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A railway operator in Kyoto Prefecture is making efforts to reach out to new customers amid a dip in ridership due to the novel coronavirus epidemic by hosting virtual trips on the internet.

Kyoto Tango Railway is offering a “remote travel” service, through which people can experience the feel of traveling on the railway’s Tango Kuro-Matsu restaurant train via the internet. Participants can have barazushi, a kind of sushi with a lot of vegetables mixed in that is served on the Kuro-Matsu train, delivered to their homes, and view online footage of the views from the train windows and the train interior.

Some 150 people signed up when the first round of the service was launched at the end of July. Kyoto Tango Railway is hoping that such people will become passengers in the future.

The railway is popular among with tourists, mainly those from the western cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, due to the many attractions along its route, such as Amanohashidate, a pine-covered sandbar known as one of Japan’s three most scenic spots.

The Tango Kuro-Matsu train serves luxurious meals using local fish and original sweets created by a local bistro. The train was often fully booked, with customers drawn to the food and the descriptions by train attendants of the scenery of the Wakasa Bay area facing the Sea of Japan.

However, Kuro-Matsu train services were suspended for about a month amid the coronavirus crisis. It restarted operations in June, but ridership has been limited to about a half of previous levels.

Mana Ogino, 22, an attendant on the Kuro-Matsu train, wears a face shield and a face mask as she explains the dishes being served and the tourist spots along the rail line during the train trip.

“It is the first time that the number of passengers has fallen to such low levels,” Ogino said. “I am working very hard, dreaming of the day when the train will be full of passengers again.”

The railroad operator has also held a festival event for nearby residents, serving shaved ice in train cars normally used by tourists, in a bid to boost ridership.

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