Community Development through Accessibility Enhancement
Takayama City

The Problem

Takayama City was first confronted with the issue of an aging population at the beginning of the 1990s. The proportion of the population aged 65 years or older reached 16.7% in 1995. (This figure applies to the Takayama City population under its previous structure before local municipalities were consolidated). This figure was higher than the national average of 14.5% at the time, and projections forecast that the population would subsequently age even more dramatically. The city’s population aged 65 years or older had in fact risen to 19.6% five years later and, with the consolidation of nine neighboring municipalities, to 27.0% 15 years later in 2010. (Figures cited here are from the national Japanese census.) As the population ages, an increasingly large segment of aged people are expected to carry a Certificate of Disability. For these reasons, we saw a pressing need to build a community designed to be safe for the elderly and persons with physical disabilities in order to ensure the comfort of this growing segment of the population.

Takayama City is also a tourist destination known for the one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals, the Takayama Festival, and for the old buildings that make up its designated Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings. The city boasts a great many tourist resources cultivated by traditional Japanese culture, and it is visited each year by a large number of Japanese and overseas tourists. Population aging is a problem throughout Japan and one that impacts the city’s tourism industry. Since the 1990s, the number of schools taking field trips to the city had decreased, and the number of visitors had fallen off. As the tourist population also ages, an increasingly large number of visitors are expected to have physical disabilities. Therefore in order to ensure a sustainable future as a tourist destination by increasing the number of tourists that the city can entertain, as well as to continue to develop as a municipality, we saw the need to create an even more accommodating city environment in which the elderly and physically disabled, both residents and tourists, can easily and comfortably live and visit.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
This initiative is designed to respond to the needs of aging residents and make the city more accommodating to tourists of all types by building a safe, secure, and comfortable community environment. The initiative is based on the idea that a “town easy to live in is one easy to visit.”

We began by conducting monitor tours designed to identify exactly what barriers existed and what places and facilities would make Takayama City inaccessible. As monitors for these tours, we recruited individuals with physical disabilities and non-Japanese from outside of Takayama, realizing that local residents might be so used to the city’s environment that it could be difficult for them to notice potential barriers. Monitors were invited to stay in Takayama, tour the city, and provide feedback on their experience. (The city paid for transportation expenses, while all other expenses were borne by the monitors themselves.) To date, some 500 individuals have taken part in a total of 32 monitor tours.

Using the feedback gained from these tours, Takayama City began by improving infrastructural aspects of the city, such as renovating roads and upgrading public toilets to make them more accessible. The city also provides subsidies to the private sector to help offset the expenses associated with modifying facilities to make them more accessible and to provide multilingual services. The initiative includes the creation of a multilingual website (12 languages as of December 2011) with information on tourism in Takayama, the installation of multilingual tourism information boards, and the introduction of an information terminal on accessible tourism.

In March 2005, the city shifted its focus from eliminating existing barriers to preventing the creation of new barriers, enacting the Regulations for Community Development through Accessibility Enhancement. These regulations represent Takayama City’s unique approach to ensuring total accessibility.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
With regard to the monitor tours, the results of which formed the initial proposals for specific improvements in Takayama City accessibility, the Hida Takayama Tokyo Office planned and coordinated the tours and managed the details in the Tokyo area. The Takayama City Office Planning Section provided support and handled the research in Takayama City. These tours were designed so that those people most directly affected by the need for a barrier-free environment were the ones to identify the issues and problems involved, and Takayama City then addressed the issues.

The opinions expressed by the outside monitors on the tours were the basis for the development and implementation of this Takayama City initiative. The city, however, took great pains to incorporate the perspective of local residents by seeking out the opinions of local disability support groups and other organizations during the policymaking process.

Takayama City is not only focused on improving its public facilities, but it also provides subsidies for eliminating barriers and improving access to information at private facilities, as well. The city also implements training sessions to raise people’s awareness of accessibility issues at private tourism businesses.

The beneficiaries of this initiative were all local residents and visitors to the city.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The main objective of the initiative was to realize our basic vision — the idea that a “town easy to live in is one easy to visit.” To do this, our strategy was to create a city that is comfortable for all residents, one that residents want to continue to live in, and one that is comfortable for visitors, as well. Our focus was to not only meet the needs of an aging population and an increasing number of physically disabled in Takayama City, but also to ensure that visitors to the city are able to enjoy an even more comfortable stay.

The plans called for the initiative to begin by identifying the elements in the city that restrict access and then mapping their locations. The first step in implementation was the series of tours in which individuals with physical disabilities and non-Japanese from outside of Takayama City participate as monitors. (Transportation expenses were paid by the city, while all other expenses were borne by the monitors themselves.) Since 1997, 32 monitor tours have taken place with some 500 individuals visiting Takayama to participate.

Reviewing the list of proposals suggested by the monitors, Takayama City began with what could be started on at once, focusing first on public infrastructure (road repairs, accessibility of public toilets, etc.). In order to address barriers to information, the city added multiple languages to its official website (a total of 12 languages as of December 2011), set up a terminal to provide information on accessible tourism around the city, and installed tourism information boards in four languages.

