Spring has sprung and domestic travel restrictions have lighted up a bit in Japan, so I decided to pop down to Kyoto and enjoy the cherry blossoms. Viewing the blossoms around the city in a wheelchair can have some challenges, but is very doable.
Up until very recently, getting the accessible seat on the shinkansen meant going to a ticket reservation center at a train station at least two days before your trip, telling staff what train you want to ride and often waiting up to an hour to make the booking. For the line going between Tokyo – Fukuoka (which includes Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima) wheelchair users can book in real-time online or with an app. However, this online booking is only if you are paying for the tickets, so if you are using the JR Pass you will still need to go to the ticket booking window. Hopefully, now that the accessible seating is online now that process should hopefully be faster now too… hopefully…
Kyoto has trains, subways, and buses. The vast majority (if not all) of the stations and buses are wheelchair accessible. The only problem is that there are so many tourists in Kyoto that the buses going to famous spots are incredibly crowded and even if the bus has a ramp, there is literally no room to get on. If you start at an endpoint of the bus route (like at Kyoto Station), you can get on but trying to get on mid-route can be frustrating.
The GO Taxi app let’s you hail accessible cabs, but since they are the JpnTaxi type, they are not ideal for large power wheelchairs (I have to duck and remove my headrest to get in). There are also dedicated wheelchair van taxis that have lifts, but require advance reservations.
Some spots to See
There are many places to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. In fact, I felt like Kyoto had way more sakura than Tokyo in general, so just walking around can be nice.
It would take to long to describe every place, so if you have follow up questions please ask in the Japan Group’s Discussions section and I’ll do my best to answer!
Heian Jingu has a large garden (paid entrance) with a number of sakura. The central part of the shrine is all gravel. To get in the garden you need to get a ticket at the entrance, but since the entrance is not accessible you need to then go back to the exit to get in. There are some steps (5-8cm) that are separated with enough distance to get up, but help will likely be needed. Access to the full garden is limited and the path is bumpy.
Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosopher’s Path)
The actual path is not really accessible, but you can drive along on the adjacent road. There are many trees that can be seen from the road and the numerous bridges crossing the canal. Getting there will require a bus ride or taxi.
Some of the roads are bumpy but passable. However, expect crowds! And lots of couples taking wedding photos.
The long road up is very steep. Getting a wheelchair taxi driver that knows the temple can get you almost right to the top.
Hirano Jinja will also need a taxi, but it has a nice (paid) area with a number of cherry blossoms and other flowers. The gravel paths can be a bit hard to navigate though.
Arashiyama’s Sagano Railway
The Sagano Railway (“Sagano Romantic Train”) is an old-fashioned train going along a ravine near Arashiyama. In the spring there are a number of sakura to see on the route. There are one or two accessible seats – the portable ramp they use for loading is quite steep though! Be sure to book in advance and let them know you are coming in a wheelchair so they can properly assign you the wheelchair seat.
I went to a few other places but this is just an over view. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or ask in the Japan group!Published in