Accessibility in Japan
Japan has made considerable strides in improving accessibility for individuals with disabilities, and the government and corporations continue to apply technology and innovative design to make things as accessible as possible. Naturally, cities and large urban centres are more open to wheelchair users and prepared for visually impaired people than rural locations. In commercial districts, sidewalks are smooth with cut curbs, while small roads have a pedestrian lane indicated by white lines instead of raised paving.
The world's first tactile sidewalk tiles, Tenji blocks, were invented in Japan more than 50 years ago. Long lines show directions, and circles indicate caution. Tenji means 'Braille', which you'll find everywhere – though it's unique to Japan and different to English Braille, it can be learned.
All train stations have ramps, elevators and stairlifts, except for a few on the outskirts of cities. Every ticket gate has at least one mobility-accessible lane. Ticket machines are accessible at wheelchair level (in English via touchscreens), and staff are on hand to assist and even take passengers with additional travel needs directly to their train.
Taxis and vans
Many modern taxis (called JapanTaxi) are modelled on London's famous 'black cab' shape and size. They have ramps and seat one manual wheelchair user plus a companion. Standard taxis will stow a foldable wheelchair in their boot. For electric wheelchair users, there are vans and minibuses which must be booked in advance.
Buses to and from airports are not wheelchair accessible, but standard city buses have ramps and a dedicated space with safety belts. On the downside, the ramp must be set up by the bus driver, potentially making it less convenient for people with mobility issues than train travel.
LGBTQ+ in Japan
Homosexuality has been legal in Japan since 1880 under the Napoleonic code. LGBTQ+ rights are relatively progressive by Asian standards, though some provisions lack full legal status – noticeably, the government doesn't recognise same-sex marriage at the national level. Some municipalities and prefectures now issue 'partnership certificates' recognising same-sex relationships. While this benefits same-sex couples, it doesn't give the relationship legal status equal to heterosexual marriage.
Historically, Japanese culture has shown a lower degree of hostility towards the gay community compared to some other cultures, and survey data suggests that a majority of Japanese citizens are accepting of homosexuality. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is banned in certain cities.
Gender equality in Japan
Japan continues to work towards achieving greater gender equality, although it still faces challenges in this area. It falls behind most industrialised nations, including its Asian neighbours, in gender equality. The country is 116th out of 146 countries ranked by the World Economic Forum's 2022 Global Gender Gap Report.
Women earn under half of what their male counterparts earn and have limited decision-making authority in business or politics. Policies such as 'Womenomics' and various phases of the Basic Plan for Gender Equality are delivering progress. However, these are derived from economic strategy rather than driven by societal impacts and the need to improve women's holistic well-being, from safety and security to health, dignity and self-fulfilment. That said, pressure from within and from global corporations outside Japan is helping to promote greater equality against historic cultural barriers – with ambitious targets set for the next ten years.
Women in leadership in Japan
Japan has the lowest percentage of women in managerial positions of any OECD country – just 8 percent – even though women represent 49 percent of the working population. The underlying reasons are multifaceted, extending beyond mere discrimination or patriarchy. They include deep-rooted societal norms, the imbalance of care responsibilities often shouldered by women, and a work culture that traditionally values long hours, which can conflict with family responsibilities.
Mental health in Japan
Like in any society, individuals in Japan can experience problems with emotional well-being through concerns about work, family, finances or the future, while neglect or abuse may also negatively affect one's mental health.
Psychiatric support for mental health is widely available in Japan, and 70 percent of the cost is covered by national health insurance. Although less affordable and not financially supported, counselling is also popular in Japan.
Unconscious bias in Japan
Bias around gender, age and ethnicity inhibits effective hiring, limits development, and lowers staff morale. Efforts are underway by both the government and academic institutions in Japan to address and reduce unconscious bias, with a focus on fostering an environment of fairness and impartiality. The aim is to create a society where diverse views and backgrounds are seen as a catalyst for innovation and progress.
Diversification of the workforce in Japan
Japan, where 98 percent of the population is ethnically Japanese, is known for its homogeneity. However, it is also a welcoming country for visitors and overseas professionals. It's worth noting that the Japanese government has started initiatives to attract more foreign workers to address labour shortages due to the country's rapidly ageing population. While instances of xenophobia or discrimination are infrequent, they can occur, particularly targeting migrant workers from countries like China and Korea. People of colour are well received in urban Japan, and African American (burakku) culture is celebrated in Japanese youth culture.
Safety in Japan
Japan is renowned as one of the safest countries in the world. To maintain this status, the government has implemented measures such as increasing police numbers and expanding the use of security cameras. In Japan, children can often be seen walking home or exploring shopping malls without adult supervision, and it's not uncommon for people to leave their bags unattended while visiting bathrooms.
As in any country, crime does exist, and individuals should always take common sense precautions for their safety. Additionally, there is concern that crimes against women may be under-reported, suggesting the need for continued vigilance and preventative efforts. As a protective measure, several train companies have introduced women-only cars, particularly during peak times.
Calendar initiatives in Japan
4 January – World Braille Day
4 February – World Cancer Day
8 March – International Women's Day
April – Tokyo Rainbow Pride
7 April – World Health Day
1 May – International Labour Day
18 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
July – Rainbow Reel Tokyo
8 September – World Literacy Day
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
10 October – World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
18 November – End Child Sex Abuse Day
25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
1 December – World AIDS Day
3 December – International Day of People with Disabilities
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