Stuffed animals are cooped up! They want to ditch your bed and bookshelves. They want to see the world. They want to travel. And, in Japan, they can.
Enter Unagi Travel. It dubs itself as a "travel agency for stuffed animals." For the past three years, Sonoe Azuma, 38, has been taking stuffed animals on holidays and day trips. This allows the owners of the stuffed animals, some of which are physically impaired, to live vicariously through the plush toys.
Travelogues are uploaded to Facebook, where the owners can follow what activities their stuffed animals are up to.
"So far, more than 200 stuffed animals have participated in the trips, and some of them sign up regularly. I would say 40 per cent of my business is repeat customers," Azuma told The Yomiuri Shimbun. She now organizes 10 trips a month and has even taken stuffed animals abroad to the US and Europe.
Azuma got the idea for the tours after her blog, which followed the exploits of her stuffed animal eel, was a bit hit among friends and readers.
The stuffed animal tours offer encouragement to their owners.
"I want to see and walk around the sights that I viewed through my stuffed animal's journeys someday," a 51-year-old woman from Saga Prefecture told Yomiuri. The woman had become a recluse because an illness had made walking difficult. However, she was inspired to rehabilitate her legs and go out in the world after seeing her stuffed animal on an Unagi Travel tour.
"Seeing my stuffed animal travelling encouraged me," she said. "I began to think that I should do what I can do, instead of lamenting over things that I can't."
Others said the tours helped them overcome social anxiety and even depression.
Tours are priced at between around $20 and $55, depending on the trip and the activity. There are also "mystery tours," which are priced at $35, and involve your stuffed friend getting on an aeroplane and jetting off to a mysterious location. And, no, they don't need passports!
There are travel restrictions, such as each stuffed animal must weigh under 250 grams, and you are responsible for getting your plush toy to Tokyo, where Unagi Travel is located.
Stuffed animals that participate get a commemorative photograph, along with a CD-ROM filled with pics and precious memories.
Unagi Travel [Japanese Official Site] Unagi Travel [English Official Site] Heartwarming tours: Stuffed animal tours inspire owners [Yomiuri via TokyoReporter]