Thursday, July 5, 2012

Japan Loves Its Animals

courtesy of So Kawaii
from Flickr
Thursday July 5, 3:25 p.m.

Let's see what the top news stories were on NHK today. The Oi Nuclear Reactor in Fukui Prefecture was reactivated. Check. Ichiro Ozawa's embryonic political party is slowly making its way down the tube for its birth next week. Check. And then there was Shin Shin.

Shin Shin the female Giant Panda on loan from China along with her male companion, Ri Ri, are now the proud parents of a cub after some Woo Woo. Hold the presses! Japan's largest zoo in Ueno Park, Tokyo, virtually declared a national holiday. And newspaper staff were giving out extras on the streets with all the fervor of an Olympic win. Panda bears are up there with girl group AKB 48 in terms of popularity. But the black-and-white marsupials have always been the animals to be loved in the Land of the Rising Sun.

courtesy of weenah
from Flickr
Little kids once told me that robots lived side by side with humans in Japan. To a certain extent, I would agree. However, when it comes to animals, especially the cute kind, they are given the celebrity treatment there. I remember going to Kobe during my Japanese Language School trip in 1981, and just seeing tons of pictures of panda bears because a couple of them had been visiting the country. Then there were the frilled lizards boom in the early 80s. Food products often have pictures of little critters on the boxes. And there is a certain prime time TV show starring comedian Ken Shimura that puts various animals on full display. Even NHK has a couple of weekly animal-based shows.

The Japanese mania for animals seems to have even extended to eating and drinking establishments. Cafes with cats, dogs and even rabbits have popped up all over rabbits. I went to one of those Rabbit Cafes last September....more on that in a future entry.

Ironically, that love for animals doesn't seem to extend to whales and dolphins, though. Scientific research, my butt!