Japanese Travel Agency For Stuffed Animals Is on Sweet Mission

Unagi Travel provides a virtual travel experience for clients.

October 23, 2013, 11:33 AM
PHOTO: Unagi Travel is a Japanese travel agency that takes stuffed animals on trips when their owners are unable to leave home themselves.
Unagi Travel is a Japanese travel agency that takes stuffed animals on trips when their owners are unable to leave home themselves.
Unagi Travel/Facebook

— -- Like most travelers posting photographs on Facebook, their faces are pressed up to the windows of their tour vans, they're smiling out over beautiful vistas and soaking up the steam from a hot spring during a brief respite.

Unlike other travelers, these are less than a foot tall and have plush or felted fur.

Unagi Travel is a Japanese travel agency for stuffed animals, sending favorite toys on adventurous trips when an owner is too ill or unable to do so himself. Founder Sonoe Azuma has been taking stuffed animals away with her for the last three years so that their owners can live vicariously through them.

A hippo, "Kaba san," from Osaka, has taken the most excursions, Azuma told ABC News, acknowledging that there are many repeat customers. The farthest she has ever taken a stuffed animal was to Oita prefecture, in the southern area of Japan.

The trips range in cost from $35 to $55 per stuffed animal, and includes return shipping as well as memento photograph. While the stuffed friend is away, the owners can follow their travels by looking for updates on the Unagi Travel Facebook page.

"I love Shibuya! Thank you for showing it to me! Brings back memories," one fan wrote beneath an image from a trip to Tokyo.

"You made it! Is it raining? You two wear lovely hats," inquired another beneath a photo with twin plush dogs flanking a Buddha statue.

Unagi Travel is not the first to venture into the world of stuffed animal travel. Tomio Okamura -- who is half Japanese, half Czech -- launched a similar business, Toy Traveling, in Prague in 2010. And Teddy Tour Berlin offers packages out of Germany.

But those outfits market themselves as economic alternatives to human travel as opposed to a virtual experience for those unable to for health reasons.

In some cases, clients of Unagi Travel have been able to join their stuffed animals on return trips to destinations, Azume said.

"Not regularly but I do trips to Tohoku, the area which was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami," she said. "One client visited the area several months after the tour. Others visited tourist cities such as Yokohama."

"Recently I asked 25 clients if they became interested in traveling to the areas their stuffed animals visited," she added, "and all 25 of them answered yes."

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