I recently returned from an enjoyable holiday in Japan where I used my mobility scooter. The scooter was a novelty for Japan, which surprised me. It is a country of many innovations but I saw no mobility scooters at all, let alone light easy travelling ones like mine. I caused quite a stir in many places.
The Japanese people were very polite, caring and respectful. Everywhere was clean, neat, tidy and in order. The food was fantastic and I enjoyed many wonderful meals. I also learned some of the Japanese table manners and a little about their culture. There were rules that everyone seemed to follow - lining up, following instructions, wearing uniforms with white gloves, bowing and handling money only from little trays or envelopes. There was no tipping and they were the ones who gave gifts to clients. They wanted to help but sometimes too much; such as at the railway stations.
Six railway attendants to help
The railway system was the most accessible I had ever encountered. However I was not allowed to ride my scooter on the platforms or into the rail carriages. Wheelchairs were allowed but not scooters. The railway staff did not see the scooter as being the equivalent of an electric wheelchair. They did not understand what it was and there were rules.
I had to get into a manual wheelchair at the station entry and have my scooter loaded onto a trolley. At one time, I had six railway attendants looking after me. Three to either wheel me, clear the way or operate the elevators. Then there was one staff member to get and carry a ramp, one to help me in and out of the wheelchair and one to help another attendant lift the scooter off the trolley (it was 25 kilograms).
Most of the railway stations were also fully accessible with level paths, ramps and elevators. Most ramps and elevators were well signposted. There was always someone available offering help. It was fantastic but because I was not allowed to ride my scooter we had to book wheelchair assistance. I did sneak quite a few rides at stations and onto trains with my scooter. But once staff members were aware you were going somewhere, there would always be attendants to meet you outside the carriage door when you arrived.
The funniest moment in Japan with my scooter was in of all places, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. That was the museum where they showed the latest robots. An attendant came up to me and said I could not ride around the museum on my scooter and that I needed to walk. Our Japanese guide explained that I was on the scooter because I had difficulties walking and I was not riding it for fun. The attendant had never seen anything like my scooter before either.
Returning to encourage
"Do you have these problems in Australia? Do people stop you and not know what it is you are on?" our guide asked. "No," I said, "they don't wonder what it is, they just haven’t seen one so small and light and want to know where I bought it”.
Our guide told us that people with mobility problems, especially as they get older, stay at home and do not go out. They do not travel and do not use many mobility aids. A local disability advocate has asked me to return to give a talk on getting out with my scooter. I think I will.