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Trip report traveller with mobility issues Japan by train

Eastbourne, United...
Level Contributor
1,664 posts
532 reviews
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Trip report traveller with mobility issues Japan by train

I am writing this report to try and help others with mobility issues.

We had trips to Japan back in 2011 and 2016 and promised ourselves we would return to this fascinating country. Unfortunately Covid restrictions got in the way and they had to be cancelled.

Fast forward to 2024 and we had the chance to take the trip. Things had changed in that my wife now has to walk with the aid of poles and finds it difficult to walk much more than 1 km at a time. So our days of wandering for hours were over.

We decided to miss out Tokyo and Kyoto in favour of less well known places. And to use our JR pass taking lengthy train trips most days. So we could it down and watch the world go by.

We had booked assistance for both flights which worked well at both Heathrow and Haneda. We arrived at Haneda on a dull grey morning and after clearing the airport formalities picking up a pocket wifi and getting our JR pass we were good to go.

We had tried to cut down on luggage so we had one wheeled suitcase, a bag which fitted on the handle and a camera backpack. It was my job to handle the luggage so Dianes hands were free for her poles.

I had the Navitime app on my phone as well as googlemaps and googletranslate all of which proved helpful. I usually made seat reservations at ticket offices but did use the green machines sometimes. The ticket gates were easy to use and although I was nervous at first putting my valuable and irreplaceable JR pass into a machine fearing it would be swallowed up the machines worked perfectly and our tickets always popped out the other end. Where we made a point of collecting them and tucking them safely into a coat pocket.

We made a point of booking good quality hotels at or near the stations we were using.

We took the monorail changing at Hamamatsucho to a local train before arriving at Tokyo station around 1300. Like most stations we used there were elevators as an alternative to escalators or stairs which was helpful but we did find that the elevators were often quite full with able bodied travellers even those without luggage using them and not giving priority to travellers with mobility issues as usually happens back home.

We had 90 minutes until our first Shinkansen so looked for somewhere to have lunch where we could sit down and also have room for the luggage. This was not easy to find but eventually we managed to squeeze in to a small noodle bar.

Our first journey was from Tokyo to Akita by Shinkansen, a 4 hour which did not involve any changes the weather was dull and although we were surprised to see snow on the ground we did doze from time to time following our long flight.

It was dark by the time we arrived. There was snow underfoot but fortunately our short walk to ANA Crowne Plaza Akita was mostly under cover. Our hotel package gave us evening food and breakfast so after a good nights sleep we were ready for the start of our adventure.

Our destination was a Kyokin by the sea in Miyako this involved returning by Shinkansen 1.5 hours to Morioka the weather had picked up and we enjoyed watching the snow covered countryside and the distant mountains. We had lunch at a small café in the station before catching a local rapid train for the delightful 2 hour journey over the hills to Miyako.

We had arranged a transfer to Jodogahama Park hotel which I will review separately and proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. Our package included dinner and breakfast as well as transfer back to Miyako station.

JR trains back to Morioka are few and far between. We could have taken a bus but instead chose to take a train north along the coast to Kuji this train is on a private railway not covered by JR pass so we needed to buy tickets costing 1890Yen for the journey.

Initially we were disappointed as the train passed through a series of tunnels but eventually we came to the coast and saw the sea defences which had been erected as a result of the 2011 Tsunami a sober reminder of the devastation and loss of life which it caused. The train paused on a couple of occasions to allow passengers to admire and photograph some stunning sea views.

At Kuji we changed back to a JR train for our onward journey to Hachinohe where we could catch the Shinkansen back to Morika. Kuji station was one of the few we came across without elevators so we had to use steps over a footbridge.

At Morioka we were booked into the Richmond hotel which is just opposite the station. Getting to the hotel involves crossing a main road but fortunately there is an underpass, which can be accessed by elevators. We did not have meals booked but took advantage of the 24 hour convenience store attached to the hotel.

Next day we headed south to Kumamoto a journey of around 1000 miles involving 3 Shinkansens. Not everyone’s cup of tea I know but a demonstration of the comfort and efficiency of the JR railways.

We had been told that breakfast at the hotel would have been slow and crowded. I couldn’t find any cafes open at 0900 at the station so we stocked up on breakfast food from the convenience store for our 2 hour journey to Tokyo. We were surprised that trolley service was on the train so I had a coffee but I understand this is soon to be withdrawn.

I had built in a window of 1.5 hours at Tokyo Station so was able to get a coffee and buy drinks and Bento boxes for our onward journey.

The next step was 4 hours to Okayama. South of Tokyo we were hoping to catch sight of Mount Fuji. It didn’t look promising as many of the lower mountains we cloud covered but as we approached Fuji station a snow covered Mount Fuji rose majestically above the clouds. Magical!

Changing trains at Okoyama was easy then it was a further 2.5 hours by Sakura Shinkansen To Kumamoto. I found these with their wide seats to be even more comfortable than the previous Shinkansen.

After a long day of travelling we were ready to check in for our three nights stay at Blossom Hotel Kumamoto. This was only a few meters from the station and was attached to a large shopping centre so getting supplies of food and drink was easy.

Our plan for the next day was to visit Kyushu Ceramics Museum at Arita. We took the Shinkansen 1 hour to Hakata and then a limited express train 1.5 hours to Arita. We were unaware that there were reserved seats on this train and sat in a reserved carriage. The ticket inspector politely informed us of our mistake and we were able to find seats in the next unreserved carriage.