In order to help private institutions make their facilities accessible to all residents and visitors, the city provides subsidies to help offset the expenses incurred in modifying facilities and equipment to eliminate barriers. These subsidies serve a dual purpose: helping to raise awareness of the need for accessibility in the private sector and reducing the financial burden involved in renovation. These measures were implemented as part of city policy.

To reflect a shift in focus from eliminating existing barriers to ensuring that no new barriers are created, the city enacted Regulations for Community Development through Accessibility Enhancement in 2005. These regulations apply to the city, residents, and businesses, and create stricter codes for developing buildings in Takayama City than the standards under national law. (These regulations add new building categories, include smaller buildings, and create new standards.)

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
1996, July Hida Takayama Tourism Promotion Tokyo Office (Hida Takayama Tokyo Office) established as base for gathering information in Tokyo on both social services and tourism promotion.

1997, November First monitor tour with group of 17 individuals with physical disabilities from Tokyo. Tours have been implemented once or twice a year every year since then.
Tourism information website in English launches; preparations for multilingual website begin.

1998 Takayama City Lodging Facility Accessibility Support Subsidies established.
Barrier-free welcome pamphlet for tourism businesses in Takayama City, Omotenashi 365 Nichi (365 Days of Hospitality), created and then later revamped with name change.

1999 City announces Building Barrier-Free Community policy
In addition to ongoing maintenance to equip roads with sidewalks, work was done to narrow the spaces between the bars in street grates (to prevent wheelchairs, baby strollers, and high heels from becoming stuck in the grooves), lay color pavement to distinguish between pedestrian and car lanes (to get rid of sidewalk curbs), and put electricity lines underground.
2000 System of Subsidies for a Safe, Secure and Comfortable Takayama City established.

2001 Installation of information terminal on accessible tourism begins.

2003 Upgrades to wheelchair accessible rolling stock for local social services buses start.

2004 Three-year plan for universal e-station business begins in collaboration with the Council for Accessible Transportation for the Disabled.

2005 Official city website upgraded to comply with JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards).
Regulations for Community Development through Accessibility Enhancement enacted (strengthens building development standards, creates system of certification, and establishes regulatory committee).

2009 Takayama National Highway Office works with private companies to implement Independent Mobility Support Project demonstration.
Joint sponsorship with United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) of ESCAP Takayama Congress on the Creation of an Inclusive and Accessible Community in Asia and the Pacific.
System of Subsidies to Promote International Hospitality established.
Book of the Art and Science of Hospitality (a how-to manual for businesses in the city to promote hospitality for individuals with physical disabilities and non-Japanese) published.

2010 Tenth information terminal on accessible tourism installed.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The main obstacles we encountered concerned circumstances where eliminating one barrier created a new barrier.

For example, although eliminating sidewalk curbs made it easier for individuals in wheelchairs to use roads shared by pedestrians and cars, the lack of sidewalks conversely made navigating more difficult for visually impaired individuals. Visually impaired individuals told us that the curb had in fact been the main marker they used to tell where the pedestrian lane ended and the car lanes began. Once the curb was eliminated and the street surface made flat, they could no longer tell where they were walking. The city overcame this obstacle by introducing curbs of less than 2cm, rather than eliminating them completely.

In addition, Takayama City has a cold climate and snow in the winter. Local residents had long used the gutters to dispose of snow removed from around their houses. Once the spaces between the bars in the street grates that cover these gutters were narrowed to prevent wheelchairs, baby strollers, and high heels from becoming stuck in the grooves, residents complained that the narrower spaces made it difficult to use the gutters for snow disposal. The city resolved this obstacle by attaching handles to the grates so that residents could remove and replace them as needed.

Another obstacle that we encountered was an increase in street parking once sidewalk curbs were eliminated and cars could more easily drive into the pedestrian lanes. Cars parked in the pedestrian lanes make them inaccessible to pedestrians. Overcoming this obstacle involved promoting more considerate behavior. We addressed local residents directly through ads in city papers, on FM radio, and on cable television. We also published and distributed an educational pamphlet that addressed this topic. Residents have gradually become more considerate, and street parking has gradually decreased.

Over the course of implementing this initiative, the city was regularly confronted with new issues like those described above. Different groups identified conflicting problems, and the elimination of existing barriers served to create new barriers and problems. In implementing the initiative, there is no single correct answer or approach, and achieving accessibility will be a constant work in progress. Recognizing this, the city will continue to push this initiative forward, regularly reevaluating and monitoring safety, security, and comfort in Takayama City.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
In terms of human resources, people with physical disabilities and non-Japanese living outside of Takayama City participated in the monitor tours that launched this initiative. The key benefit for the participants was an inexpensive trip to sightsee in Takayama City with roundtrip transportation costs covered by the city. For the city, the key benefit was obtaining a direct and frank assessment from an outsider’s perspective without having to go through an intermediary.

With regard to infrastructural improvements, the bulk of large-scale road repairs were funded by subsidies from the national government. Takayama City provided the financing for improving access to information (such as upgrading the city website to comply with Japanese Industrial Standards, launching tourism website in 12 languages, creating multilingual tourist pamphlets and information boards, installing an information terminal on accessible tourism, creating a hospitality pamphlet, and holding training sessions for businesses in the city).

