Discussion Paper; ADB TRANSPORT FORUM 2014
Parallel Session A2. Universal Access: Evolution or Revolution?
September 2014)
Accessibility from Tokyo to Asia: Japan’s Experience
Dr. Satoshi KOSE
, Professor Emeritus, Shizuoka University of Art and Culture
, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
1. Introduction
Japan’s struggle to ensure accessibility has a relatively long history. Perhaps the Japanese
people first recognized the importance of accessibility at the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games
in 1964, when the Paralympic Games were also broadcast on TV. Until then, people with
disabilities were hardly visible in society, with the exception of some paralyzed veterans living
on the streets.
2. Disability Awareness and Japan’s Ageing Society
Another impact from overseas was the United States’ enactment of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. This prompted another revision of the Basic Law for Persons
with Disabilities in 1993, as well as triggered the introduction of the Act on Buildings Accessible
and Usable by the Elderly and Physically Handicapped in 1994 (Heartful Building Law)
. It
recommended public buildings to be made accessible, but fell short of prescribing mandatory
provisions. As implied by the name of the law, the government tried to avoid the impression that
the law is for people with disabilities only, and rather aimed to emphasize that it is for elderly
persons in general, who are far greater in number than people with disabilities, and undeniably
pertains to everyone either now or in the future. The Basic Law on Measures for the Aged
was enacted in 1995, containing the concept of accessibility (on living environment).
Although the Heartful Building Law lacked “sticks,” it introduced “carrots,” which some
building owners cleverly used, particularly the supermarkets, as a competitive edge.
3. Accessible Public Transportation Law
With a heightened awareness among people with disabilities, requests for legislation on
accessible public transportation were frequently voiced. Finally after six years of the enactment
of the Heartful Building Law, the Accessible Public Transportation Law (Law for Promoting
Easily Accessible Public Transportation Infrastructure for the Aged and the Physically
) was introduced. Coverage was limited to transportation facilities and the like, but the
law basically required new train stations and facilities to be made accessible if they are to be
used by 5,000 or more daily users. Existing stations and facilities were requested to be modified
to ensure accessibility, but such modifications were not feasible, partly due to anticipated
difficulties. The following measures were thought to be essential: accessible means of vertical
movement; wheelchair accessible toilet and facilities for people with colostomy; information in
braille; accessible cars and buses; audible traffic signals; tactile blocks (TWSI) on platforms and
pedestrian walks.
This situation in turn led to the revision of the Heartful Building Law, to include mandatory
requirements for new construction or major refurbishment. The law also gave local governments
the authority to add stricter requirements via local ordinances. In 2005, the Japanese

Professor Emeritus, Email: skose@gakushikai.jp
JICA Research Institute, Member of knowledge management network for social security, Email:

government issued “General Principles of Universal Design Policy
” to make the nation more
accessible to elderly and disabled people.
4. Accessible Built Environment Law
In 2006, the Heartful Building Law and Accessible Public Transportation Law were merged
into one, for consistency. The new law, the Act on Promotion of Smooth Transportation, etc. of
the Elderly and Disabled Persons
(Accessible Built Environment Law), provides for public
buildings, public transportation, and urban parks, etc. While it basically conforms to the two
previous laws, it provides greater coverage.
1) Expansion of the scope of people to be covered: The intellectually and mentally disabled
are explicitly included. Target passengers therefore include: the elderly, wheelchair users,
the physically disabled (non-wheelchair users), the internally impaired, the visually
disabled, the hearing disabled, the intellectually disabled, the mentally disabled, the
developmentally disabled, pregnant women, persons with small children, foreigners, etc.
2) Expansion of the scope of facilities: In addition to buildings and transportation systems,
roads, off-road parking spaces, urban parks, etc. are included.
3) Expansion of physical areas: The scopes of barrier-free measures have been expanded to
also include areas where no transportation facilities exist.
4) Participation of stakeholders: A consultative committee is required to be established to
formulate a basic plan.
5) Enhancement of software measures: A “spiral-up” process is introduced for continuous
improvement of barrier-free measures.
In September 2007, Japan signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
(CRPD), but it took some years before it was finally ratified in January 2014
. This was because
the government waited until the Law on Elimination of Discrimination against People with
Disabilities was introduced in 2013
(this law will, however, take two more years to be put into
5. Concluding Remarks
Furthermore, it might be effective to take advantage of the momentum of the Paralympic
Games or other international/national movements to incorporate accessibility into society. Thus,
the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games can be expected to play an important role in creating a more
accessible and people-friendly society in Asian countries.

http://www.mlit.go.jp/english/white-paper/mlit-index.html, (2012), pp.182-185