Category Archives: Japan

Day 1 – Airports

    The day was finally here, Scarlett and I arrived at the airport at 5:50 in the morning for our 7: 50 flight to LAX. My dad pushed me to the “check your baggage” area where Scarlett was waiting with her mom, sister, and our mentor, Kaye, who came just to see us off and take pictures. After we checked our luggage it was time to say our goodbyes and to begin out two week journey. We were sent off by taking photos with everyone and echoing goodbyes till we couldn’t see each other anymore. Accessibility or not I was off to Japan, my dream.
     I was pretty familiar with the airport regimen, security, waiting at the gate, and getting on and off the plane (first one on, last one off). There was one thing that I was unsure about as far as the trip to Osaka, Japan and that was using the restroom. I don’t like using public restrooms for multiple reasons (entrances and stalls aren’t always wheelchair friendly, doors, cleanliness, nervousness, and etc) and the way restrooms on the airplanes are I won’t even attempt them for the obvious reasons. Given that I traveled across the US with my business plan team and was at school most of the time, I got over my fear of using the public restrooms by asking a friend to take me and help me get to the stall. With that said I was with a girl and with a push wheelchair, so my normal crutch was gone. We got through security and found our gate before we did anything else. With an hour to spare we went to find some breakfast although I didn’t get anything. After Scarlett got a bite to eat we talked while we waited in anticipation for our flight. Before boarding, we managed to find an “assisted restroom” where she could park me inside the restroom and wait outside the door while I used the restroom. Finding the “assisted restroom” made me feel tremendously better about the 25 hour trip to Osaka (flight + layovers).
     We got to LAX, where we had a 3 hour layover, without a problem. We found the gate for our flight to Tokyo which was 11 hours long and again worried me because it meant 11 hours without a restroom. Since I was restroom conscious I made a point to not eat or drink. Scarlett had a small lunch knowing we would be served lunch and dinner on the plane.
     Since we had time to kill, we decided to exchange the $300 cash I brought to yen; we got 20,000 yen (the amount of yen you should get for $255) for 300 dollars. We returned to the gate and learned that’s what happens when you exchange dollars for foreign currency when the currency is still foreign (we should have waited to do it in Tokyo). As the time got closer to board a person came up to me and asked me if I needed an aisle chair, to which I said, “No, I can walk”. After she left Scarlett exclaimed, “Woah, she was the first one to talk to you and not me.”
     Next we went to look for an “assisted restroom” so I could try and go to the restroom before the 11 hour flight. We couldn’t find any so we asked the help desk if there were any. The lady replied to Scarlett (didn’t even look at me), “No, we don’t. You can take him to the girl’s restroom though.” That is something my mom did when I was younger than 5 and had no other choice; now, I’m 23 traveling with a female friend. We went back without me using the restroom; I didn’t really need to go it was just to put me at ease for the length of the flight. When we got back to the gate, we noticed that the flight was delayed an hour. I contemplated either just using the men’s restroom or risking it and trying to make it all the way to Tokyo. (Just flying for 11 hours was risking it.) I risked it.
    We boarded the plane where I was looking forward to watching good movies all the way to Tokyo. Soon after we lifted off I ate some of our snacks we brought from home. I tried watching movies, but with a mixture of bad movie selection, bad ear bud headphones, and lack of sleep, I was unable to make it through a single movie. We were served lunch and after not eating the barely edible main course, we just ate some of the sides and drank the 8 oz. of water that came with the meal.  For dinner, we opted for only the sides. About an hour before landing the anticipation started to kick in again. Scarlett filled out the immigration papers given to us at the beginning of the flight. I managed to make it to Tokyo without having to use the restroom!
     Even though we were elated to be in Tokyo, we waited for the aisles to be clear. Scarlett walked with me off the plane with her carry-on to where my chair awaited us. Shortly after getting situated in the chair, a guy with a sign that read “Justin Farley” came and helped Scarlett push me while she carried her bag. He first asked me if I needed to use the restroom to which I said no thanks (probably should have, but I was overwhelmed by being in Japan and didn’t want to make him wait). He then helped us through customs, baggage claim, check baggage, security, and getting us to our gate. In customs, I struggled with the right index finger fingerprint so he helped me guide my finger and held it still without any hesitation while the scanner took the image. In baggage claim, he took over the baggage cart when we got the luggage and let Scarlett push me. In check baggage, they asked us questions about the wheelchair (for in plane storage purposes), then asked us whether I could walk up stairs just in case the plane wasn’t attached to a dock.
