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Barrier-Free Reforms and Societal Demand for Legalistic Governance in Japan


Celeste Arrington, George Washington University

Recent reforms to improve the accessibility of public transportation and buildings in Japan exemplify a shift away from informal, bureaucratic, and non-binding “soft law” measures and toward more legalistic governance, which includes enforceable rules and formalized procedures. Binding rules and barrier-free standards apply to more facilities; government bodies must craft plans for “hard” measures to enhance the accessibility of the built environment and “soft” measures to reduce prejudice; policy design and assessment committees must include disabled persons; and even training program to cultivate “barrier-free mindsets” (kokoro no bariafurī) have become mandatory. Through a qualitative analysis of policy deliberations, legislation, lawsuits, interviews, documents from disabled persons’ organizations, news coverage, and Japanese scholarship, this case shows how activists and lawyers are contributing to the legalistic turn in governance by demanding and using more formalized regulations and participatory policy processes.