In October 1972, China sent two giant pandas — the male Kang Kang and the female Lan Lan — to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo to mark the normalization of the diplomatic ties between China and Japan. The bears, with their distinctive black and white markings, were a big hit with the Japanese public. On the first day of their public debut, some 3,000 people queued in front of the zoo, forming a line more than 1 kilometer long.

For about 35 years, Ueno Zoo had cared for the endangered animals until the death in April 2008 of Ling Ling, which China gave to Japan in 1992. Following a nearly three-year absence, two giant pandas from China — the male Bili and the female Xiannu — arrived at Uneo Zoo on Feb. 21 to the cheers of wellwishers who had gathered to welcome the pair to their new home.

The two animals came from the Ya’an giant panda conservation center in Sichuan Province. They left the center on Feb. 20, and arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda airport the next day via Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, and Shanghai. Beijing regards them as “messengers of friendship” between China and Japan. Ueno Zoo plans to debut them to the public in late March. It will give Japanese names to the pandas by picking suggestions sent by the public. Utmost care should be taken so that the pandas grow accustomed to their new environment and appear before the public in good shape.

They arrived in Tokyo at a time when Japan-China ties are at a low ebb in the wake of a Chinese trawler’s ramming of two Japan Coast Guard cutters in Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in September. In an October 2010 survey by the Cabinet Office, a record 77.8 percent of those polled said they had no feeling of closeness with China. Only 20 percent, a record low, said they had a feeling of closeness with it. Some people think that the annual rental fee of $950,000, or about ¥79 million, for the two pandas is too high. It is hoped that the two pandas will help bring Japanese and Chinese closer together and help prevent the rise of any inimical feelings among the two peoples toward each other.

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