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Panda diplomacy with Japanese characteristics

I guess many MのT readers are also subscribed to Itai News, but this pile-on is too beautiful to go unnoticed. Let me break it down:

  1. Ueno Zoo’s last panda, Ling Ling, dies.
  2. Beloved Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintarō says “It’s not like it’s a sacred artifact or anything, does it really matter whether we have a panda or not?” (御神体じゃないんだから、いてもいなくてもいいんじゃないの) and “Look, living things die. That has to include pandas, right? The world’s getting smaller, so if you want to see one go to where they are and take a look.” (生きてるものは死ぬんだから。パンダだって死ぬだろうし。世界は狭くなったんだから、見たけりゃいるとこ行って見てきたらいい)
  3. Panda merchandisers outraged: “Why would [he] say such a thing when everyone loved that panda so much?” asks a woman working at Sakuragi-tei, which sells “panda-yaki”. (Her words are described as a “KY [kūki yome] outburst”. Work it, Yomiuri!) Kono Shinji, “panda sable” vendor, warns that the governor is ignoring the “national sentiment” (国民感情).
  4. 2ch posters outraged at the outrage: “Why should we have to keep a panda just so these stores can stay in business?” “Who are you to decide what the national sentiment is?” I knew those 2channelers were contrary, but damn. They don’t even like adorable, cuddly pandas!
  5. Replenishing the zoo’s panda supply would mean renting one from China, a prospect at which, according to the Yomiuri, the phones at Ueno Zoo are ringing off the hook: “Panda rental is too expensive” (Kobe Zoo is apparently paying ¥100,000,000 per year for their pandas, and not earning it back), “I don’t want to rent a panda from China [because they are oppressing Tibet]“, etc. I note in passing that no proof, names, or hard figures on call volume are offered for this part of the story.

Ueno Zoo must know that they ain’t ever gonna recapture the magic of the 1986 birth of Tong Tong. The Bubble is over, the kids are mopey and don’t go on healthy, sweater-wearing dates to the zoo any more… but pandas are Ueno Zoo’s thing. What else are they gonna do?

May 5, 2008

14 Responses

  1. Aceface Says:

    The owner of Sakuragi-Tei,Sakura Takashi had once written a semi-autobiographic fiction titled “パンダと覚せい剤The Panda and The Ice” in the 80′s.It is a story about how he made quick cash by seizing the panda boom in the mid 70′s and then became a Methamphetamine addict…

    Ishihara was part of the reason why China refused to send new panda to mate with late Ling Ling.
    Ishihara also made initiative to strengthen ties with city of Taipei and as for that step,Tama zoo,another Tokyo Metropolitan Government runned zoo locates in Hino city,was chosen to sign partnership with Taipei zoo for international cooperation.That made Beijing zoo furious and cut off all ties with the zoos in Tokyo including Ueno.
    Ueno eventually had to chose female Giant Panda for their breeding program somewhere outside of China.

    But there was another problem.In 1981,Kobe Port Island EXPO authority had asked China for a pair of Giant Panda for loan during EXPO.And that started China’s business of leasing Giant Pandas to foreign countries.And most of the pandas you see now in foreign zoos are basically in China’s possession.
    And Federation of Chinese Zoological Parks had ostracized Ueno zoo to have any breeding program with the pandas,they leased to zoos in the States and Europe.

    So,Ueno had to look for zoos that achieved panda from China before 1981 and has no legal restriction.
    And Mexico city’s Chapultepec Zoo,where successfully bred pandas several times was othe nly candidate met the condition.Lin Lin eventually flew to Mexico three times from 2001 to 2005,however breeding programs were all ended as failure.

    All of the expenses for these missions came from The Zoological Society of San Diego and not a yen from Tokyo Metropolitan Government,my source told me.

  2. toranosuke Says:

    Thanks for all this info.

    I will say, however, that the one time I went to the Ueno Dôbutsuen, that panda enclosure was the saddest thing I have ever seen in a zoo. This was exacerbated by the multitudes of signs and advertisements shouting about how they have a panda, a relative rarity for zoos.

    I don’t think a zoo should be allowed animals, let alone something as rare and special as a panda, if they’re not going to treat it well. And they certainly should not be basing huge proportions of their popularity, related merchandise, etc on said panda if they’re going to keep it in such awful conditions.

    I am not a tree-hugging animal activist or anything of the sort – just an average guy with moderate political views on most things. Just to be clear. … So, until Ueno is ready to act like the major zoo of the capital of a modern, developed country, and not keep their animals in concrete cubes with a single sprig of bamboo and a painted-on habitat, I shall not be giving them any money out of my pocket.

  3. Mulboyne Says:

    From AFP last week:


    “Japan’s prime minister said Thursday he has asked to borrow some giant pandas from China after Ling Ling, one of the best-loved animals at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, died of old age this week…Japan already leases eight pandas from China, and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters he had asked for more…Reports said Tokyo is hoping China will loan the zoo a pair of the endangered pandas, who are famed for their apparent lack of interest in sex.”

  4. Matt Says:

    “Famed for their apparent lack of interest in sex”… way to kick Ailuropoda melanoleuca while it’s down, AFP.

    Toranosuke: I haven’t been myself, but I’ve heard bad things.

    Aceface: Thanks for the information as always. So it was Kobe who gave China the idea to start renting pandas instead of gifting them? It seems to me that this makes them less useful as diplomatic tools (little obligation to feel gratitude for something if you’re paying a million bucks a year on the lease).