By approaching community building as municipal policy, long-term improvements could be made in a systematic and continuous manner according to priorities set by the city. This was also an advantage in terms of technical resources, as the work involved could be allocated to specific departments within the Takayama City Office. The upgrading of public toilets to make them more accessible was assigned to the Water and Sewage Department; equipping roads with sidewalks was assigned to the Department of Road Maintenance; and enhancing the tourism information website was assigned to the Tourism Department. This allotment of duties made for more efficient implementation of the initiative.
A barrier-free community entails improving accessibility in private facilities, as well as in public facilities. The city therefore established several types of subsidies to encourage improvements in the private sector. Subsidies to Make Takayama City Safe, Secure and Comfortable established in 2000 cover half of the business expenses, or up to two million yen, incurred in improvements made to hallways, paths, and passageways in facilities used by the general public in large numbers, senior citizens, and persons with physical disabilities in order to comply with new municipal standards. By 2010, approximately 44 million yen had been granted for 34 projects under this subsidy package. Subsidies to Promote International Hospitality established in 2009 cover two-thirds of expenses, or up to 200,000 yen, incurred by private businesses for signage, restaurant menus and other items in languages other than Japanese, as well as for training staff in providing international hospitality. By 2010, approximately 2.8 million yen had been granted for 16 projects under this subsidy package.

The initiative also includes education for children, with tutorial pamphlets created and distributed for use in elementary school classes throughout Takayama City.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
A municipal policy approach to building a barrier-free community establishes a financial base for the implementation of this initiative and makes possible systematic community building based on uniform standards. Planning and implementation can also be adjusted to fit the city’s financial situation at any given time, so that the initiative can continue smoothly over the long-term.

In addition, Regulations for Community Development through Accessibility Enhancement enacted in 2005 provide a foundation for community building and articulate the city’s intention and direction in this regard. These regulations are designed to nurture an environment in which everyone is respected as an individual and able to live or visit in safety, security and comfort. The regulations also promote a unified approach for city officials, local residents, and businesses to follow in building a barrier-free community in terms of both physical and language accessibility.

These regulations create stricter codes for maintaining infrastructure in Takayama City than the standards under national law. Although Japanese law stipulates certain standards for buildings that are more than 2,000 square meters in area, these regulations apply to three different size categories depending on the type of facility. Certain regulations govern buildings of 1,000 square meters; others cover buildings of 500 square meters; and some cover buildings of any size. Additional standards have been created to specifically address the city’s character as a tourist destination and its cold climate. These stricter regulations will spur renovation of city buildings to meet accessibility standards so that, over the course of many years, Takayama City will move closer and closer to becoming a completely barrier-free community.

Although this type of initiative is unique to Takayama City, it could be replicated by other parties and in other locations. In 2009, Takayama City hosted the ESCAP Takayama Congress on the Creation of an Inclusive and Accessible Community in Asia and the Pacific, cosponsoring the meeting with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The congress was attended by the 10 ESCAP member nations, as well as by participants from China, the U.S., the UK, and Japan. The congress conveyed the lessons learned in implementing the Takayama City initiative and included debate and discussion to identify effective strategies and tailor them for application in other locations.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
A primary reason for the success of this initiative is that it aims to ensure the future development of Takayama City by improving accessibility to make the city comfortable not only for city residents, but also for tourists who visit from other places. This initiative integrates the tourism industry, an area of business that is of particular importance to the city’s economy, into the city’s efforts to meet the needs of its aging population. Social services and tourism are two sectors that do not normally intersect, but they were united under this initiative. This unique approach tailored the initiative to the city’s particular circumstances and helped ensure its success.

The second reason for the initiative’s success was its starting point. The first step, the monitor tours, brought persons with physical disabilities and non-Japanese from outside of Takayama directly to the city to tour the area and give firsthand accounts of the barriers that hindered accessibility. Typically, local governments in Japan will draw on the opinions of experts and specialists and spend inordinate amounts of time developing their plans. Conversely, inviting the people directly involved to voice their opinions runs the risk that local residents will overlook barriers within the city, given the fact that the environment is likely to be so familiar to them as to make some barriers imperceptible. To avoid both of these drawbacks, Takayama City chose to bring in individuals who are unfamiliar with the city and its facilities to identify barriers to be removed. We found this to be a more immediate and efficient method of policy-making.

By implementing this initiative, we learned that in working to build a barrier-free community, new issues will constantly arise. For instance, just like what we experienced, eliminating one barrier may create another new barrier. We must recognize that this type of initiative has no endpoint and that there is no definitive answer to some of the issues it attempts to address. Achieving accessibility will be a constant work in progress, and we must continue to push this initiative forward, regularly reevaluating and monitoring safety, security, and comfort in Takayama City.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Takayama City
Institution Type:   Public Organization  
Contact Person:   Machiko Sakaue
Title:   Assistant Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   +81-577-35-3131 / +81-577-35-3174
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   Hanaoka-cho 2-18
Postal Code:   506-8555
City:   Takayama City
State/Province:   Gifu Prefecture
Country:   Japan

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