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Japanese people fascinated with China's giant pandas for half a century


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TOKYO, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) — On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, Japan recently released a set of two commemorative stamps bearing pictures of giant pandas.

The giant panda is revered as a national treasure of China and the “ambassador” for friendship between the two Asian neighbors, witnessing the friendly exchanges between China and Japan for half a century.

On Oct. 28, 1972, Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo celebrated the arrival of a pair of giant pandas, Kang Kang and his partner, Lan Lan, as a gift from China to commemorate the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, sparking an unprecedented panda craze in the country.

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So many Japanese panda fans went to the Haneda airport to receive the panda couple arriving by a charter flight or to the Ueno Zoo to see the pandas in person that police cars had to clear the way out from the airport to the zoo that day.

The Japanese public welcomed the pair enthusiastically, with over 60,000 visitors crowding the zoo when Kang Kang and Lan Lan made their debut on Nov. 5 of that year.

The annual number of visitors to the zoo, which stood at around 4 million before their arrival, soared to a record high of 9.2 million in 1973.

Fifty years later, the Japanese public’s fascination with giant pandas never ends. Every time the giant panda family at the Ueno Zoo welcomes a new cub, it not only makes news headlines and causes a sensation in Japan, but also brings considerable economic benefits to the surrounding restaurants and shops.

Xiao Xiao and Lei Lei, the twin panda cubs born at the Zoo in June 2021, made their public debut on Jan. 12 this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 1,080 lucky winners were selected in a raffle to meet the pandas at the zoo exhibit, with the chances of winning being one in 348.

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Ms. Arai visiting from the city of Yokohama expressed her wishes that the friendship between Japan and China will last forever with giant pandas as a bond.

Currently, there are 13 giant pandas living in Japan. Among them, five are living in the Adventure World theme park in the town of Shirahama in western Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture, the largest giant panda family in the country.

On Nov. 22, 2020, the Adventure World welcomed the 17th giant panda cub Fuhin to the big family. Its mother Rauhin, who has given birth seven times to 10 cubs, is the first giant panda born in the park. Fuhin’s father Eimei, who just turned 30 years old in September this year, has been setting the world record for the oldest male giant panda to have naturally fathered cubs while in captivity.

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All the 17 panda cubs born at different times at the Adventure World park have a “hin” in their names. They represent the largest captive giant panda population overseas. Eleven pandas born there have been sent back to China as agreed on in contracts.

The park said the achievement was made possible by years of international research cooperation with China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding dating back to 1994.

When Fuhin was born in 2020, researchers at the Chengdu research base were unable to travel to Japan to help due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The staff workers from both sides made meticulous preparations to receive the baby panda, exchanging information online, and the Chengdu experts offered real-time advice. The cooperation made Fuhin the first panda cub delivered independently by the Japanese staff of the park.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Koji Imazu, the park’s director, said that he hopes the cooperation on giant panda breeding will be further deepened between Japan and China in the future.

In Japan’s western city of Kobe, meanwhile, a female giant panda named Tan Tan living in Oji Zoo celebrated her 27th birthday On Sept. 16, which is the equivalent age of about 80 in human years.

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In 1995, Kobe city suffered heavy losses in the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Tan Tan was sent by the Chinese side to Kobe in July 2000 as a way to support the city’s recovery after the earthquake and gave cheer to quake-affected children and many other citizens.

Yujiro Kako, director of the zoo, said in a recent interview with Xinhua that Tan Tan is like a “champion” in the zoo who is always the center of attention.

Kako said her arrival set off a panda craze in Kobe at the time, attracting huge numbers of visitors to the zoo, noting that many fans believed that seeing Tan Tan instills courage into their hearts after over two decades.

“The giant panda is a symbol of Japan-China friendship. For 22 years, Tan Tan has been loved by people in Japan and around the world,” Kako said, adding that Kobe Oji Zoo has always had a good relationship with the Chinese side and hopes that this relationship will continue in the future.