 In security, they just patted me down and afterwards I said my first “arigato” of the trip. The girl laughed and said it back to me (I finally made it). We reached a bakery with snacks and he asked if we were hungry and again I said no thanks (he was just so nice, I didn’t want to make him wait on us).  As soon as we reached the gate the guy left and told us he would be back. Everyone we had met with to this point was Japanese and they did the best they could to communicate with us. I just sat, flabbergasted that I was in Japan. I was mesmerized just watching the flight attendants bow to each other (as a sign of respect) and looking at the Japanese television near us.
     Right before boarding our guy came back to help us. When we got on the flight the attendants greeted us and helped Scarlett with her bags while she walked with me. Once seated a flight attendant came over and asked if we needed anything. Even though she was speaking to us in English, I was still on the Japanese channel in my brain so I said “arigato.” She couldn’t understand me and after repeating it twice more I said “thank you” instead. This plane ride we conked out and slept pretty much all the way to Osaka.
In Osaka we waited till the plane was clear, but before we moved the flight attendant came and got Scarlett’s bags for her and walked with us to the exit. My wheelchair was right outside, with someone ready to push me where ever we needed to go. As soon as I sat down I lifted my feet and 2 flight attendants folded down my foot rests simultaneously. We got treated so well Scarlett had to exclaim how wonderful they were and how good the service was to the flight attendants. Even though most of them probably couldn’t understand her they smiled, laughed, and said “arigato” or “thank you” depending if they knew any English or not.
     The girl pushing me escorted us to baggage claim where Scarlett’s luggage came out first. While she was getting her bag I saw mine so I yelled to her, “Grab my bag too.” But before I knew it, the girl that was pushing me ran over and grabbed my luggage for me. This was probably due to the fact she saw the accessible tags on my suitcase (previously put on in Tokyo when they checked our luggage).  After we had finished getting our bags we were taken out to the taxis. Once outside we were asked if we were paying by credit card or cash, I said cash, hoping that the 20,000 yen we exchanged for in LAX would be enough.
We hopped in a taxi and left for the Sheraton Hotel. Scarlett and I stared out of the windows at all the different billboards and lights amazed we were finally in Osaka heading to our hotel after 25 hours of traveling. Being the first time in a taxi where I had to pay, I was constantly looking down at the meter to see if we were going to actually have enough yen for the fare. We luckily did (even though we got ripped off by the exchange rate, I was glad we exchanged currencies in LAX), the meter read 6,000 yen when we reached the hotel. We paid the guy (no tipping in Japan) while the bellhop grabbed our bags and my wheelchair.
     We headed in with the bellhop escorting us to the reservation desk with our luggage. Scarlett parked me while she went to ask about our room. While I sat there waiting a little kid was running circles around me and staring at me; both Scarlett and I laughed wondering what he was doing. I said, “Konnichiwa” to him (hello in Japanese) and he stopped so then we went up to our room with the bellhop. Once the bellhop left our room I checked if the toilet had a built in bidet (buttons on the side of the toilet), after seeing It did I asked if Scarlett wanted to try the bidet first. Hearing Scarlett shriek as she tried it, I wanted to try it. After finally using the bathroom, I tried the bidet for myself; by Scarlett’s reaction I was expecting something more extreme, but it is just a gentle squirt (you could control the temperature and the pressure).
     We were hungry and exhausted so once we were situated in the hotel room we decided to go to the restaurant in the hotel just for a quick bite to eat. At the first glance at the menu I was very disappointed to see it had only western style food.  Fearful of my silverware dilemma, I ordered fried chicken (finger food). Before our meals came out our waitress came out holding a regular set of silverware and tried to ask me something which I couldn’t understand, but she was looking at me when she said it so I nodded with a “hai” (ok or yes in Japanese) and an “arigato”. After shamefully eating my fried chicken as my first meal in Japan, we were ready for bed.  Even though we had really only experienced the airports, Japan was amazing and already becoming a dream come true.

Pre- Japan

Around the age of 16, I remember watching an anime with my brother and telling him, “One day I won’t need subtitles.” Since then I started a Japanese course at school, but due to my entrepreneurship program requirements I was only able to complete one semester. I figured I would have to study on my own so I bought Rosetta Stone and completed levels 1-3.  Now I am constantly on the lookout for new ways to study online although I was so busy last semester, I got discouraged and stopped studying Japanese. This was simply due to the fact that there was no good way for me to retain the Japanese I learned.
