(By Arielle Busetto for JAPAN Forward)

Josh Grisdale is a Japanese citizen originally from a small town in Canada. He was in a wheelchair, but this did not stop him from traveling to Japan and falling in love with the country — so much so that he moved here, permanently.

Recently, Grisdale attracted attention by creating Accessible Japan, a travel information website for people with disabilities.

JAPAN Forward sat down with him to discuss how his incredible adventure in Japan began, the philosophy behind Accessible Japan, and the challenges that remain to be overcome.

How It All Began

Welcoming us with tea, our host tells us that his first interaction with Japan came from a course he took in high school.

Grisdale divulged that, although the teacher wasn’t very strict, “his love of Japan was quite infectious, so it kind of rubbed off on me.” Reflecting in hindsight with a smile, Grisdale even acknowledged that, were it not for the class being so relaxed, perhaps he would not have kept up with it. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

It was right after high school graduation, back in 2000, that then-young Grisdale came to Japan for the first time with his father. He recalls the trip with affection, noting that the functioning train system he found here allowed him to taste independence.

“In Canada, you need a car to do anything, which means I can never do anything alone. Having a train, even though it wasn’t perfect, meant that there were still a lot of places I could go.”

A few years later, in 2003, when he came back to Japan with a friend, the bullet train was already very accessible. “They would have a seat removed so that a wheelchair can fit, the same carriage had an accessible washroom and a wider entrance. I was quite impressed.”

After another trip to Japan with his parents upon graduating from university, it looked like Grisdale’s fate was sealed. In 2007 he decided he was going to move to Japan.

The Move, and Adapting to Japanese Life

When he initially moved to Japan, Grisdale occupied himself by working at a company called Wheelchairs of Hope. The company recycles perfectly usable wheelchairs it receives from local governments in Japan and takes them to places which need them all over Asia.

In 2012, though, he moved to his current occupation — webmaster at a facility that cares for the elderly. Grisdale joked that, although his background was in applied mathematics, “I always seem to become the web-guy!”

More recently, in 2016, Grisdale took the step of becoming a Japanese national. He told us that when asking himself where he wanted to be in 50 years, “I realized I wanted to be in Japan for the long haul.” Therefore, it seemed to be the practical thing to do.

He explained to us how he wanted to be involved in the future of Japan. And he described how really excited he was when he voted for the first time — so much so, he said chuckling, that, “I was almost disappointed when I went to vote and nobody stopped me by asking, ‘You are not Japanese?!’”

The Start of ‘Accessible Japan’

It was in 2015, when he was already feeling comfortable in Japanese language and culture, that he started the website, Accessible Japan.

He said that at the beginning it was nothing more than a blog. “When I traveled around, I would often read someone else’s blog and find useful information. I thought, this is something I can do.”

By - Ben K.