Photo/IllutrationYasuhiko Funago, left, a Reiwa Shinsengumi candidate elected to the Upper House on July 21, and Taro Yamamoto, the party leader (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Eita Yashiro, a paraplegic Upper House member, intended to maneuver his wheelchair up the chamber’s center steps to the platform to ask his first questions.

But the Upper House secretariat insisted it would be too dangerous, forcing him to make a detour behind the ministers’ seats.

Yashiro made an impassioned appeal from the platform: “Not only the Diet building but also the entire Japanese society is designed for able-bodied people who can walk freely as the standard. The time has come to rethink that standard.”

That was about four decades ago.

Two members of Reiwa Shinsengumi, who need large wheelchairs, are set to join the Upper House after the July 21 election.

It is said that Yasuhiko Funago, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Eiko Kimura, who has cerebral palsy, will require assistance navigating the Diet building as well as the Diet members’ office building.

According to the Upper House secretariat, some members have attended plenary sessions accompanied by their aides. There are also precedents in which members were allowed to remain seated and raise their hands, instead of standing, when votes were taken, and Diet clerks signed their names by proxy.

“We will discuss appropriate measures to accommodate the needs of the two new members,” a secretariat official said.

The Diet building was designed more than a century ago, and physical disability was not the only issue its facilities failed to address.

Fusae Ichikawa (1893-1981), who was elected to the Diet in 1953, was stunned to find no dedicated lavatories for women. The pioneering feminist demanded their installation and had her way the following year.

However, they were limited in number.

Takako Doi (1928-2014), who was elected to the Diet in 1969, reportedly had to enlist the help of her aide to locate one.

Reviewing this history, it becomes painfully obvious that older men with no disabilities have remained for far too many years the “standard” by which Japan’s political community has functioned.

The Diet is supposed to represent diverse views. Its chambers should mirror every aspect of our present society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.