Japanese Attitude Towards The Disabled
MemberJanuary 10, 2019 at 6:45 pm
I’ve recently started saving money to travel to Japan, but I’ve been having concerns due to a few articles I’ve read accusing Japanese people of being biased against disabled people. Is this true?
I find this hard to believe because the Japanese people have a reputation of being extremely polite.
Did anyone of you guys have a bad experience regarding this in Japan?
Thanks in advance,
ModeratorJanuary 11, 2019 at 11:55 am
I have CP and use a power wheelchair. I visited Japan in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, and then moved to Japan permanently in 2007 – I even have citizenship!
Now, someone like myself who likes it here enough to move here, is possibly a bit biased, but I have not really experienced any prejudice more than anywhere else. Sure, there is some prejudice, but it is rare and more of a thing you will encounter if you are living here (work, marriage, etc) not just visiting.
Guest trumps disability when in Japan. People here are generally excited that people are interested in Japan.
Can you share the articles? I would be interested in seeing them.
If you have any questions, keep them coming – that is what this forum is for!
MemberJanuary 12, 2019 at 11:15 pm
Thank you for responding.
I’d say you’re one of the lucky ones who had the chance to move to Japan. I’m a quadriplegic by the way, and it would be a dream of mine to have the opportunity to live and work in Japan. Lately I’ve been very interested in the country and its language.
Here are a couple of the articles I’ve read. One of them mentions you.
Prejudice towards the disabled in Japan has been also mentioned in forums by various users, but one can’t be sure exactly how reliable their claims are. I guess prejudice exists anywhere, regardless of the country. But, given Japan’s history, one can’t but wonder.
Thank you for your reassurance!
ModeratorJanuary 13, 2019 at 12:43 am
MemberJanuary 13, 2019 at 12:53 am
May I ask what kind of prejudice are you referring to?
ModeratorJanuary 13, 2019 at 1:01 am
Mmm… like getting into a good school, or finding a job, or getting married.
Schools here are still segregated to a degree and those with physical disabilities my have difficulty getting into a good high school (“you should go to the special school so we can protect you”), and therefore a good university may be out of reach.
Jobs as well, often government-mandated requirements mean jobs for the disabled, but not ones with a future career path.
In the love real, even if a partner is fine with a disabled person, their older parents may not be …
That kinda stuff. So, not really a worry for a visitor. Also, I feel this happens in many countries.
MemberJanuary 14, 2019 at 2:02 am
I see. But you’re right, these things tend to happen anywhere. Though I was thinking, maybe down the line, of completing my graduate studies there. I hope by then things will get better.
MemberJanuary 13, 2019 at 1:40 pm
Before I answer your question, let me give you a bit of background information about myself so you can understand where I’m coming from.
I’m a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo. My work focuses on the history and politics of disability in Japan over the last one-hundred years. I’ve traveled back and forth between Japan and the United States four times over the last ten years (2008, 2012, 2014, 2018), each time with a different kind of embodiment. The first time, I was walking with a cane. The second time, I used a manual wheelchair. The third time, I used a motorized wheelchair. And the fourth time, I needed a caregiver to help me get around.
Like Josh, I can say that I’ve encountered prejudice against persons with disabilities in Japan each time I’ve visited, but no more than I’ve experienced elsewhere. Sometimes, the prejudice that I’ve faced has been subtle: casual assumptions about what persons with disabilities want or need. Other times, the prejudice that I’ve faced has been visceral, with engineers and other ‘experts’ (un)wittingly forcing me into dangerous situations.
Let me give you two examples to clarify my meaning. For subtle prejudice, we can think about toilet height. Toilets in Japan are often built low to the ground to accommodate manual wheelchairs, which makes it harder for electric wheelchair users to transfer onto them. This is a kind of prejudice – an assumption that all persons with disabilities can use the same assistive technologies. There’s also another kind of prejudice that I’ve faced, with more drastic bodily consequences. Sometimes, my caregivers have ignored my requests and (un)intentionally hurt me because of their imagined ideas of what care should be. This is often tied to cultural/historical precedent and presents a problem for foreigners.
Now, these same kinds of prejudice exist in most places I’ve visited: London, France, Canada, the United States, etc. Japan is not exceptional in its prejudices. There are, of course, most explicit incidents of violence and abuse against persons with disabilities in Japan, but the same can also be seen elsewhere.
I’d argue that the reason you’re reading reports like those linked above is precisely because Japan is trying to become more accessible. Over the last twenty years, Japan has introduced a ton of legislature to protect persons with disabilities, including the “Barrier-Free Transportation Law” of 2000, the “New Barrier-Free Law” of 2006, and the “Law for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities” in 2016. Those laws have contributed to an environment where access for persons with disabilities is expected. Any time something rocks the boat (the Sagamihara Stabbings, for instance), there’s bound to be a flurry of media coverage precisely because it’s not normal.
I’d encourage you to think about the sensational aspect of the articles you’ve linked and suggest that they do not necessarily reflect conditions on the ground in Japan. Especially as a tourist, you’re not likely to encounter many of the subtle or visceral prejudices against persons with disabilities because you’re not occupying many of the spaces where those prejudices play out: schools, houses, etc.
