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Universal Studios Japan Tour

Kame Chan (Hideaki Kameyama)
TAC Travel Club

Abstract The Universal Studios Japan has been newly operated in Osaka in 2001. In response to the needs of the disabled community and aiming at inclusion of disabled people into the mainstream society, efforts have been made to make the studios accessible for people with different types of disabilities. The paper is written based on an examination of the studios in terms of its extent of accessibility and usability for people with disabilities.

The Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is finally opened, which people have been eagerly awaiting with a heart filled with excitement in not only the Osaka and Kansai Area but also all over Japan and, what is more, in the neighboring countries in Asia.

Passing through the gate, we can find the visitor center and the wheelchair rental counter where manual wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs (three-wheeled) and baby strollers are to let out for rent. As the name shown, they are a pay service. It is a little bit stingy, isn't it?

The visitor center has guide maps for people with physical disabilities (wheelchair users) and guide books and voice navigation for people with visual impairment(Braille readers). But, the guide maps for wheelchair users are limited in number and are not always available. On top of that, you should be aware that you have to wait for quite a long time before getting the map. In addition, I was disappointed instantly. What happened to the Universal Studios in the United States that are filled with joyous and happy atmosphere and give us unselfconscious consideration? Well, let's move on anyway, looking forward to a better circumstance ahead within the park!

I decided to rent a wheelchair to move around in USJ because we visited there to make inspection after all. As shown in the guide map for people with physical disabilities, there are rest rooms located at many places in USJ. As I checked up at a rest room, half of the ordinary compartment toilets are in Japanese style and another half in Western style, while one urinal and one wash stand are equipped with safety bars. Near the entrance of each rest room for women and for men, respectively, there is one compartment toilet for wheelchair users with easygoing space inside. The safety bar beside the toilet bowl, which is vertically adjustable, makes it easy to transfer from the wheelchair. The hand wash basin is operated automatically and is supplied with abundant hot water as well. These facilities geared to persons with disabilities were seen everywhere in USJ, which impressed us deeply:"This is a Japanese project as is to be expected!"

On that day, there was not plenty of time, while we had a lot of things to examine. We decided to start off by a ride, irrespective of preference, which was situated near the main gate with a tag line saying, "Enjoyable for wheelchair users, too."

We first tried "E.T. Adventure." As it is possible to experience this attraction while seated in wheelchairs, it made us build up our expectations to a significant extent. While I was standing in line for some time, a staff member found me and took me to another entrance. Inside, however, I found the boarding point shared by persons with and without disabilities. The vehicle for persons with disabilities was not operated on a steady basis, but one parked on the special lane was drawn in response to guests' request

"E.T. Adventure" is an attraction featuring the famous bicycle ride in the movie: the bicycle which E.T. and the boy got on was caught in the end of the game by police and some state organizations, runs through the town, and finally floats in midair. Persons without disabilities can experience the situation quite similar to the scene in the movie by riding a bicycle saddle. As for wheelchair users in contrast, after mounting a flat stand, they were fastened by a belt from behind and then a bicycle handle bar that functioned as a stopper as well came down in front. Now, let's go off on an adventure!

After going through the town, we were taken to E.T.'s home planet that did not appear in the movie at all. On our way out, the meaning of the name we had given at the entrance will hit home to. "Did you know that E.T. was an astrophysicist?"

Going along the street, we came up to the next popular rideD "Back to the Future The Ride"! Immediately, we found people flocking around to take a souvenir photograph. The legendary Delorean welcomed us. It was a matter of course that we got into the pose. Before anything else, "Let's enjoy ourselves to the utmost." This is our creed as members of TAC. Be avid for pleasure.

Going on a rambling lane, we finally reached a building. Inside the building, a young staff who obviously needed more training to deal with the public to show them genuine hospitality gave us some explanations on a time traveler. Because it was a preview event, staff members with a little shyness looked fresh.

My suggestion is to take the front bench above all. It is necessary to transfer to the ride from the wheelchair. If you try this ride in group, why don't you form a group of 8 people and pack into Delorean to exclusively occupy the vehicle!. If some of the buddies have difficulties in manoeuvring their wheelchairs or transferral, you can help each one to get on the ride easily. Basically, staff members do not assist you with getting on the rides. In addition, they will insistently ask you, "Can't you walk? Can't you stand up? You can enjoy ordinary rides without waiting a long time". You will be pressed with questions even at the rides like "E. T. Adventure" that, they claim, is possible to enjoy in wheelchairs. If you would like to get on the ride in wheelchairs, say determinedly, "I don't want to move from my wheelchair, no way."