The walk to the museum was just under 1 km but did involve climbing some steps. We could have taken a taxi from the station instead. I would highly recommend this museum for those interested in art and ceramics, exhibits were informatively labelled in English as well as Japanese. The museum was light and airy without an admission charge and there was a small café with great views on the first floor.

We then repeated our steps on the return to Kumamoto although reserved seats were fully booked on the train to Hakata we were able to find seats on the crowded unreserved carriage.

The next day was our only slight disappointment. My plans involved the Yufuin no Mori tourist train which only has reserved seats. I tried to book the night before but there were no seats available so my plans went out of the window. Moral book tickets for busy trains well in advance!

As an alternative we decided to go to Miyazaki. Sakura Shinkansen 1 hour to Kagoshima Chuo then limited express 2 hours to Miyazaki. The highlight was the run along the coast looking out over the bay to Sakarujima Volcano. We had a good lunch at Izakaya restaurant in the station and then retraced our train back to Kumamoto noticing the increased activity from the volcano.

I’m pretty proud of the planning for the rest of the trip. We took the Shinkansen for the 2 hour journey to Hiroshima arriving around 1030 where we were due to stay two nights at the Granvia hotel which is within the station.

We were able to leave our luggage at the hotel before catching a local train for the short journey to Kurashaki aka The Venice of Japan a flat walk of around 1km took us to the old shops and canal side of this historic town. We enjoyed a lunch in a small café run by a quite old man who insisted on immaculate service. A stroll along the canal side a cup of coffee then back to the station and our hotel.

Our package included both evening food and breakfast in the 21st floor lounge with amazing views over the city.

The next day was a trip to one of our favourite spots Miyajima. Regular trains from Hiroshima take 30 minutes or so to the ferry terminal for the JR ferry which is covered by the JR pass. You do however need to put a 100Yen coin into a machine to pay a tourist tax. A lovely sunny day and the island was not too busy so we were able to walk to the floating Tora before having a delicious Oyster lunch at Torii restaurant.

It is worth noting that on the ferry at the same level as the car deck there is a small cabin with seating so passengers with mobility issues can avoid having to climb stairs. Our return journey to the hotel went smoothly.

All too soon our trip was coming to an end and we had to return to Haneda for our flight home. I was concerned at arriving in Tokyo with our luggage at busy times so I booked later trains to arrive around 2000.

This gave us the bonus of an extra morning in Hiroshima. Leaving our luggage at the hotel we took a tram to the A dome and visited the Peace Park which for us is something of a pilgrimage.

As well as the children’s memorial and the eternal flame which we always find moving we visited the Rest House with its interesting exhibits a café and the remarkable story of Eizo Numara who by chance was in the basement of the building and was the only survivor of the 37 people who were at work in the building when the A bomb exploded.

We also had time to visit the Hiroshima Museum of Art housed in two remarkable buildings nearby. We particularly enjoyed the collection of impressionist paintings. Some have questioned the 600Yen admission charge for a small gallery but I would argue quality over quantity. The black cat café within the museum provided very welcome coffee and ice cream.

A return by tram to the station and lunch at one of the busy restauants in the station shopping centre and it was time to collect the luggage and catch our train.

1.5 hours to Shin Osaka and then a diffuct chage which involved waiting for three trips for a space in a crowded escalator to an underpass finding the correct platform for our Hikari which started from Shin Osaka which we made with 3 minutes to spare. For the 3 hour journey to Shinagawa.

As I had hoped the local train and the Monarail were not crowded so our journey to Haneda was straightforward, We were staying at the Royal Park Hoten which is inside terminal 3 next to checkin N.

The next day our return flight was delayed from 0945 to 1230 so we had the benefit of our hotel room to wait in rather than the terminal. After checkin assistance worked well and we were able to wait at a lounge by the gate until it was time to board the aircraft.

So Diane was able to enjoy our trip despite mobility issues. In fact on a couple of occasions we saw wheelchair passengers whose journey must have been booked in advance being met by station staff with ramps so they could alight from their train. I would suggest that with careful planning others with mobility issues could tour this fascinating and beautiful country.

3 replies to this topic
Northern Virginia...
Level Contributor
14,539 posts
1. Re: Trip report traveller with mobility issues Japan by train

Thank you for your very interesting report. I am sure it would be appreciated by others even without mobility concerns. You chose a nonstandard itinerary and explain so well!

I hope you post a report in Japan forum as well.

Thanks again.

London, United...
Destination Expert
for Solo Travel
Level Contributor
17,066 posts
28 reviews
47 helpful votes
2. Re: Trip report traveller with mobility issues Japan by train

Thank you for a very interesting report. You have given me still more places to go "next time".

I think that Yamato luggage transfers might have been useful to you.

The costs are reasonable and mean not having to handle my carry-on size bag on trains or to/from the airport. When I have visited different areas with very different climates, it has let me divide my clothes into different bags and send them on in advance.

Hotels manage the paperwork and it means I just travel with a small day pack with overnight stuff and a change of clothes.

I usually travel solo so there is no one else to help with my bags.

Yamato is absolutely reliable.

Fremont, California
Level Contributor
155,232 posts
8,714 reviews
4,256 helpful votes
3. Re: Trip report traveller with mobility issues Japan by train

Thanks for your interesting report.

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