants to help

The railway system was the most accessible I had ever encountered. However I was not allowed to ride my scooter on the platforms or into the rail carriages. Wheelchairs were allowed but not scooters. The railway staff did not see the scooter as being the equivalent of an electric wheelchair. They did not understand what it was and there were rules.

I had to get into a manual wheelchair at the station entry and have my scooter loaded onto a trolley. At one time, I had six railway attendants looking after me. Three to either wheel me, clear the way or operate the elevators. Then there was one staff member to get and carry a ramp, one to help me in and out of the wheelchair and one to help another attendant lift the scooter off the trolley (it was 25 kilograms).

Most of the railway stations were also fully accessible with level paths, ramps and elevators. Most ramps and elevators were well signposted. There was always someone available offering help. It was fantastic but because I was not allowed to ride my scooter we had to book wheelchair assistance. I did sneak quite a few rides at stations and onto trains with my scooter. But once staff members were aware you were going somewhere, there would always be attendants to meet you outside the carriage door when you arrived.

The funniest moment in Japan with my scooter was in of all places, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. That was the museum where they showed the latest robots. An attendant came up to me and said I could not ride around the museum on my scooter and that I needed to walk. Our Japanese guide explained that I was on the scooter because I had difficulties walking and I was not riding it for fun. The attendant had never seen anything like my scooter before either.

Returning to encourage

"Do you have these problems in Australia? Do people stop you and not know what it is you are on?" our guide asked. "No," I said, "they don't wonder what it is, they just haven’t seen one so small and light and want to know where I bought it”.

Our guide told us that people with mobility problems, especially as they get older, stay at home and do not go out. They do not travel and do not use many mobility aids. A local disability advocate has asked me to return to give a talk on getting out with my scooter. I think I will.






Readers comments (8)

I am returning to Japan to give that talk on getting out with my scooter soon, in the last two weeks of May . The venue will be in Fukuoka prefecture on the island of Kyushu and I have been asked to talk on the following - travels with my scooter (funny and difficult times), accessibility facilities in Australia compared to other places in the world and what my monthly activities are. The organisers want me to "give them (their clients) a dream". I feel very privileged and hope it is successful.

I agree with you that people who have mobility difficulty should have more rights in Japan. They are a big country. Not only talk, we need help in action.

Wow! Your story could have been written by me: my experience last year was
uncannily similar. I managed to ride Japan Rail several times (we had JR passes),
but in every instance I was first met with the crossed arms of (the politeness of
avoiding the word "no."). The negotiations then went on for an hour or so, and,
in every case, I was permitted to board, accompanied throughout by the full
white-glove contingent. So completely unnecessary, so completely unquestioned.
And all this fuss when the #11 cars were so well-designed as to make

well, it seems I cut myself off mid-sentence and have lost the remainder of my
comment. I DO remember what I wanted to ask: I drive a full-sized scooter (80kg),
and have recently ordered a "compact" Drive Spitfire mainly for the purpose of
taking it on rental car driving vacations now that we're too old to disassemble and
assemble to big guy. My sense from JR is that the Spitfire (sounds so cool I may
have to mount some guns on it) will encounter the same reluctance as they are
mostly worried about the terrifying tiller. Any insight on this? Did you travel to any
lesser-known destinations and, if so, were they also well equipped with curb cuts and accessible toilets? Any contacts you can suggest that might help us to avoid the
hassles and embarrassment next time?
Thanks for your blog; I must investigate further.
ps: we also found the white-glove station procession amusing enough for photos!

Thank you for your comments Annegret and Linda. Linda - maybe we should write to JR in Japan and tell them what we think? Annegret - thank you and your comment should go with my next story submitted on how surprisingly accessible Greenland and Uceland was in July. It was good meeting you too. Maureen.

Good that you had a wonderful experience. Mobility scooters are getting really popular day by day and people are being trained to help the passengers in need. Soon, it will be popular in all the countries, I believe.

Interesting to read how your experience with the railway station compared with mine in Russia. We too saw no scooters there so I don't know how they would have reacted to one. The staff intervention to help sounds similar but even more full on there.

Sorry for the late reply but I have only just read Linda's second part to her comment of 2015! I did travel to some remote areas by train. Oboke on the island of Shikoku was remote and the trains were older ones. But there was no problem getting into a carriage on my scooter. A guard lay a metal sheet to go over the rail lines and then a ramp to get into the carriage. He was not phased at all. It must be more of a problem in big cities. I do not know who to ask for help. I must admit that I pretended I was in a wheelchair rather than a scooter by moving my arms in circular motions as I went past any guard hoping that would help. And I thought it did! So did the occasional hiding behind pillars! Good luck with your new scooter Linda. Maureen.

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