Stuffed toy tours resonate around the world

Stuffed toy tours resonate around the world

A unique travel agency for stuffed animals is attracting attention from around the world.

Through her company Unagi Travel, Sonoe Azuma takes stuffed animals on trips and reports on their tours via social media networks to bring happiness to their owners. The animals' owners come from various backgrounds, including people who cannot travel due to illness, and draw inspiration from the little travelers.

A former bank employee, Azuma got the idea for her travel agency after she took her stuffed eel, or unagi in Japanese, with her on trips and put the eel's travelogue on her blog.

Her business soon became popular throughout the nation, and was featured in The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News last October. Overseas media also began to write about her tours, and since then about 100 people in foreign countries have used her company.

"It's amazing that such a diverse range of people like my service," the 39-year-old said.

Azuma's business has attracted particular attention in the United States, thanks to a popular TV programme that covered it. A primary school in a disadvantaged area of New Mexico dispatched a stuffed animal to Japan so its students, who have little chance to experience family trips, could experience the journey vicariously. A man in Los Angeles who spent his childhood in Tokyo had his teddy bear make a "homecoming."

US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy was also interested in Azuma's tours. She met stuffed animals from the United States and tweeted about them.

"I hope I can transmit information about Japan to the world through my tours," Azuma said. Her dream is expanding.

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