Barry Joshua Grisdale in a wheelchair visits Sensoji temple in Tokyo's Asakusa district. (Hiroki Endo and Toshiyuki Takeya)

Editor’s note: The theme of Inclusive Tokyo is to explore the metropolis from the viewpoint of wheelchair users and people with disabilities. Tourism officials, with their sights set on the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games and an anticipated influx of foreign visitors, are working to make public transportation and popular destinations more accessible. In this series, Barry Joshua Grisdale, a 39-year-old Tokyo resident who uses a wheelchair, navigates iconic locations to assess progress in creating a barrier-free environment.


Canadian-born Barry Joshua Grisdale selected Asakusa’s famed Sensoji temple to be the first destination for Inclusive Tokyo.

The iconic temple in the capital's Taito Ward is a must-visit stop for foreign visitors.

For wheelchair users like Grisdale, who prefers to be referred to as Josh, differences in level and elevation can prove to be a nightmare when trying to get around.

In recent years, Sensoji has worked hard to improve access in the temple grounds to people with disabilities.

For example, it leveled an approximately 10-centimeter gap under the massive red lantern at the Kaminarimon gate, the main gateway to the temple.

The temple carried out the work during large-scale renovations six years ago so wheelchair users and people with strollers can move around freely.

Josh was ecstatic to learn that he is now able to take a roundabout path outside the Kaminarimon gate to reach Nakamise-dori, a street with countless shops lining a passageway to the temple's main hall.

“Wheelchair users can now get to Nakamise-dori without any difficulties. I’m very happy that this historic temple has been renovated with an awareness on accessibility.”

After navigating Nakamise-dori and passing the 22-meter-high Hozomon gate, Josh arrived at Hondo, the temple's main hall that features a massive roof.

It was little past 10 a.m. and the temple grounds were already packed with visitors snapping photos.

“Wheelchair users tend not to be noticed by tourists and are at risk of being bumped into,” Josh pointed out. “Especially if you are a wheelchair user, I recommend getting here early.”

Josh journeyed on past the eternal incense burner and reached the 18 stone steps that lead to the inside of the main hall.

Up until 17 years ago, visitors in wheelchair had no choice but to offer prayers at the base of the steps.

Now, a vermillion-colored building houses an elevator.

This allows wheelchair users and people pushing baby strollers, as well as the elderly, to reach the main hall to make offerings and prayers.

“The ceiling of the main hall is 10 meters high,” Josh noted as he entered the cavernous structure.

“It is absolutely beautiful. If you look at the roof, there are tons of different paintings,” he said.

Before going into the main hall, Josh strongly recommends that visitors “look outside at the rest of temple grounds” to enjoy the view.

Shojun Shimizutani, who is with Sensoji's General Affairs Department, greeted Josh in front of the main hall.

According to Shimizutani, foreign visitor numbers are rising every year. Of the 30 million or so tourists who visit annually, an estimated 8 million are from overseas, he said.

“Recently, I have been seeing more tourists from other Asian countries who are elderly or disabled," he said. "Our engagement in creating a barrier-free environment is important and we hope to make further efforts in the future.”


Barry Joshua Grisdale was born in Toronto in 1981. He fell ill shortly after birth and has a remaining disability that impedes movement of his arms and legs. He has used a wheelchair since he was 4 years old.

At the age of 19, Josh visited Japan with his father for the first time. He was particularly touched when a member of staff at a train station waited to guide him to the entrance. He felt Japan was “barrier-free at heart.”

Josh came to Japan again in summer 2007, and obtained Japanese citizenship in 2016. He currently works at a care facility in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward. He runs a website called Accessible Japan that provides sightseeing information for foreign nationals with disabilities.