While I was doing all this I became more and more enthralled with the Japanese culture and I would constantly look for information to learn more about it. I would watch anime, and Japanese dramas daily (with subtitles). Several years ago I watched a drama called “Ichi Rittoru no Namida” or “One Liter of Tears” which I thought did a very good job of depicting someone living with a disability. It’s a true story about a girl who was diagnosed with a degenerative disability at the age of 15. Watching this made me fall in love with everything Japanese and made me interested on the topic of disability and Japan. Most of what I read about was how Japan was not handicap or accessibility friendly and in some families having a kid with disability brought shame to the family so they were mostly kept inside and hidden. Reading articles about this made me cringe, but everything I saw as the culture as a whole made me love Japan; respect, etiquette, values, traditions, and family oriented (and not to mention the yummy food). I started wanting to go there and maybe live there one day even though I kept reading bad stuff about disabilities there.
                I saw another Japanese drama recently called “Umareru” that touched on the topic of families keeping their kids with disabilities hidden. It was a drama about parents giving birth to kids with Down syndrome and their feelings about it; it gave all mixed opinions from shame to equal treatment. Seeing these dramas made me believe that they were aware of these issues and wanted to make other people aware of them too. More and more I wanted to go to Japan and more and more I would look up, watch, read, and study things about Japan. For me, Japan also gave me the sense of independency. I would occasionally look up foreign abroad programs to learn Japanese and accessibility. Not being able to find the information I need, I would get discouraged. But every time I was discouraged something else would encourage me again.
Given the success of Unlimiters in the business plan competitions, I started contemplating how and when I could achieve my goal of going to Japan. With the push to start Unlimiters, I started to feel like I was not going to achieve it anytime soon. After weeks of contemplating Japan and Unlimiters with my family, my sister came up with the simple yet, brilliant idea of just going there for sometime during my summer break. After hearing this idea I went home to search for summer programs that I could register for; I found a bunch that looked interesting, but none of them had any information on accommodations for people with disabilities. My dad and I contacted some places, they were very helpful and said they would not have a problem accommodating; the problem was that the programs weren’t all day or even every day. And Japan was way too unknown to us to say whether I could manage Japan alone.
To us this meant I needed someone to go with me. My goal was to go by myself, but given all the unknowns it would be difficult to manage a trip alone. I decided just to invite a friend to come with me without doing any sort of program. I came up with the idea of inviting my good friend, Scarlett who hadn’t ever been out of the country before; she was overjoyed with the invitation. Soon after I invited her and we talked about it, I bought our tickets to Osaka, Japan for August 13th – 28th.
Scarlett and I became great friends in the entrepreneurship program. My mentor had been her mentor the previous year as she was in the class above mine. We were introduced when our mentor asked me to come to one of their meetings and we have been good friends ever since. Being that it was her first trip out of country and my first real trip alone we were pretty anxious. We met up weekly to discuss the trip.
We also came up with a list of things to do to get ready; the two most important being hotel and passports. We both had to get our passports, mine renewed and her first one. Since she is a Starwood employee she managed to get us a super good deal on a Sheraton in Osaka. With our passports, plane tickets, and hotel reserved we were ready to go. As the trip came closer the more I would look up articles on disability and Japan. The articles I read said the same thing as I have been reading that Japan wasn’t accessible and you don’t see many people with disabilities there. More and more I would worry about the accessibility, and the overall treatment of people with disabilities in Japan, but I didn’t let that get me down.
I also knew Japan was big on etiquette and cleanliness so I started worrying about the little things like eating without chopsticks and/or with my hands or taking my shoes off when needed. I respected the Japanese culture so much I didn’t want to do anything that showed or could indicate disrespect. I would constantly tell people that there were 2 options for this trip, option #1, love it over there and make me want to live in Japan more one day or option #2, get treated badly and forget about it and aim for something else. Sadly, I was thinking it might be the latter of the two, but I still had high expectations.
The weekend before the big day after telling my brother about my fears, he posted on Reddit (popular discussion website) asking for advice for me in hope that people would say things to make me feel more at ease, but most everyone who replied reconfirmed my fears. When Sunday came around Scarlett and I planned to meet at the Airport Monday morning at 5:50.
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