National

Oga mayor stands in for polar bear

Kyodo

In an age where politicians rarely make good on their promises, the mayor of the city of Oga, Akita Prefecture, stood by his word as he donned a polar bear outfit Tuesday to welcome visitors to the opening of Oga Aquarium Gao.

Oga Mayor Issei Sato served as an emergency stand-in after opposition from animal rights groups in Canada delayed the arrival of a polar bear from Manitoba, which had been tasked with finding one for the aquarium.

Sato had promised the municipal assembly that if the polar bear, which is to be the main attraction at the new prefectural aquarium, failed to arrive in time for the opening, he would put on the outfit “as a performance.”

Asked by reporters how it felt to be a polar bear, the mayor curtly replied, “It’s hot.”

He voiced hope that a real polar bear will be brought to the aquarium as quickly as possible.

The prefectural government even built the aquarium’s polar bear house four times larger than originally planned — at a cost of 150 million yen — in order to meet standards stipulated by Manitoba’s polar bear protection law.

Akita Prefecture also tried other channels, such as renting bears from other zoos or making purchases through animal merchants, to have one by Tuesday’s opening, but to no avail.

Akita Gov. Sukeshiro Terata, who had been saying that he, too, would probably need to wear a bear outfit, did not appear in one.

“I tried it on once, but it was too baggy and made the bear look too unprepossessing,” the governor said when asked why he balked.

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