What's the Latest Development?
For three years, Tokyo-based Unagi Travel has catered to a very specific type of clientele: For as little as US$35 (not including the cost of the trip to Japan) a person can send their favorite stuffed animal on a specially-designed tour, where it will join other stuffed animals on visits to various real-world destinations. For example, next month a $45 Tokyo tour will take visitors to the Shibuya shopping district and the historic Asakusa district, among other locations. Back at home, their human companions can follow along on the agency's Facebook page, and when they return, they'll be carrying a commemorative CD filled with pictures of their trip as a souvenir.
What's the Big Idea?
According to Unagi Travel owner Sonoe Azuma, the service she offers has proven therapeutic in a number of ways. Among the 40 percent of people she estimates are repeat clients is a wheelchair-bound woman who was encouraged to leave her house and visit Azuma after viewing her stuffed animal in individual and group photos. Another family said that seeing his stuffed animal travel helped encourage a young boy to become more independent. Both are examples of what Ochanomizu University professor Nario Ihara suggests is a helpful psychological "next step" for those inhibited by illness or other factors.
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