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    I like Red Pandas more, personally, since they represent the color of the glorious revolution.

  6. Aceface Says:

    What you’ve seen in Ueno’s panda enclosure is only a small part of it.The one with the glass and brick floor is air-conditoned room which is necessary for pandas to thrive the Tokyo’s humidity.There is actually a large outdoor habitat with nice trees and rocks and pond(currrently occupied by a pair of Lesser Pandas) attached right next to it.So your accusation doesn’t do justice to Ueno,me think.
    Basically I think most public zoos in Tokyo and Yokohama area meet the basic standard of
    animal welfare.But then again,I’m a friend of the director and going to Mongolia with him and his wife this summer,so may not sound that objective.


    Both Chinese and Japanese diplomats are despersate to shed light on panda,because they have failed to make any fruitful discussion over major disputes like East China Sea gas mine/poisoned dumpling and Tibet.
    Former Chinese premire Jiang Zemin,in his Japan tour in Nov.’98,did brought a pair of highle endangered Crested Ibis(Nipponia Nippon)to Niigata.There are now about 105 ibises reared in Sado Ibis protection center and Tama Zoo in Tokyo and it’s breeding program considered to be the most successful of Sino-Japanese cooperation project.However,we all know by now that Jiang’s visit had ended as a diplomatic disaster and no Chinese premire had visited Japan for 10 years.
    Hearing all these panda talks from both sides is definitly a bad omen.


    Sending Panda as diplomatic envoy was basically Mao/Zhu era legacy.
    Back then in 1974,when Giant Panda came to Ueno,they were gifted only to the zoos in Washington,London,Paris,West Berlin,Moscow and Pyongyang.
    When China opened it’s door to the west in 1978,they invited groups of wildlife conservationist from World Wild Life Fund(Now World Wide Fund for Nature)of which using Giant Panda as the symbol of their activitiy.Sir.Peter Scott,the founder of WWF had written a diary about how arrogant Chinese officials were when WWF made a proposal for more than a million U.S dollar worth financial support for Giant Panda conservation.It was like “We let you spend money in return for using our panda as the symbol of your group”attitude.

    Kobe’s 1981 EXPO was pretty much a mix between busisiness and diplomatic emboy,because Kobe has one of the largest Chinatown in Japan(and as in case of any chinatown in the world,it’s been divided between Taiwan and PRC),Beijing felt the need for a good publicity.But after that,everyone start chasing the money panda potentially make from foreign zoos.
    George Schaller of Wildlife Conservation Center in New York had studied Giant Panda in China at that time and wrote a book “The Last Panda”.He was highly critical of this trend and accused that the money being made are not given to the frontline of panda conservation,but went directly to the pocket of ranking officials in the Chinese conservation world.

    Sending animal as diplomatic envoy is not uniquely to the Chinese.A pair of Greater Sandhill Crane was given as a gift to Hirohito from Gerald Ford,when Ford visited Japan for the first time as the U.S president in 1974.One of the crane is still alive in Ueno Zoo.

  7. Aceface Says:

    Panda came to Ueno in 1972,not 74.

  8. ale/pepino Says:

    Zoos are so depressing. It’s been a while since I last went to a Zoo, and I don’t think I’ll ever go to one again.

  9. cee Says:

    It’s funny, zoos fill me with angry misery, but I still love aquariums (aquaria?) — in fact, I think I love them more since coming to Japan. Some kind of mammal-ist double standard? Somehow the panda’s lack of will to continue the species is upsetting, whereas the ocean sunfish needing to swim in a bag so it won’t bash its head against the walls of the case is cute.

  10. Adamu Says:

    Recently I feel like 2ch rage (or more appropriately “Internet rage” since activity is moving off 2ch more and more) is growing ever more irrelevant and out of touch. There was a time when 2ch-inspired incidents seemed to reflect a sort of “silent majority” opinion that befitted the title of “men’s room graffitti of the Internet.” And, for good and ill, it seemed like they had some influence (rage against a foolish law banning used electronics sales = good; vicious denunciation of a Korean-Japanese reporter for failure to use proper honorifics when speaking of the emperor = bad).

    But everything I have heard in the past few months – fire the Yoshinoya pranksters! ban the Yasukuni movie! we don’t need no stinking pandas! – is not just mental, it’s also being stood up to or tuned out entirely, even by right-wingers.

    Yasukuni movie – the initial fury caused the whopping 5 theaters that were planning to show it to cancel. But the publicity generated by the scandal, not to mention revulsion at the thought that right wing sound trucks and their Internet cheerleaders could dictate what movies people can watch, have led to an expanded distribution to 30 screens, albeit with police details at each one.

    And this panda incident – Fukuda just accepted TWO new pandas from the Chinese, because really who on either side could argue against cute pandas, especially during a meeting intended to promote mutual friendship (even if the contentious issues such as those China Sea gas deposits were not resolved).

    I realize you are making this same basic point in the post itself, but I wanted to emphasize just how whacked these people are becoming. The next step is figuring why this mass of Manichean activists is not finding satisfaction in defeating the endless objects of moral outrage!

  11. Aceface Says:

    Think so?
    This was what the 2channelers were saying about Panda back in 2006.
    http://blog.livedoor.jp/dqnplus/archives/848064.htmlAny Chinese diplomat would believe panda diplomacy would work,after reading these heart-melting comments on Panda from the most fierce China haters.

  12. Aceface Says:


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