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Online travel is experiencing a boom in Japan, where the novel coronavirus is spreading at an alarming pace, with some tour products allowing participants to view countryside scenery and interact with local people, and others offering virtual travel experiences and local specialties.

Travel companies are trying to meet growing needs from consumers who are refraining from long-distance trips amid the pandemic but want to feel like they are making trips while staying at home.

Hankyu Travel International Co. sells an online tour featuring sightseeing spots in Chiba Prefecture. When an image of Kameiwa Cave in the city of Kimitsu is shown on screen, the voice of a guide says: "In the stream are Japanese rice fish, and the leaves on the trees are green and beautiful. The scenery looks cool."

The tour is gaining popularity, with one participant saying, "I felt as if I was actually in the place, so it was fun."

The tour product also introduces Mount Nokogiri, where people can enjoy a panoramic view of the Boso Peninsula, which makes up a large part of the prefecture.

Leading travel agency JTB Corp. offers an online tour to Hachijojima, a remote island in Tokyo, in which participants can cook local dishes with the okami female manager of a minshuku guesthouse.

Japan Airlines, meanwhile, has organized an event allowing participants to enjoy the scenery of the island town of Ama, Shimane Prefecture, and interactions with local residents.

Some tour products are designed to support local businesses struggling with a plunge in the number of tourists due to the coronavirus crisis.

Tokyo-based Autabi sells online travel packaged with local specialties. The firm created the tour products "to support farmers and sake brewers hit by decreases in shipments of their products to hotels and ryokan (Japanese-style inns)" amid the epidemic, its head, Masahiro Karasawa, said.

Autabi started the virtual tours in April, attracting more than 1,000 participants in total. It also has many repeat customers.

Prices of online tours generally start at less than ¥3,000. Many products allow participation by a small number of people so that every one of them can have interactive experiences.

Online travel is good for people who find actual traveling difficult due to time constraints or in terms of physical strength, a Hankyu Travel official said.

Even after the coronavirus epidemic subsides, online travel is expected to continue attracting demand, Autabi's Karasawa said.

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