• Kyodo

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A stork breeding farm in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, has seen a surge in popularity since the recent birth of Prince Hisahito, whose parents visited the farm about a year ago.

On Sept. 24, 2005, Prince Akishino and his wife, Princess Kiko, released farm-bred white oriental storks into the wild, the first since the species went extinct more than three decades ago in Japan.

Visitors to Hyogo Prefectural Homeland for the Oriental White Stork hit a record 48,000 in August, nearly five times its monthly average since opening in June 2000. The number has been climbing since Princess Kiko’s pregnancy was announced in February.

The farm even received a thank-you call from a couple who said they conceived after seeing storks at the farm, officials said.

The farm plans to release three additional farm-bred storks on Saturday and another four on Sunday, bringing the total to 16. It is surrounded by rice paddies that use either little or no pesticides to increase food for storks, which typically eat frogs and weatherfish.

Farmers began marketing the rice harvested from the paddies as “rice from the country of storks,” and are set to harvest 2 million tons this year, more than twice last year’s yield.

Local brewers launched a sake named “gift of storks” nationwide, while childless couples seeking blessings have been flocking to a nearby shrine.

The project, while good for tourism and business opportunities, has made meager overall progress in reviving the stork population in the wild.

The five farm-bred storks released into the wild last year are showing no signs of leaving Toyooka.

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