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Tokyo company takes your stuffed animals on vacation ... without you

ATLANTA (CNN) -- We try hard not to promote the whole "Isn't Tokyo kooky?" cliche -- we really do.

Then along comes a story like the piece on the Japan News website about a woman who runs a travel agency for people who want to send their stuffed animals on holiday -- while they stay home.

No joke.

For the last three years, Sonoe Azuma, 38, of Unagi Travel has been organizing stuffed animal tours throughout Japan, Europe and the United States.

The upcoming November Tokyo tour for plush toys includes visits to Shibuya, historic Asakusa and Tokyo Tower.

There's also an onsen (hot spring) tour.

Do the plush toys actually go in the baths? No telling yet.

The cost of the Tokyo tour is $45, while the onsen trip is $55.

It's up to the client to foot the cost of shipping their stuffed toys to Tokyo, but Unagi will cover the return flight.

Sorry, no overweight toys allowed.

According to Unagi rules, furry friends must be lighter than 250 grams/0.55 pounds.

If at this point you're thinking, "Where can my stuffed animals get some of that action," there's good news.

Azuma has an English-language site that accepts bookings, giving even more people the chance to travel vicariously through their cuddle toys.

So who is this service geared toward?

Plushophiliacs? Agoraphobics? Adults who have seen Toy Story too many times?

Easy as it is to mock Azumas clients as victims of a fiberfill-fueled ruse, it seems there's actually a therapeutic benefit to her service.

According to the Japan News, one woman became reclusive after it became difficult for her to walk due to illness.

That changed after she saw the photos of her stuffed animal on one of Azumas tours. She worked to rehabilitate her legs and visited a neighboring prefecture for the first time in several years.

Seeing my stuffed animal traveling encouraged me," said the woman. "I began to think that I should do what I can do, instead of lamenting over things that I can't.

Other clients reported that seeing their toy on tour cheered them up after a family death, or inspired them to do things they normally wouldnt.

A wheelchair-restricted woman is a regular client.

If Azumas service gives people the courage to get out and see the world themselves, or comfort when they can't, its hard to fault her for what at first seems to be a ridiculous enterprise.



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