By Barrier Free Japan
April 12 2021
KANAGAWA – In a recent blog post entitled ‘Wheelchairs were denied boarding on JR’, the disability activist and writer, Natsuko Izena describes not being allowed to board a JR station, something that she describes as “a common occurrence for wheelchair users in this day and age.”
Izena has Osteogenesis Imperfecta that makes her bones fragile, is only 100cm in height and weighs 20kg. She also has lost her hearing on her right side of her ear. She users an electric wheelchair to get around. She is originally from Okinawa, she is a graduate of Waseda University and Master’s degree from Kanagawa University. She has written for several publications, including The Tokyo Shimbun, The Chunichi Shimbun, The Ryukyu Shimpo and HuffPost Japan. Izena currently lives in Kanagawa. Below is an extract translated from Izena’s blog recounting her experience traveling from Odawara Station to Kinomiya Station in early April.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been denied boarding a train. It was really tough. I was exhausted. It’s a long story, but I hope as many people as possible will read it and share it with others. So I hope you’ll read this so that we can change it.
On April 1 and 2, my helper, a friend, my two children, and I went on a trip to Raikyu in Atami.
We planned to take the route Odawara Station -> Atami Station -> Kinomiya Station, but since JR often takes a long time to accommodate wheelchairs, we arrived at Odawara Station 30 minutes before the time we wanted to board, with plenty of time to spare.
At the ticket gate of Odawara Station. I said, “Please take me to Kinomiya.”
Station attendant A told me, “I’ll give you the information 15 minutes ago, so please come back around that time.
I bought some Odawara kamaboko (fish cake) and sweets, and went to the ticket counter again.
I said, “Please.”
Station attendant A said, “There are only stairs at Kinomiya Station, so we can’t guide you. Are you sure you want to go to Atami?”
I was told, “No, please go to Kinomiya.”
I said, “No, please take me to Kinomiya.”
Station attendant A seemed to be inquiring somewhere.
Station attendant B came out and said, “Is it okay to go to Atami?
I said, “No, to Kinomiya, please.
Station attendant B said, “There are only stairs, so I can’t guide you. Would you like to go to Atami?
I said, “No, I was here half an hour ago, and I really want to take this train. Please have three or four station attendants gather up and lift the stairs.
Station attendant B: “Atami Station does not handle this kind of situation.”
I said, “Please do something for me. I’ve already made reservations at a restaurant and a hotel, so I’d like to take this train.
Station attendant B: “Please wait a moment.”
The train I want to take is already gone, even though it came half an hour ago…
Station attendant C: “You can’t use Kinomiya Station, so you can only go to Atami Station. After that, you’re on your own.
I asked, “How?
Station attendant C: “By cab.
I said, “Then please check cabs. Cabs that take wheelchairs are usually booked about a month in advance, so it may be tough.
Station attendant C “I see. I’ll look into it, but you’ll have to pay for it.
I said, “The station is a public transportation system. Can you gather three or four station attendants?
Station attendant C: “Atami Station does not make any such arrangements.”
I said, “Then, Mr. C, please come with me.”
Station staff: “It’s out of our jurisdiction. I can’t do that.”
I said, “There is a Barrier-Free Act, isn’t there? Please provide wheelchair access.”
Station attendant C: “The law does not apply to stations with fewer than 3,000 users.”
I said, “There is a law to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities, and stations without elevators are required to use other means of reasonable accommodation. We are not asking you to build an elevator, but if there is no elevator, you are obligated to take other measures.”
Station attendant C: “As it stands, we cannot do that.”
We repeated this exchange for a total of one hour.
I was grateful that my children stood with me and waited for me all this time.
There was no place to sit at the ticket gate, and I had no idea it would be so difficult.
The fish cakes and snacks we had just bought came in handy.
We were given the phone number of the cab company, but they said they were not sure if they could help us.
Anyway, we had no choice but to go to Atami Station, so we were put on a train an hour later than scheduled.
We arrived at Atami station.
There were four station attendants waiting for us.
Station Master D: “I was the station master this time, so I will take care of it.
I said, “At Odawara Station, I was told that Atami Station does not handle any cases.”
Station Manager D: “I was there, so I will guide you along.”
At Atami Station, I changed to the Ito Line and finally arrived at Kinomiya Station.”
Speaking to The Asahi Shimbun ‘Globe’ magazine, Izena received some backlash, some calling her ‘selfish’. Izena responded by saying:
“I wrote this blog not out of spite, but because I want everyone to think about how to make society a better place for everyone to live,” adding “You can’t blatantly say, “You can’t board. If you say so, you are clearly in violation of the Disability Discrimination Act…This is not something that can be put to rest with “gratitude” or “selfishness”; I believe it is an issue of human rights.”