Misadventures with Miso

Misadventures with Miso

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Traveling to Japan

Today I'm not going to post any photos with this. Instead I'm going to write a little bit about traveling to Japan while having disabilities and a few things that I do to make it easier. If you have experiences or ideas that also help, please comment with them!

I don't have a specific diagnosis as to why I get to experience pain every day. There are physical reasons for a lot of it, but I can't say that I have X disease. So I've had to learn how to accommodate myself on my own. Am still learning. Especially trying to not stop living because of it. Which is important for all of us.

So I thought I would put into words some of the things I do when traveling to a country that some people think is very difficult to do even without problems. What they don't realize is that Japan's population is aging so they are slowly doing more for access for people.

But to start with, the long flight. I take Singapore Airlines because I know from experience they are more accommodating with their service and a bit more comfortable than other airlines yet their prices are reasonable. I also fly in off-seasons. The reason is there is a better chance of empty seats around you. Which means you can stretch out and take a nap. Bringing ear plugs helps with that. So researching airlines is a big help. Finding ones with better customer approval ratings and flying when less people fly can make a big difference.

I also pack fairly light. One backpack to carry on the plane which holds anything of value and one suitcase with wheels which I check in. I also check in on-line in order to be able to use the shorter line for getting my boarding pass. I try to have enough room in my suitcase so that when I get to Japan I can put my backpack in there. Makes it much easier to get around. Or you can do what a lot of people do and have your luggage shipped to your hotel.

I have found that for staying in Tokyo having a hotel near decent sized train and subway stations is a big help. Unless you are good at taking the buses there. I stayed near Hamamatsucho and Daimon Stations which gave me a good selection of train and subway lines but are not so large to be confusing or have long distances to the platforms. Especially now that most escalators have been turned off, finding out where the elevators are at the stations is also good to know. Small stations sometimes do not have them. But Japan's mass transit more than makes up for that. One thing that is very helpful to know is that there is more than one rail company there. There is JR which has different divisions and private rail companies like Toei. Realizing this makes getting to the right station and platform so much easier.

There are so many places to stay in Tokyo. I have found that having a decent room makes all the difference. Even though people go on about trying to save money with a capsule room or a hostel, one can find decent places for just a little more. I've noticed an increase in chain small hotels that cater towards travelers. Be careful of travel agents. The one time I went through one they tried to put me in a large hotel. I checked on-line and the reviews were bad for the price range I was paying. If you have the money there are some very nice large hotels. Also if you don't smoke look for non-smoking rooms. That is another accommodation I see more of lately.

One of the great things about Japan is the love of bathing. If you don't mind being seen by others, there are so many places to stay that have large communal baths that can help melt away aches and pains. If you do mind being seen by others, there are hotels that offer full size bathrooms. This is something also to check for because there are a lot that don't have that. Some are so small it's difficult to close shower doors if they even have them. It's worth it looking for something full size.

One other thing to look for is internet service where you are staying. While free WiFi is rather rare, some hotels offer free land lines. The speed is great. Just make sure to bring a cable just in case. It's also good to have to access the news. NHK World website is great for that and some of the news broadcasts on television offer a second language channel with English translation for part of their broadcast. Or if you can read a bit of Japanese you can rent cell phones which also can be found with internet access and GPS.

Just a bit about Tokyo itself. One thing I noticed is most sidewalks are pretty even compared to where I live. They also have special "grids" which if a person has limited eye sight help indicate where to walk and where to stop. They are bright yellow. The train and subway lines all have special colors which are used in the trains and at the stations. There are signs and lines in those colors to help show you which way to go to get to the platforms.

In Tokyo many of the more popular places are near subway and train stations so one can see a lot without having to walk too much like Harajuku shopping and Asakusa Shrine. Some of the train stations themselves have a lot to offer with shopping and food. One of my favorite things to do is to take the automated Yurikamome train to Odaiba at sunset and ride to the end of the line and back again. It's a great way to see an amazing view of the Tokyo skyline. In fact, unless you ride the trains at rush hour in the morning and avoid the extremely popular lines at certain times (Yamanote Line I'm looking at you), most times you can find a seat. I've even been offered a seat.

Another good thing to know is that if you are out walking and need to sit down, odds are if you are in a popular area there will be lots of food establishments. From familiar fast food to traditional ramen restaurants you can find a place to sit for a bit while sipping or eating. Bathrooms are not hard to find either. Most major stores, gardens, stations and restaurants have facilities. More are installing Western toilets too which is great.

So how do I have everything figured out before going? The trick is to spend time before you travel researching the places you want to see. I follow blogs, journals, travel sites to see what looks interesting and isn't too far out of the way. I make lists and bookmark. I then map everything out on a Google Map. Then I know what places are near other places so I don't have to walk as much. This helps me know what train and subway lines are near the places I want to see. I also have my trusty Tokyo City Atlas from Kodansha International. This and my little lightweight notebook computer where I store all my lists, maps and bookmarks make getting around a bit easier. Also having translating tools on there helps a lot if needed.

I'm sure there is a lot more and I will probably update this. Just thought it might be helpful to write out some things I've noticed that make traveling to Japan not quite as intimidating as it may seem.

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