National

Abe criticized for calling elevator installation at Osaka Castle a 'big mistake' during G20 dinner

Kyodo

Remarks made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a Group of 20 dinner that the installation of elevators at Osaka Castle was a “big mistake” have been criticized as lacking consideration for people with disabilities and called inappropriate — especially ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics next year.

“Although Osaka Castle was mostly destroyed by fire due to chaos caused by the Meiji Restoration 150 years ago, the tenshukaku (the tallest tower) was faithfully restored about 90 years ago to how it was in the 16th century,” Abe said at Friday’s dinner, which he hosted as chairman of the G20 summit in the city. “But they made only one big mistake — they went so far as to install elevators.”

Author Hirotada Ototake, who was born without limbs, said the remarks made him “feel very sad” in a Twitter post. He has been calling on public facilities to become barrier-free.

Others also wrote on social media that the prime minister’s use of the word “mistake” clearly shows his lack of understanding of a barrier-free society. “Elderly people cannot climb up the staircase,” one post read.

But some people defended the remarks, saying maybe Abe wanted to highlight that the elevators were the only difference between the restored tower and the original.

His G20 peers at the dinner party held near the castle, a symbol of the city, did not show any noticeable reaction to the prime minister’s comments.

The installation of elevators and the restoration of historic landmarks has already been a point of contention in Nagoya, where its mayor is aiming to re-create the original wooden structure of Nagoya Castle’s tenshukaku tower and has refused to install elevators in a bid to be faithful to history.

A local group representing disabled people submitted a document with 13,600 signatures to the city earlier this year in an attempt to change the plan and allow elevators. The city remains reluctant, saying it will achieve a barrier-free environment by using new technology, including robots.