Shinkansen & Japan Rail Pass as a wheelchair user
Travel by Shinkansen as a wheelchair user?!?
As you might already know, I am a huge fan of Japan. I like everything about this particular culture that’s so different from ours in the West. In March 2018, I rode the famous Japanese high-speed bullet train for the first time. After discovering Tokyo on a mobility scooter during cherry blossom, we went on a train trip through Japan to the southernmost point of Kyushu Island and back to Tokyo with a 21-day Japan Rail Pass.
This was our itinerary:
The Japan Rail Pass as a wheelchair user
Riding the Shinkansen on a regular ticket is quite expensive. However, an advantageous option does exist for tourists: The Japan Rail Pass.
Temporary visitors (i.e., tourists) from abroad can buy a Japan Rail Pass which allows to unlimitedly ride the nationwide JR train network during a limited period (7 days, 14 days, 21 days). You can also use the JR lines (e.g., Yamanote Line) in Tokyo with the pass, which saves a lot of money! Prices for an ordinary JR Pass are the following (April 2018):
- 7-day Pass: 29,110 Yen adult – 14,550 Yen child
- 14-day Pass: 46,390 Yen adult – 23,190 Yen child
- 21-day Pass: 59,350 Yen adult – 29,670 Yen child
Make sure to read the official Japan Rail Pass website before buying a JR Pass for the details. There are two different passes, the ordinary pass, and the Green Car pass. The Green Car is the first class compartment. But unfortunately, there is no dedicated wheelchair seating area on the Green Car. For wheelchair users, it is highly recommended to buy an ordinary Japan Rail Pass. You can read more about this topic on accessible-japan.com.
My travel tip for you:
Use a fare calculator to be sure that a Japan Rail Pass will pay off for your trip!
From exchanging vouchers to wheelchair seat reservations
After purchasing your Japan Rail Pass, you will receive an exchange voucher. Once you arrived in Japan, you need to go to a ticket/sales office (Midori no Madoguchi) which issues the actual Japan Rail Pass upon presentation of your exchange order and your passport.
We went to the JR New South Gate Midori no Madoguchi ticket office in Shinjuku. The location is in the new building right across the street from JR Shinjuku Station South Gate (“Lumine” Mall). The staff at the ticket office spoke excellent English, and after some waiting time, we received our Japan Rail Passes.
I also prepared a note with the train information found on Hyperdia to make a reservation for the wheelchair seat. The sales agent asked us to wait because she needed to make some phone calls to organize the seat reservation. About 40 min later I got our tickets mentioning the train number, the car number as well as the seat numbers for our first trip from Shinagawa Station to Nagoya. My ticket also showed a small wheelchair symbol.
As you can see in the pictures on the left and on the right, there are two types of wheelchair seats depending on the train line. Wheelchair users can also reserve the spacious and private multipurpose room. I chose the regular wheelchair seats, and therefore I don’t have any experience with the multipurpose room.
On the Hikari Shinkansen from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo to Nagoya, there was a row of two seats and the wheelchair area was right next to these seats. The Sakura Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima had a different configuration with only one seat next to the wheelchair area.
There are spacious wheelchair-accessible restrooms on all trains.
Boarding the Shinkansen as a wheelchair user
You should always arrive at the Shinkansen entrance at least 20 minutes before departure. Proceed to the counter and show your Japan Rail Pass as well as your reserved tickets (especially the one with the small wheelchair symbol on it). An attendant will come and take you to the assigned car position on the train platform. A portable ramp (see this post) will be set in place, and the attendant leads you onto the train right to your reserved seats.
More info about the train stations & travel planning for wheelchair users
All train stations I’ve been to were entirely wheelchair-accessible. Our exact station routing was the following:
Shinagawa Station (Tokyo) – Nagoya Station – Shin-Osaka Station (Osaka) – Hiroshima Station – Hakata Station (Fukuoka) – Kagoshima-Chuo Station (Kagoshima) – Shin-Osaka Station – Tokyo Station
We spent three nights in Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka, six nights in Osaka and four nights in Kagoshima. We stopped in Shin-Osaka for one night before taking a train back to Tokyo the next morning.
Start looking for hotels as early as possible if you travel on a budget! I started planning nine months before the trip. Contact the hotels via email if you have any questions about their in-room accessibility. Hotels with roll-in showers are generally rare in Japan.
Starting from Osaka, there are several possibilities for day trips like Nara or Kyoto. We only went to Nara, because there was so much to see and do in Osaka.
Miyajima Island with the deer and its beautiful sights is a must-see when in Hiroshima. The train, as well as the JR Ferry to Miyajima, are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.