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Are vacationers allowed to journey to Japan? Digital excursions make it doable

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While travelers won’t be able to attend this year’s Summer Olympics, they can still experience Japan virtually.

As the global pandemic progresses, tourist attractions and enterprising tour guides are finding ways to mimic the look, feel, and taste of a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sightseeing and shopping

For 2,000 Japanese yen (US $ 18), armchair travelers can take a virtual journey to Asakusa District through one-hour interactive tours run by 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, Tokyo’s oldest temple; Asakusa Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park; and Hoppy Street, famous for yakitori skewers and the beer-like drink of the same name.

The Kaminarimon of Sensoji Temple – or “Thunder Gate” – was first built around 1,000 years ago.

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

Viewers can request online tours to other locations through Japan Online Tour. Charges are $ 150 per hour, plus Kobe transportation fees.

Companies such as Tokyo Localized and Japan Online Tour are sending Japanese products home to online tourists.

Courtesy Nikhil Shah

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

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

Enter the Shibuya Crossing

Aside from London’s Abbey Road, an intersection rarely finds international recognition. But one of the most famous places in Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing, joins the ranks.

Crowds walk through Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan.

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The intersection is considered “the busiest intersection in the world” and can accommodate an estimated 3,000 people in each light interval. The outbursts of organized chaos symbolize Japan’s devotion to the “Four Ps” – patience, courtesy, punctuality and precision – attributes that rule one of the most densely packed societies in the world.

For a 360-degree view of Shibuya Crossing, visit CNBC’s interactive feature, which has fun facts about the crossing.

Attentive readers will find no fewer than eight people wearing masks, despite the fact that the photo pre-dates the global pandemic. The story explains why.

Folding furoshiki

Virtual tours are rarely associated with souvenirs, but those who sign up for this Furoshiki online workshop will receive a bespoke package from Japan before the course starts.

Wrapping valuable items in furoshiki or decorative fabric squares is a centuries-old Japanese tradition. Today, the practice is seen as an environmentally friendly way of packing small items without paper or plastic wrap, although they can also be used as small handbags and home accessories.

The Furoshiki cloth is widely used for gift wrapping, but unlike wrapping paper, the cloth is traditionally returned to the gift giver.

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In this one-hour, live English course, participants will learn how to wrap gifts and make a furoshiki handbag. The cost is 10,000 Japanese yen ($ 91) for the class, two furoshiki towels, and a pair of rings.

Get on the Shinkansen

The speed and punctuality of the Shinkansen have made Japan’s bullet trains so popular that traveling on them 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 – to the second.

A live cam of the train tracks in Settsu, a city in Osaka prefecture, shows how fast the trains are going. Once the sound of an approaching train can be heard, viewers can see it for about eight seconds before disappearing in the distance.

Online travelers can also hop on the Shinkansen. With Google Maps, viewers can explore the length of the train to see how the cabins differ based on class and comfort.

Museums and gardens

Online viewers can view current and past 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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Tokyo’s neighborhood

Covering more than 3,100 square miles, Tokyo-Yokohama is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. This makes it difficult for tourists to visit Tokyo’s better-known neighborhoods on foot.

Stationary live cams give a glimpse into neighborhoods like Shinjuku and Ginza, but mobile live streams better mimic the traveller’s sightseeing experience.

Only in Japan does a YouTube channel operated by the American John Daub broadcast live streams of the Olympic Games and lead viewers in real time to the Olympic Stadium and the red carpet for the opening ceremony.

Another YouTube channel, Japan Walk, has several live cameramen roaming the streets of Japan, through major tourist destinations and back alleys, past businessmen on bicycles and women in kimonos peeking in restaurants and window shopping on the go.

Exploring Hiroshima

Shocking photographs in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum tell the story of the world’s first atomic bomb, which was dropped on the southern Japanese city on August 6, 1945 towards the end of World War II.

A virtual tour of the museum called Future Memory takes viewers through dark corridors displaying burnt clothing, children’s toys and other items recovered from the explosion that killed an estimated 140,000 people. English captions include testimonies of those who survived the explosion and life stories of those who did not.

During a virtual tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, visitors can examine the objects recovered from the rubble in 3D.

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One of the better online parking tours in Japan is from The Shukkeien Garden of Hiroshima. A location map offers a bird’s eye view of the area and lets the viewer virtually immerse himself in a 360-degree view of the teahouses, manicured lawns and cherry blossom trees in the garden.

Virtual tea courses

Japanese tea ceremonies become high tech as teachers turn to the internet to explain the country’s tea drinking traditions.

In virtual classes, viewers learn how to prepare and drink Japanese Matcha at home.

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Japanese cultural company Maikoya is running a 45-minute course on Zoom that allows viewers to learn the traditional way of drinking from a tea bowl from a living kimono-clad teacher in Kyoto for 4,900 Japanese yen (US $ 44).

For 10,000 yen ($ 90), Camellia Tea Ceremony, a tea company with two tea houses in Kyoto, will send matcha, a tea scoop, whisk, and seasonal sweet treats to attendees’ homes before the interactive tea ceremony begins.

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