With international travel and tours largely on hold since last spring, it has been a long year for many in the tourism industry. However, as history has often shown, innovation flourishes during challenging times. One shining example is Voyagin, an online booking platform for travel experiences, which recently launched a new service that aims to bring unique cultural experiences directly to its international clientele in a way that’s virtually as fun as the real thing.
Voyagin, a Rakuten Group service, has launched a series of live online experiences that offer would-be travelers the opportunity to enjoy Japanese culture from the comfort of their own homes — in English. To best replicate the kind of on-site experiences typically facilitated by the service, each online experience is hosted in-person and available only to a limited number of participants through a reservation system.
Here are five ways Voyagin is bringing interactive Japanese experiences closer to international travelers.
Online training with a real ninja
Kunoichi is the traditional name for a female ninja, and Suzak Shibata, a kunoichi who now heads the ancient Musashi Clan, offers daily online experiences that teach participants ninja techniques and lore — from the comfort of their home dojo.
Dating back nearly 450 years, the Musashi Clan originally served as retainers to shoguns in feudal Japan. One of Voyagin’s most popular and most-reviewed experiences, this virtual experience teaches participants more about the history of the clan, as well as practical ninja skills, such as fashioning weapons from everyday items like safety pins and paper, and other ninjutsu tactics. With its emphasis on audience participation, it’s sure to be a favorite with travelers of all types.
Learn how to draw manga
This online experience connects participants of all skill levels with professional manga artist Nao Yazawa, who teaches everything from the basics of drawing manga characters in various poses to storyboard creation and more. A guest artist at numerous international manga events and workshops, Yazawa is an instructor at a vocational school where she teaches manga art classes.
The lessons are taught in English and offer both private one-on-one and small group lesson options that provide participants with professional feedback in real time over a 90-minute session.
Tour Kyoto with the “last samurai”
“Samurai Joe” Okada, one of Japan’s oldest active tour guides, is well-known in Japan and abroad. His unique approach to guiding, which involves his signature maneuver of slicing up fruits and vegetables that sometimes rest on a volunteer’s stomach, has earned him fans around the world and even scored him an appearance on American talk show Late Night with David Letterman.
Now this industry veteran is still finding ways to keep his act fresh and is offering his nearly 60 years of guiding experience as a 2.5-hour live online tour through Voyagin’s platform. Participants can expect to visit many of Kyoto’s picturesque locales along the way — and we are certainly curious as to whether he’ll find a way to incorporate a watermelon.
Tea ceremony traditions
Anyone who has ever experienced a traditional Japanese tea ceremony will tell you that the actual drinking of the tea is only a tiny fraction of the experience. The ceremony itself is more of a ballet of methodically choreographed movements, each with its own symbolic significance.
Kyoto-born Urasenke school tea master Rie Kuranaka hosts a 45-minute tea ceremony experience, where she explains the history of the tea ceremony and the hidden meanings behind its tools and techniques. While participants are encouraged to prepare their own tea supplies to further bring the lesson to life, anyone is sure to enjoy and learn from this contemplative Japanese experience.
Cherry blossom viewing party
Sitting under a white and pink canopy of sakura (cherry blossoms) is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can enjoy while in Japan, but only if you are lucky enough to visit in early spring when the blossoms perform their glorious yet fleeting metamorphosis. Now you don’t even need to be in Japan to enjoy its most iconic seasonal display.
Voyagin’s online sakura viewing party — known in Japan as hanami — is similarly seasonally restricted to March 15 through April 28. For those looking for a quintessential highlight of springtime in Japan, be sure to book this online tour before it’s too late. (Pink attire recommended.)
Innovative tourism approaches are on the rise
Heading into 2020, the Japanese tourism industry was a juggernaut that saw annual visitors to Japan surge from roughly 6.2 million in 2011 to nearly 32 million in 2019. With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, Japan’s goal of 40 million annual visitors seemed within reach. But the pandemic reversed the upwards trend, forcing a sharp u-turn that saw international visitors tumble to a 98% decline compared to the year before.
As evidenced by Japan’s burgeoning tourism industry before the pandemic and the enduring international popularity of Japanese cuisine, pop art and history, the demand for Japanese cultural experiences remains high. Thanks to Voyagin and its innovative response to an unprecedented situation, that demand is still being served one experience at a time.