Rhys the trauma teddy sat in the back of a drawer for over a decade until Unagi Travels, Japan's soft toy travel specialists, took him on an authentic Japanese adventure.
Rhys was a gift. He was given to me after a funeral. Of an eleven year old. Who died from Leukemia. His name was also Rhys.
"What a strange coincidence to stumble across a bear with the same name!", he said as he presented me with the bear. "And look at the name tag around his neck, it's the correct spelling".
This small teddy bear reminded me of a trauma teddy. A soft toy used by Paramedics to pacify and comfort frightened young patients; only this young patient had no need for trauma teddies, not now.
Teddies don't have personalities. Or do they?
Rhys looked so small, pensive, thoughtful. A bear not quite up to the challenges of the world. A bear that needed to be kept safe.
I relocated twice after that. Each move was a chance to start afresh, to purge myself of accumulated clutter, but each time he went with me.
Over time he was joined by Thomas, a San Francisco native with I left my ♡ in San Francisco embroidered on his chest. Another gift, from a travel friendship established over a decade ago in the time it took to take the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio, Brazil.
He is a slightly chubby, cheerful character. He is also very well-travelled. From San Francisco he accompanied me through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba, The Bahamas, Canada and then returned home to Australia.
Travel agency for stuffed animals
If not for Twitter and CNN Travel - 'Tokyo travel agency let's you send your stuffed animals on tour' - the bears would still be stashed away.
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 that want to send their stuffed animals on holiday - while they stay at home.
Kooky? Teddy Bears have been known to have picnics. Some are rumoured to have travelled. Case in point: Paddington Bear did arrive at Paddington Railway Station from darkest Peru, his suitcase bearing the label 'Wanted on Voyage'.
The article goes on to acknowledge that there may actually be a 'therapeutic benefit' to the service. Clients are known to have sent their stuffed toys on holidays because they are unwell, have mobility problems, or are grieving after a death in the family. One repeat customer is confined to a wheelchair.
Unagi Travel makes it easy to arrange an organised tour for your soft toy. The only restriction is that they must weigh less than 250g. Their website is written in English and Japanese, features detailed instructions and online payment facilities. Their tours range from the $35 Mystery Tour to the $55 Onsen Tour.
It's a simple process. You fill in a form. Pay for the tour. Then pack up your toys and post them to an address in Japan. Only the return post is covered in the price of the tour.
Unagi regularly updates their Facebook site and each soft toy returns with complimentary digital photos of their trip.
Last December, Rhys and Thomas hopped into a cardboard box and travelled to Japan. Their pre-trip checklist was small as they didn't require passports, visas, vaccinations, currency, or language guides.
The two teddies were signed up on Unagi's popular Tokyo Tour. The itinerary included the Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo Station, Sensoji Temple, Meiji Jingu Shrine, and Tokyo Skytree.
New Year's Eve saw them dining on soba then heading to the Tokyo Skytree. Here are some of the highlights of their Tour.
Meiji Shrine, Japan's most famous Shinto Shrine
Tokyo Skytree, one of the world's tallest Towers
Trying Soba at a traditional restaurant
Almost midnight at the Tokyo Skytree
Travel offers an escape from routine. For those who can't travel, sending their soft toy overseas can open up a whole new world. For others it can help heal emotional wounds or simply put a smile on their face.
If your soft toy needs a change of scenery then Unagi Travel has a deal for you!
PS. Rhys and Thomas rated the tour 5/5.