Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers an address at the banquet at the Osaka Geihinkan guest house for leaders who gathered for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka on June 28. (Pool)

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Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may not be a fan of elevators in castles, his apparent disregard for the importance of a barrier-free society has drawn ire and raised concerns as Japan prepares to host the Olympics and Paralympics.

Abe described the installation of elevators in the Osaka Castle as a “big mistake” when he addressed a banquet for the leaders attending the Group of 20 summit in Osaka on June 28.

Referring to the history of Osaka Castle, which is near the banquet venue, Abe said after most of it burned down in the confusion of the Meiji Restoration, which restored imperial rule, in the late 19th century, its current tower, a faithful replica of the one built in the 16th century, was reconstructed about 90 years ago.

Abe continued, in a joking tone: “But a big mistake was made at that time. Even elevators were installed.”

Although what he really meant is unclear, a flurry of comments criticizing Abe popped up on social networking sites.

“I was extremely saddened” by the comment, said writer and TV personality Hirotada Ototake, who was born without limbs, in his post.

Satetsu Takeda, a writer, expressed anger in his posting: “Seriously, this person (Abe) may not understand the notion of achieving barrier-free access and an inclusive society.”

One poster questioned: “Did he really think an audience would find his (elevator) comment very funny?”

The tower is equipped with two elevators, which were both put in place in 1931 when the structure was restored, according to Hiroshi Kitagawa, director of the Osaka Castle Museum.

One of the elevators was extended to reach the tower’s eighth floor, the top floor, to allow access by people with disabilities, during the major renovation completed in 1997.

Kitagawa said visitors to the castle include people in a wheelchair, such as students at a special-needs school, and that they appreciate the elevator availability.

“I don’t know the purpose of Abe’s comment, but we are proud of the elevators, and they are loved by people visiting from all over the world,” he said.

Yoshihiro Senda, a castle archaeology professor at Nara University, was also angered by the prime minister’s remark, calling it “so outrageous.”

He noted that a global trend is to achieve barrier-free access for the disabled as much as possible even at World Heritage sites.

“I cannot believe the prime minister made such a comment ignoring the global trend,” he said. “It is extremely regrettable that the comment came at a time Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.”