As it is common in all rides, they are thrill-oriented entertainment and shake a lot. I suggest that you bring your own fixing belts, even if you normally don't use a waist belt or a shoulder belt.

Oh my god! It's almost noon!! "Lunch time, folks!" The area with a row of shops and restaurants is a replication of the streets in the United States. Sometimes performers entertain us with live performance such as music from all over the world. I advise that you take the precious opportunity to enjoy such street performance as well as attractions so far as time permits.

"Oops, my stomach is growling!!" We decided to have lunch at a swank restaurant from the Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. We found people already lining up. We made a round for other restaurants and found all of them crowded with people in lines. We made up our mind to avoid useless wandering. This restaurant we decided on first, in order to reduce waiting time, accepts reservations as needed, even though it takes some time until you will sit down to eat. Therefore, it may be a good idea to make reservation and enjoy various attractions in USJ, if you are not badly starved.

Although we did not visit all the facilities, I found almost all restaurants and cafes equipped with toilets for wheelchair users that look cleaner than those attached to the studios, also with baby cots for diaper change and deep washtubs. In addition, compared with the studio staff with awkward and abominable attitude, people at restaurants and shops were very kind and courteous, impressing us quite favorably.

Here is another tip to reduce waiting time. There are a lot of fast-food outlets N or delis as they put it on the West Coast N along the streets. Why don't you buy your favorites at these places, take a leisurely walk down the street with your mouth full, and enjoy street performance? It is such a luxury in a good season. How about myself? Actually I enjoyed a jam session with an American band that I came across after lunch.

What comes next after lunch ? Yes, that popular what-you-know!! "Backdraft," a movie that depicted fine showings by fire fighters, children's heroes ranking with major league players. When I first experienced the attraction in Los Angels more than ten years ago, I was so astonished!! It did not matter whether I could see or not. I was totally excited at the impact of flame and space, I remember. OK, come on!! "Backdraft in Japan ?" Repress your desire to say so and just check it out yourselves!!

As this attraction has a fast lane (priority lane), wheelchair users can ask staff and wait on the fast lane. Because the building in whole is an attraction, you are admitted while seated in wheelchairs. You can enjoy yourselves without problems even in groups of many people.

Now we are running out of time. Well, the next one is a super-popular attraction also in the United States N Yes. That is "Jurassic Park N The Ride."

A number of stone-age dinosaurs were cloned from DNA extracted from a mass of jade that some researchers happened to discover. This attraction, named "Jurassic Park", invited you to tour for the creatures. But you would be in big trouble because the dinosaurs went out of control!! Are you getting excited? OK, let's wait in the line.

Here staff will ask you quite insistently to transfer to an ordinary vehicle. But they have one vehicle for wheelchair users. Therefore, if you would like to take it, don't hesitate to claim. However, there is only one such vehicle and only one special seat. So you have better to be prepared to wait long!! The ride operates in the mechanism that the motor-driven tram seat is raised and comes out to the vehicle side. Although it is necessary to transfer from the wheelchair, quite a few people can enjoy the ride as far as suitable measures are taken to brace their body. I recall another point to keep in mind. Because this attraction is a splish-splash ride, you had better buy a rain chief sold near the entrance.

It's about time for the sun to go down. The streets that model after San Francisco and Hollywood are lit up. Around this time, the crowds in the park start to move at a burst toward the "Water Ride", a main attraction. Although I visited Universal Studios in the United States several times, I have never experienced this attraction. Although I was quite determined to enjoy it when I was there year before last, I unfortunately missed it because of a live radio show that took place at the same time. Time ran out on that day, too. It was about time for us to finish examination and leave the studios.... This park has so many fun that you can experience only in USJ.

USJ is more compact on the whole than those in the United States (in Los Angels and Florida). Although there were various considerations peculiar to Japan, staff attitude was so disappointing above all. Finally, you should note some points:

  • Be prepared to wait long. This is a basic rule that applies equally to persons with and without disabilities. Let's enjoy ourselves all the more!!
  • As staff are inexperienced, you should clearly express your feelings.
  • Taking a ride is based on your own will. If something happens, it will be a matter of self-responsibility. Don't hold back. Don't overdo, either!!

* Mr. Kameyama is a person with visual impairment.

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Asia & Pacific Journal on Disability, Vol. 4, No. 2, December 2001, pp 43-47 Universal Studios Japan Tour