Ordinance on barrier-free hotel rooms takes effect in Tokyo ahead of 2020 Games

Kyodo, JIJI

A Tokyo Metropolitan Government ordinance took effect Sunday that is expected to boost the number of hotel rooms in the capital accessible by disabled and elderly people ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games.

Tokyo’s revised barrier-free building ordinance is the first in Japan to set criteria for standard hotel rooms so people with disabilities and seniors can more conveniently access them.

It stipulates that standard rooms in hotels and lodgings with renovated, new or additionally built floor space of over 1,000 sq. meters must provide doorways at least 80 cm wide and bathroom entrances at least 70 cm wide.

There should be no steps in the rooms or on the way to them, according to the ordinance.

“We would like to use the games as a jump-start to improve facilities, leaving a legacy toward the future of an aging society,” said a Tokyo government official in charge.

The metropolitan government estimates up to 850 barrier-free hotel rooms will be needed per day during the Summer Games.

As the number of wheelchair-accessible rooms is insufficient to meet demand, the new ordinance is expected to push hotel operators to further renovate standard rooms to make them barrier-free.

By subsidizing 80 percent of the costs necessary to make existing rooms barrier free, the metropolitan government expects to secure 2,500 rooms per day accessible by the disabled and the elderly during the games, including newly constructed rooms.

It notes, however, that the new rooms will not be for the exclusive use of the disabled, the elderly and others who require them, hence the necessity to build as many barrier-free rooms as possible.

“It was difficult in the past to find out in advance which hotel rooms were wheelchair-accessible,” said Toshihiko Noguchi, a senior official of the Tokyo Council on Independent Living Centers.

Noguchi, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, welcomed the new ordinance.

“It will become a lot easier to choose if all the newly available rooms are made barrier-free,” he said.

JR East Hotel Mets Akihabara, which is set to open in October in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, will offer a total of 195 standard rooms, all of which will meet the criteria set by the ordinance.

Although the hotel was not required to follow the new rules because it was built before they came into force, an official of its operator Nippon Hotel Co. said, “We came up with a hotel that would be convenient for elderly and disabled customers to use, given the reality of an aging population.”

The Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, located in the capital’s Shinjuku district, prepared 13 barrier-free “universal rooms” in December through renovating existing rooms or building new ones. Their doorways are 85 to 90 cm wide and ramps allow access to the bathroom facilities.

The rooms are also equipped with tablet computers linked to the front desk so disabled guests can communicate via written messages.

“We are aiming to create rooms that cater to a variety of customer needs,” said Chikara Oda, who is in charge of the hotel’s sales strategy, “while embracing the elements of what makes us a hotel.”

Another Tokyo Metropolitan Government ordinance, against passive smoking, partially entered into force Sunday, starting regulations at various facilities in the capital, including a rule obliging restaurants to put stickers to show whether indoor smoking is allowed or not.

The move comes as the capital is gearing up to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics smoke-free games.

On Saturday, a restaurant in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward put a sticker on its entrance showing that smoking is not allowed during lunch hours.

“The nonsmoking sign will help family customers feel free to visit our restaurant,” its owner said.

“But banning smoking during dinner hours would weigh on our business,” the owner said, adding, “I hope that the ordinance will help spur moves to create culture where people can enjoy meals without smoking.”

The central government partially put the revised health promotion law including stronger measures against passive smoking into effect in July.

From Sunday, the ordinance will ban smoking inside nurseries and kindergartens, as well as elementary, junior high and high schools, and also outdoor smoking spaces at those places.

The ordinance will go into full force on April 1 next year and smoking inside restaurants will be banned in principle.

Smoking will be allowed only in designated rooms inside the restaurant.

Penalties will be slapped on violators.

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