Japan hosts one of the most unusual travel agencies in the world, with the Unagi Travel company having only one kind of clients: stuffed animals.
Entrepreneur and toy travel agent Sonoe Azuma takes stuffed animals to various highlights and then posts photos and text in real-time on her Facebook page for $20 to $50 per trip.
During a recent package tour, the 38-year-old entrepreneur took her clients – a small toy dragon, frog and mouse, mailed in by owners from the United States and Japan – to Tokyo’s popular Asakusa Kannon temple, according to the international press.
“I wanted to provide adventures for everyone, including people who are physically challenged,” she said. “If their stuffed animals could travel all over the world, I thought it would be a communication tool.”
Azuma’s newly launched Unagi Travel offers four to five trips every month.
“I try to treat (the toy) as a person,” said Azuma, who starts every tour by seating the toys at a conference table for an “orientation,” complete with homemade tour pamphlets. She then takes pictures of the toys in various circumstances such as relaxing with a glass of beer or having a tea cake.
From her point of view, running package trips for teddy bears, Pokemon dolls and Disney characters has plenty of upside: No whiny customers. No clueless tourists gone missing. No bathroom or meal breaks. And reservations are quite easy to make: a single ticket for the tour guide and her purse-sized menagerie is enough.
Although she did not recover the money she spent on starting the business, Azuma is convinced that things will get better, as she thinks there are many people that would be pleased to send their stuffed animal abroad instead of the owners going there by themselves.
“Lots of people have a special stuffed animal in their lives,” she said.