This has been a relatively long explanation to say don’t trust what you read in the media. For the most part, Japan is very accessible, and that’s only bound to improve as the nation marches toward the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. Sure, there will be stumbling blocks, but those are more-or-less the same as anywhere else in the world.
Let me know if you have any specific questions or concerns.
MemberJanuary 14, 2019 at 2:05 am
Thank you for taking the time to write a thorough explanation. I must say I’m impressed by your research of which kind I never knew existed. Obviously this requires a certain amount of discipline and dedication, and for that I applaud you.
I do believe Japan as a country is trying to become more accessible. The legislatures you stated are still fresh, and it’s only fair to give the country time to adjust to them.
Though, the emphasis of my concern was more of an individualistic nature rather than a societal one, if that makes sense. Yes, more ramps can be integrated in train stations; yes, more “regular” schools can take in disabled students. This would definitely shape a more accessible Japan, but what about the mentality of the Japanese individual towards the mentally and physically disabled? I remember watching a video on YouTube titled “Living in Japan with a Physical Disability”, and there’s a Japanese lady by the name of Yuriko Oda who said something that stuck with me. She said that Japan is a Samurai country, and the people there don’t know how to help a weaker person. Her statement fascinated me. There is obviously some truth in it. So if that mentality has been ingrained into people’s minds for hundreds of years, would it be possible to reshape it in the near future?
By the way, I’m sorry for the unnatural English. I’m not a native English speaker.
MemberJanuary 14, 2019 at 1:20 pm
Maybe it’s because of my position in the academy, but I tend to reject any blanket statements like “Japanese people think X” or “Japanese culture is Y.” There’s so much diversity in Japan it’s hard to pin down any one strain of thought as being essentially ‘Japanese.’ I suspect the same is true for your own country.
Having said that, there are certainly histories/legacies of discrimination like those that you mentioned. But I think they’re very much in the minority: like racists or misogynists in any other country. If your concern is that ‘all people in Japan are samurai’ you’re putting too much weight on the thought of one individual. Besides, what the hell does it mean to be a samurai anyway? Different people will interpret the meaning of samurai in different ways, and their interpretations will govern their actions. It’s kind of like the myth that Japan is a homogenous society – it wants to be, and may present itself as such, but it certainly isn’t in many social, political, economic, and cultural ways.
I’d be happy to chat more about this if you like.
MemberJanuary 15, 2019 at 10:39 pm
Yes, I agree. I’m also against blanket statements that are meant to be definitive. I wasn’t trying to make such statements in the first pace. Diversity exists anywhere, but somehow there is always an generalized, superficial image that represents each country. That image is never a 100% correct but there’s some truth in it. I’ve always though that Japan is an extremely polite country because that is what I keep hearing, and which is why I found it hard to believe otherwise when i read those articles.
There’s a huge difference between “all people in Japan are Samurai” and “Japan is a samurai Culture”. Of course They are not all Samurai, but they are influenced by the traits that make up a samurai culture. Such traits could represent a physical side like strength, health, combat… Or a more intellectual side like peace of mind, discipline, respect… All of these traits combined, make up the culture that Japan is today. So what I think Yoriko was referring to, is the physical strength and dexterity that the samurai are most known to, traits that those with “physical” disabilities lack, which is why she also stated that Japanese people don’t know how to help a weaker person.
Objectively speaking, with my disability aside, it’s fascinating to me how the Japanese culture is evolving, disabled friendly or not. But spilling some feelings into it, I feel that the Japanese people are one of the top respectable and polite people as a whole. But I guess to be sure I’ll have to visit and see for myself.
ModeratorJanuary 14, 2019 at 2:37 pm
I have been helped thousands of times by random strangers here, so I know from first hand experience that Japanese people are very kind.
I think Yuriko’s comment was a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” situation. I think people who travel and have a good time in another country (she travels a lot) project that good feeling on to everyone in that country, and when they return home they start comparing their great experience with their everyday life.
I know it is the same for me. I am originally from Canada (a country with an image of being friendly) but when I visited Japan for the first time I felt it was so much more friendly. But it was just that I was used to Canada so it seemed boring and I just wanted to go back to Japan because it was new and exciting.
Since this is a travel forum, the thing I would suggest is to come and visit Japan to see for yourself! You already have some friends waiting here. 🙂
MemberJanuary 15, 2019 at 10:41 pm
That makes sense, we compare based on where we come from. I’m from Lebanon originally, and Lebanon is a third word country with an image that isn’t considered so pretty to the rest of the world. So when I went to live in the U.S for a year, I clearly saw a huge difference in terms of accessibility, quality of life, opportunities and so on. But to my surprise, I encountered countless U.S citizens that kept complaining about how unhappy they feel about certain things in the country, and most of them praised countries in Europe for getting such things right. But to me, in the U.S, everything felt right. I’m sure I’m going to feel the same way about Japan when I visit, because the difference between here and there would be huge, for the better of course. And I’m honored to be your friend, Josh. Thank you 🙂
OrganizerJanuary 16, 2019 at 12:32 am
Please share about accessibility in Lebanon in our Middle East Forum! I would love to know more!
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