I ultimately don’t physically need to use a wheelchair, at least not yet. However, since moving to Japan, I have used one, upon occasion, mostly to get round large department stores.
When I first moved here in August 2012, and was living in Ome City, Tokyo one of the first places I visited was my local ‘Seiyu’ store in Kabe. Seiyu is a supermarket and department store chain based in Tokyo. For those readers from the USA or Britain it looks a bit like a Wal-mart or Asda, there is Wal-mart supermarket, a usually a few floors selling ‘George’ clothes. I noticed on my first visit a number of fold-away wheelchairs in the entrance, impressed by their availability.
On my third visit or so, and first without my wife, I stumbled in and a young female staff member motions towards the wheelchairs. I don’t really mind this, I can look physically encumbered at the best of times, but I was only going to get something for tea, so dismissed her with a ‘no, araigato gozaimasu’ and walked on. No sooner had I done so, but the young server was taken to one side and appeared to be given a dressing down by her line manager. A week or so goes by and it’s back to Seiyu for a meal for tea. Once again, I am greeted in the entrance, but the same female server, this time with what I can only describe as desperate pleading eyes, motions towards the wheelchairs stacked in the corner and sighs ‘kurumaisu…?’ ‘wheelchair?’ She says no more, probably sensing that may Japan is really not up to the task of understanding her. A pause. I think, look at the wheelchair, which I really don’t need, and look back at her. I’m about to repeat my ‘no, arigato gozaimasu’ from last week, and then I see him. The middle manager from last week, looming in the background. I felt sorry for her, and didn’t want her to get into trouble. I turn to the girl again. And then ‘Hai!’ ‘Yes!’ emerges from my mouth.
She assembled the device, points exclaiming ‘Hai dozo’, motioning for me to get in, and then wheeled me around the shop for the next two hours. My own PA and Valet, even helping me get together the right money when paying for goods.
I feel it worth mentioning at this point that the server was incredibly cute. I am married, and boringly faithful, but still, I have eyes. I also feel that you don’t really want to discourage good customer service. It is not a service offered everywhere, so for the sake of the next foreigner with a disability who may need it, why not take it? This is what I tell myself. That surely, is a better reason that it feeds my ego to be wheeled around by an incredibly cute young woman?