A giant panda cub made her full debut at Japan’s oldest zoo in Tokyo on Tuesday, greeted by lucky visitors who obtained tickets in a competitive lottery.
Ticket holders, some donning panda ears and dressed in black and white, lined up in the cold for over an hour before the first group was allowed to view Xiang Xiang, the first panda born to a resident mother at the zoo and publicly exhibited in nearly 30 years.
Harumi Akimoto, a 64-year-old from Kanagawa Prefecture, was excited after she saw the panda with her three grandchildren. Akimoto was among some 1,400 visitors to enter the panda building on Tuesday.
“None of us have ever seen a baby panda before,” Akimoto said.
“She was really cute. She was a lot pinker than I expected,” Akimoto’s 8-year-old grandson said.
Lottery winners spent roughly two minutes each watching the 6-month-old Xiang Xiang and mother Shin Shin in a special enclosure, which has a tree for the cub to climb and plenty of bamboo for her mother to eat.
Giant pandas have attained celebrity status in Japan, with panda-themed merchandise, books and food prominent in Tokyo since Xiang Xiang, whose Chinese characters mean “fragrance,” was born in June.
Xiang Xiang was born to Shin Shin and father Ri Ri on June 12 and has grown from 147 grams to over 12 kilograms at the zoo founded in 1882, officially called Ueno Zoological Gardens. The last giant panda cub born and exhibited at the zoo was You You in 1988.
“We had to come on the first day of the exhibition,” 33-year-old Aya Shimizu, of Fujimi, Saitama Prefecture, said while holding her 6-month-old son. As her son was born at almost the same time as Xiang Xiang, Shimizu said she has compared the increase of the panda’s weight with her son’s as they have grown.
China gifted pandas to Japan in 1972, when bilateral ties were normalized after World War II, and has leased them subsequently.
Kang Kang and Lan Lan, the first giant pandas to arrive in Tokyo 45 years ago, helped draw a record 7.64 million visitors in 1974, according to the zoo.
Due to high demand for tickets, the zoo conducted a lottery to allocate times for up to 2,000 visitors per day. The cub will be on display for two-and-a-half hours each day until Jan. 31, with the zoo restricting numbers to avoid overwhelming Xiang Xiang until she becomes accustomed to the new routine.
The zoo installed a live video feed inside Xiang Xiang’s enclosure so that those who miss out can still see what the zoo’s newest star is up to.
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