A remark made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a Group of 20 dinner that the installation of elevators at Osaka Castle was a "big mistake" has been criticized as lacking consideration for disabled people and especially inappropriate ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics next year.
"Although Osaka Castle was mostly destroyed by fire due to chaos caused by the Meiji Restoration 150 years ago, the tenshukaku (the tallest tower) was faithfully restored about 90 years ago to how it was in the 16th century," Abe said at the dinner he hosted Friday as chairman of the G-20 summit in Osaka. "But they made only one big mistake -- they went so far as to install elevators."
Author Hirotada Ototake, who was born without limbs, said in a Twitter post that the remark made him "feel very sad." He has been calling on public facilities to become barrier-free.
Others also wrote on social media that the prime minister's use of the word "mistake" clearly showed his lack of understanding of a barrier-free society. "Elderly people cannot climb up the staircase," one post read.
The leaders of opposition parties also criticized Abe's remark, as official campaigning for the House of Councillors election is slated to begin on Thursday.
"It is imperative to promote barrier-free access in this day and age. (Abe's remark) suggests that he does not look after disabled people," Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said at a party rally for the coming upper house election on July 21.
Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Democratic Party for the People, told reporters that the remark was inappropriate and he should have been more careful about the wording, as Japan is gaining more international attention ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year.
But some people defended the remark, saying perhaps Abe wanted to highlight that the elevators were the only difference between the restored tower and the original.
His G-20 peers at the dinner party held near the castle, a symbol of the western Japan city, did not show any noticeable reaction to the prime minister's comments.
The installation of elevators and the restoration of historic landmarks has been a point of contention in Nagoya, where its mayor is aiming to re-create the original wooden structure of Nagoya Castle's tenshukaku tower and has refused to install elevators.
A local group representing disabled people submitted around 13,600 signatures to the city earlier this year in an attempt to change the plan and allow elevators. The city remains reluctant, saying it will achieve a barrier-free environment by using new technologies.