Can tourists travel to Japan? Virtual tours make 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 progresses, tourist attractions and enterprising tour guides are finding 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), travelers with armchairs can take a virtual tour of the Asakusa district through one-hour interactive tours by the Tokyo Localized travel company.

The tour takes viewers through the narrow streets of Asakusa, one of the six remaining geisha districts in Tokyo. The area is also home to Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo; Asakusa Hanayashiki, the oldest amusement park in Japan; and Hoppy Street, famous for its yakitori skewers and its eponymous, beer-like drink.

The kaminarimon of the Sensoji Temple (or “gate of thunder”) was first built about 1,000 years ago.

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

Viewers can request online visits to other locations via Japan Online Tour. Rates are $ 150 per hour, plus Kobe transportation costs.

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 virtual tours 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.

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

Enter the Shibuya crossing

Apart from London’s Abbey Road, it is rare for a crossroads to achieve international acclaim. Still, one of Tokyo’s most recognizable places, Shibuya Crossing, joins the ranks.

Crowd walks along the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan.

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Considered “the busiest intersection in the world,” the crossing can accommodate approximately 3,000 people at each light interval. Outbreaks of organized chaos symbolize Japan’s dedication to the “Four Ps” – patience, education, punctuality and accuracy – attributes that govern one of the world’s densest societies.

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

Clever readers will find no less than eight people wearing masks, even though the photograph predates the global pandemic. The story explains why.

Furoshiki folding

Virtual tours rarely come with souvenirs, but those who sign up for this furoshiki online workshop are sent a custom package from Japan before class begins.

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

Furoshiki cloth is commonly used to wrap gifts, although, unlike wrapping paper, the cloth is traditionally returned to the gift giver.

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

Go inside the Shinkansen

The speed and timeliness of the Shinkansen have made Japanese bullet trains so well known that riding one is considered a tourist attraction in itself.

Trains regularly reach speeds of 200 miles per hour and have a reputation for arriving and departing on time, up to the exact second.

A live camera of the railroad tracks in Settsu, a city in Osaka Prefecture, shows the speed of travel. Once the sound of an approaching train is audible, spectators can see it for about eight seconds before it disappears into the distance.

Online travelers can also get inside the Shinkansen. Google Maps allows viewers to explore the length of the train to see how cabins vary in class and comfort.

Museums and gardens

Online viewers can tour present and previous exhibits at the Sand Museum in 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

Covering an area of ​​more than 3,100 square miles, Tokyo-Yokohama is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. This makes it difficult to visit Tokyo’s most famous neighborhoods on foot.

Live stationary cameras offer a view of neighborhoods such as Shinjuku and Ginza, but mobile live broadcasts more closely mimic the traveler’s tourist experience.

Only in Japan, a YouTube channel operated by American John Daub, is broadcast live on the Olympics, bringing viewers in real time to the Olympic Stadium and the red carpet of the opening ceremony.

Another YouTube channel, Japan Walk, features several live camera operators roaming the streets of Japan, through major tourist destinations and alleys, past businessmen on bicycles and women in kimonos, watching restaurants and shop windows in the along the way.

Exploring Hiroshima

Terrifying photographs at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum tell the story of the world’s first atomic bomb, launched in the southern Japanese city on August 6, 1945, near the end of World War II.

A virtual tour of the museum, titled “Memory of the Future,” takes viewers through the dark corridors displaying burned clothing, children’s toys and other objects recovered from the blast that killed some 140,000 people. English subtitles collect testimonies from those who survived the explosions 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 remains in 3D.

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One of the best online park excursions in Japan is Hiroshima Shukkeien Garden. A location map provides a panoramic view of the area, allowing spectators to immerse themselves in virtually 360-degree views of the garden’s tea houses, manicured lawns and cherry trees.

Virtual tea classes

Japanese tea ceremonies move to high technology as instructors turn to the Internet to explain the nation’s tea consumption traditions.

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

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Japanese cultural experience company Maikoya conducts a 45-minute class through Zoom, where for 4,900 Japanese yen ($ 44) viewers can learn the traditional way of drinking from a tea bowl from a live teacher dressed in kimono in Kyoto.

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

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