I’m back from my first overseas jaunt of 2022 – travelling safely from my armchair at home where I have no covid border restrictions or worries. I didn’t even have to pack a suitcase or spend hours in an airports! Yes, I am back touring virtually with another interactive visit to Japan – a really good one hour tour for just $A12!

Ok – not as good as being there in person. But that’s not possible at present, with Western Australia’s and Japan’s borders both closed to tourism. So, travelling virtually where I can see, speak and tour with people overseas, is the next best thing!

Off on my first 2022 tour – virtually!

I discovered virtual touring last year when tours were offered free through the Japanaroo campaign in Australia. See my blog stories ‘Travelling virtually in Covid times’ – March 14 and ’Travelling virtually update’ – September 29.

I’m not sure why the virtual tours I’ve taken haven’t attracted more people. They are such good value and great fun. I was the only Aussie on today’s tour, even though it was publicised in Australia and cost very little for an hour of interactive touring.

On this trip, through the live Zoom platform and a series of pre-recorded video clips, I met a couple of interesting people in my tour leaders Kiyomi and George, and was taken to see the sights of Machida City in the Tama hills, about a 30 minute train ride from central Tokyo.

Kiyomi and George spoke excellent english, and we talked together via zoom. I have no idea why ’George’ has an English name. Perhaps I should have asked because you chat directly in real time on these virtual tours.

Even although I’ve visited Tokyo on various trips over the last 20 plus years, I had never heard of Machida before this tour, though I had probaby passed through it by rail en route to other places.  

Machida, I was informed, has a good city vibe with restaurants, shopping etc. Perhaps not as hectic as central Tokyo, which suits me!

The city also has traditional rural areas and historical attractions, which is what particularly interests me.

In Japan, ‘satoyama’ refers to rural spaces where nature and people coexist through sustainable management marrying modern and traditional land use strategies. Satoyama realises societies in harmony with nature, and they play an important environmental role. Machida is an excellent place to see this in action.

Rice drying by the paddies in Machida’s Satoyama area (photo supplied)

Machida’s Ono-juku Satoyama Community is centred in the remains of an old Edo posting station that once connected Kamukura on the coast south of Tokyo and Fuchu, a city about an hour from Machida. The area has retained traditional Japanese scenery with much effort being put into preserving the historical environment. Many traditional land uses such as rice paddies remain, encouraging animals and plants that are often rare in urban areas today. Bird watchers would be particularly interested in the opportunity to spot the Northern goshawk here. Or if you are into butterflies, you might see the spectacular Great purple emperor here.

Machida Station Square (photo supplied)
The popular roof covered Nakamise shopping street in Machida (photo supplied)

I was emailed a tour guide booklet to download free before the tour began. This is the first time this has happened with virtual tours I’ve signed up for. The brochure was informative and it was a great idea.

There were several local specialist tour guides who did pre-recorded presentations showing me Machida’s attractions including a beautiful park famous for its peony and dahlia gardens.

Other sights I saw included a beautiful ancient temples with exquisite carvings.

Seisuiji temple has a history going back several centuries. It is a Zen Buddhist temple, and its intricate wooden carvings of mythical creatures are the work of first class craftsmen. The temple is only about a 15 minute walk from the JR (Japan Railways) JR Aihara Station on the Yokohama Line in Machida.

Seisuiji-temple –

Another temple I was shown was the ancient Kozo-ji temple. Sadly, in recent weeks since the video to include in the tour was filmed, the temple has been severely damaged by fire. My tour leaders hoped it would be rebuilt.

One of the specialist guides showing me around Machida’s Kozo-ji Temple

Because I took this tour, Machida is on the map for me now, and the information and sights presented on the virtual tour ensured that I will consider including it on my itinerary when I visit Japan next. So congratulations to the Machida City Tourism and Convention Centre for making the effort to organise these virtual tours.

The travel industry around the world continues to struggle big time – so I admire those who are continuing to be proactive in attracting interest to their areas. It is not easy in these difficult economic times when the focus is on struggling communities, with little money to spare on a tourism industry that is on its knees.

This was brought home to me with the recent sad announcement by Japan’s Hyogo prefecture that it is closing the well regarded Hyogo Cultural Centre in Perth, Western Australia. The centre promotes the Japanese language, culture and exchange by providing a large resource library and holding seminars, workshops and other activities. It plays a major role in the maintaining a strong relationship and connections between Hyogo Prefecture and Western Australia. It is being closed on economic grounds, but I wonder if it’s a good decision in the long term for a prefecture that has some excellent tourist attractions such as the magnificent Himiji Castle that I climbed up in 2017 (a National treasure treat I’ve yet to write about😎).

Himiji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture – an Australian link to be lost

In recent years there has been a substantial growth in interest from Western Australians in Japan – both in business, cultural exchanges and tourism.  Just before the pandemic hit, a direct air link was established by ANA (Air Nippon) between Perth and Tokyo. I booked myself a seat for a holiday, sadly cancelled as Covid took hold. ANA continues to promote Perth as a destination, and there are plenty of Western Australian ready to travel and to do business in Japan – so I’m presuming flights will resume when possible.

Around the world there are communities, tourism organisers and local governments such as the Machida City tourism and Convention Centre that are working hard to promote their areas – many through online virtual tours. They are wisely looking to the future when this pandemic will no longer be an issue for us.  

Because of their efforts now, I believe that when travel is possible again, people will know of these places and visit.  And one way they are achieving this is by organising virtual tours that benefit both the struggling travel industry and frustrated travellers.

My interest is Japan, but my sister is currently looking at registering for a free tour in Italy. These virtual tours are being offered around the world.

For me, this Covid enforced downtime with border closures and lockdowns is an excellent opportunity to research and learn more about places I might want to travel to when we have the opportunity again. Virtual travel is one way to do it!

Machida is holding another virtual tour on February 19. If you are in Australia and can’t work out how to apply and pay for this tour, contact me and I’ll be able to assist through my experience joining the January tour. I had a little trouble with this as I was sent an application form in Japanese, which I was able to fill out with the help of a contact in Japan from Japonisme and a family member who can read Kanji.

Subsequently though, I understand Machida has addressed the problem for english speakers – so probably that’s been sorted now. See the link below for more information.

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