Take Me to Tokyo!

Updated: Apr 13

I am currently sitting in a huge bus looking van, getting ready to depart for Seoul, South Korea. By the time I gain access to Wi-Fi and post this, I should already be in Seoul.

I am a little peeved at the moment because they just confiscated one of my crucial wheelchair tools, saying it was too long. It looks like this trip will show which tool will be the fittest of them all and make it to the end of the trip with me. Let the survival of the tools begin!

Before I head into South Korea, I want to share with you my concluding thoughts about Tokyo.

1. People in Tokyo, for the most part (there are always exceptions), are very polite, law/rule abiding (perhaps to an extreme at times), respectful of one another, and fair. Unlike in many countries, instead of giving people with disabilities free entrances into museums or other tourist attractions, there are long term solutions in place to make these attractions wheelchair accessible. The reason I ran into other individuals with disabilities in Tokyo every single day I was here speaks volumes to how accessible this city is to those of us living with a mobility disability. With that said, Tokyo still does have a lot of less than ideal ramps and accessibility problems, but this city was way more accessible than I thought prior to arriving into Tokyo. I would rank Tokyo as the top 5 most accessible cities in the world that I personally have experienced.

2. What did I mean when I said Japanese people in Tokyo are fair? Well, everyone seems to be so good at creating and maintaining single file lines, rather that’d be at train stations or restaurants or escalators, etc. basically everywhere. Even in the crowded streets, people seem to know which side to be on. Also, this morning I wasn’t able to get a ticket at my original station before getting on the train and there weren’t any staff members around to help. When I got out at my stop, I told them I needed to buy a ticket. The metro staff personnel told me to go back to my original station all because I was literally a couple of pennies short of the ticket price. I was surprised, but also impressed. Nobody is getting a free handout, but they will try their best to make everything accessible and convenient for everyone. By doing this, combined with their other actions, — I’ve observed over the last few days — I think Japanese people are very respectful of all people and their rights.

3. One thing I’ve been noticing but was especially a pain in butt for me today was, there appears to be very few garbage cans on the streets. I wheeled for blocks and blocks this morning and could not see one. With their high usage of plastic wrappings in everything, it makes having a garbage can quite necessary. The lack of garbage cans may be due to heightened security during the G20 Summit. My friend said they closed down all the public beverage vending machines because they were worried about terrorists implanting a bomb or other harmful materials.

4. Get a Suica (aka Japanese metro card) as soon as you arrive into this city. It is worth it! I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted purchasing tickets. Also, since the machines were so high up, I always had to go find a staff member to help me since regular metro goers didn’t speak English and wouldn’t understand my call for help. A Suica is helpful because you can use it for all the lines and you can swipe in electronically with your cell phone should you choose to download that app. Not having one is a hassle because often times, even when you switch lines, you have to buy a separate ticket. There are three different train companies inside certain stations and they all seem to have a slightly separate staff. But if you purchase a Suica (similar to the Oyster in London or the metro card in DC/NYC), you can ride it with any trains or bus and replenish it as needed.

There are several things I am grateful to not have to experience long-term in Japan (i.e. formalities, hierarchies, endless instructions, etc.) However, overall, I’ve further learned that every culture has its pros and cons. One can criticize Tokyo for its extreme loyalty to following directions, sticking to rigid formalities, and fondness towards hierarchy and traditions, but these are also reasons why the streets and trains are so clean, why things are done with such pride and elegance, and the people seem so friendly and courteous to outsiders and giving them such a beautiful experience.

America has its independence, individualism, and self-expression, but there’s more to life than ourselves and individual pursuits. I was strolling with a friend down a quiet neighborhood late at night and he told me to be quiet because it might disturb the neighbors. By the way, these neighbors are strangers that live far, far away from him. This is the kind of thoughtfulness a collective society instills. I’ve learned to not generalize nor judge a culture so quickly. Each culture has its attributes and shortcomings. When we disregard the complexity of how a culture came to be, we overlook the complexity of the human race, we overlook the complexity and contradictions in ourselves. Just like there is not a single way to live, there is no single correct way to create a healthy, happy and successful society and culture. Who is to judge what is best for everyone in the long-term? I certainly cannot.

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