Kobe Harborland

Photo:Saku Takakusaki

Holidaying in Kansai for the Physically Challenged

One of the highlights of the festive season when I was a child growing up in Scotland was the deluge of Christmas movies we could enjoy on TV. From about December 20th onwards, we were greeted with a seemingly endless round of one big movie after another, and this didn’t let up until about January 3rd.

Of course, we all have our favourites. But one of my all-time favourites is the 1989 classic: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It doesn’t quite hit the comic highs of the previous entries in the series: Vacation and European Vacation, but as far as good, family Christmas movies go, it’s a firm favourite of mine. The central premise of the movie centres on Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold, whose plans for a peaceful Christmas are blown apart when first his in-laws and then his wife’s extended family decide to come and see them for Christmas.

Well, this year I have a Christmas Vacation of my own in the making. Last week, I found out that my parents are coming to spend the festive holidays with me in Osaka. However, unlike Clark Griswold, I am actually really looking forward to having my parents visit for the holidays! It will require some particular planning though, as both of my parents have mobility issues. My mother is a diabetic, and although she manages to control her condition with diet and exercise, it does leave her easily fatigued. My father has always been one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. An accomplished chef for more than 20 years, he then moved over to being a restauranteur, businessman and various other odd jobs down the years.

Sadly, all this work has caught up with him finally, and several health issues now have meant my dad isn’t quite as active as he used to be. A walk of more than 10-15 minutes can leave him exhausted. Stairs are pretty much a no go area too. In short, when my parents get here I will need to prepare an itinerary that allows them to see as much of the region as they can, with the minimum of walking.

It may sound simple, but as much as I love Japan, I do have to admit, when it comes to access for people with disabilities, we are still lagging a bit behind other developed nations. Think about some of the great temples and other historic structures you may have visited during your travels here. Now imagine if you had to visit those same places again in a wheelchair or using a walking stick? Could you do it? Probably not.

So, in preparing this itinerary for my parents I have had to rule out some of the more popular destinations. However given that they are visiting during a peak holiday season and my dad has a similar aversion to large crowds as I do, that’s probably not a bad thing.

So, with this in mind, here are some destination ideas if you are bringing loved ones with mobility issues to Kansai.

1) Universal Studios Japan

USJ parade
Photo: Joel on Flickr

Universal Studios may not seem like the most obvious choice, given its long queues and the roller coasters and such like. But actually think about it for a second. Waiting times aside, almost all of the rides can be enjoyed sitting down. The only real exception to this is the Backdraft experience, which to be honest, is, I think one of the weaker attractions at the park anyway.

The key to a good day out at USJ with minimal standing and walking time is the queue-Jump pass. For an additional ¥6,000 or so on top of the regular ticket price, you can receive a book of vouchers that allows you to skip the long lines at a selected number of rides. This cuts waiting times considerably. For example, the last time I visited, the popular Spider-Man ride had a waiting time of about 2 and a half hours. With the queue-jump pass, I was able to get onto the ride in less than 20 minutes. This was the same for all the popular rides, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Jaws and so on.

I would suggest avoiding the rollercoasters though. For less able-bodied people, I am sure there would be health and safety issues to consider in terms of going on such rides.

2) Kobe Harbourland

Kobe Harborland Ferris Wheel
Photo: Travis on Flickr

Whether it’s shopping, dining, a harbour cruise, or just a chance to relax and enjoy a nice sea view, Kobe Harbourland has something for everyone. What’s more, almost all of the shopping malls and tourist attractions in the area have excellent disabled access.

Harbourland also has plenty of nice public seating areas and benches to make those all-important “pit stops” for when your companions are feeling a little fatigued. Also, the view from the Kobe Port Tower is absolutely stunning. Its “rotating restaurant” is also a must see.

3) Abeno Harukas

Abeno Harukas
Photo: m-louis .® on Flickr

As a modern skyscraper (it only opened about 3 years ago), Abeno Harukas has facilities and amenities that are truly state of the art. The wide, easily accessible elevators, allow easy access both for wheelchairs and for those on crutches. As Japan’s tallest commercial building, it also has some of the most incredible cityscape views you will see anywhere in the world.

4. Osaka Station City

Osaka Station City
Photo: lasta29 on Flickr

A shopping mall, cinema, fantastic restaurants and a rooftop garden are just some of the great features Osaka Station has to offer. But what has impressed me the most during my numerous visits there, is the specially designated wheelchair and pram elevator it has. This is still something of a rarity in Japan, and it’s very encouraging to see. As a keen supporter of disability rights I always make a point of shopping there when I can.

They’ve also opened a really nice Spanish restaurant on the 10th floor there recently too. It's called Rosa Roja and it’s definitely worth checking out.

I’m really looking forward to seeing my parents this holiday season, and hopefully, thanks to a bit of forward planning on my part, I can give them the best Christmas and New Year they’ve had in a long time.