Can tourists travel to Japan? Virtual travel makes it possible

Travelers may not be able to attend this year’s Summer Olympics, but they can still experience Japan virtually.

As the global pandemic marches, tourist attractions and enterprising tour guides find ways to emulate the look, feel and taste of a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Tourism and shopping

For 2,000 Japanese yen ($ 18), seated travelers can take a virtual tour of the Asakusa district via one-hour interactive tours carried out by the Tokyo Localized tourism company.

The tour takes viewers through the narrow streets of Asakusa, one of the six remaining geisha districts in Tokyo. The area also houses the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple; Asakusa Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park; and Hoppy Street, famous for its yakitori skewers and theirs homonymous drink, similar to beer.

The kaminarimon of the Sensoji Temple – or “throne gate” – was first built about 1000 years ago.

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The tours are led by Dai Miyamoto, the company’s founder, who said he buys and sends items to online tourists who reimburse him via credit card.

Viewers can request online tours of other locations through Online tour of Japan. Fees are $ 150 per hour, plus shipping fees from Kobe.

Companies like Tokyo Localized and Japan Online Tour send Japanese products home to online tourists.

Courtesy of Nikhil Shah

Founder Kazue Kaneko said she has a client who loves Kyoto. She takes him on a virtual tour here, where he buys Godzilla figurines, matcha (a finely ground green tea) and other products before sending them to his client’s home in Los Angeles, he said.

“Now he’s my repeat customer,” he told CNBC.

Pass in Shibuya Crossing

Apart from London Abbey Street, it is rare for a road crossing to gain international acclaim. Yet one of Tokyo’s most recognizable places, Shibuya Crossing, joins the ranks.

The crowd walks to Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan.

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Considered “the busiest intersection in the world,” the crossing can accommodate about 3,000 people at any light interval. The outbursts of organized chaos symbolize Japan’s dedication to the “Four Ps” – patience, education, punctuality and precision – attributes that govern one of the most densely packed societies in the world.

For a 360-degree view of Shibuya Crossing, check out CNBC’s interactive feature, which includes interesting facts about the intersection.

Astute readers will find no less than eight people wearing masks, even if the photography is ahead of the global pandemic. The story explains why.

Sliding furoshiki

Virtual tours rarely come with memories, but those who sign up for them furoshiki online workshop a customized package is sent from Japan before the start of the class.

Wrapping precious objects in furoshiki, or decorative canvas squares, is a centuries-old Japanese tradition. Today, the practice is seen as an environmentally friendly way wrap small objects without using paper or plastic wrap, although they can also be used as small bags and decor for the home.

Furoshiki cloth is commonly used for wrapping gifts, although unlike wrapping paper, the cloth is traditionally returned to the donor.

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This one-hour live class taught in English teaches participants how to wrap gifts and make a bag in furoshiki. The cost is 10,000 Japanese yen ($ 91) for the class, two furoshiki pants and a pair of rings.

Go to Shinkansen

The speed and punctuality of the Shinkansen have made Japan’s bullet trains so popular that riding one is considered a tourist attraction in itself.

Trains run regularly at speeds of 200 miles per hour and have a reputation for arriving and departing on time – at the exact second.

A live cam of and railway roads in Settsu, a city in Osaka prefecture, shows the speed of train travel. Once the sound of an approaching train is audible, spectators can see it for about eight seconds before disappearing into the distance.

Online travelers can also enter the Shinkansen. Google Maps allows viewers to find out the length of the train to see how the cabins vary according to class and comfort.

Museums and gardens

Online viewers can visit present and past exhibits at the Sand Museum at the Tottori Sand Dunes.

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Visitors can explore the virtual walkways of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Japan.

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The neighborhoods of Tokyo

Only in Japan, A YouTube channel run by American John Daub, broadcasts live the Olympic Games, bringing viewers in real time to the Olympic Stadium and the red carpet of the opening ceremony.

Another YouTube channel, Japan Walk, has several live camera operators wandering the streets of Japan, through major tourist destinations and alleyways, businessmen riding bicycles and women in kimonos, gazing at restaurants and in the shop window down the street.

Explore Hiroshima

Striking photographers at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum tells the story of the world’s first atomic bomb, dropped on the city of southern Japan on August 6, 1945, near the end of World War II.

A virtual tour of the museum, entitled “Future Memory”, brings viewers into the dark corridors showcasing burnt clothing, toys for children and other items recovered from the blast that killed about 140,000 people. English subtitles capture testimonies of those who survived the explosion and the life stories of those who did not.

A virtual tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum allows viewers to examine objects recovered from the wreckage in 3D.

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One of the best online park tours in Japan is by Hiroshima’s Shukkeien Garden. A location map provides a bird’s eye view of the area, leaving viewers practically immersed to see at 360 degrees the tea houses in the garden, the lawns and cherries.

Virtual tea classes

Japanese tea ceremonies are high-tech while instructors turn to the Internet to explain the nation’s tea traditions.

Virtual classes teach viewers how to prepare and drink Japanese matcha at home.

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Japanese cultural experiences company Maikoya directs a 45 minute class with Zoom, where for 4,900 Japanese yen ($ 44) viewers can learn the traditional way to drink from a cup of tea from a live kimono-clad teacher in Kyoto.

For 10,000 yen ($ 90), Camellia Tea Ceremony, a tea company with two tea houses in Kyoto, sends matcha, a collection of tea, whips and seasonal sweets to participants ’homes before the interactive tea ceremony begins.

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