The public exhibition of a giant panda cub born in June at a Tokyo zoo will begin next month, with large numbers of visitors expected.
The Ueno Zoological Gardens is planning to put the female cub "Xiang Xiang" on display on Dec. 19, which falls on Tuesday, avoiding weekends to prevent excessive congestion around the panda enclosure. The zoo's director Yutaka Fukuda said the final decision on the display will be made following the cub's six-month health check-ups.
Xiang Xiang is in good health, becoming the first baby panda to survive this long at the Ueno zoo since "You You," born there in 1988, according to the zoo.
When You You was first displayed to the public on Dec. 24 1988, about half a year after its birth, the zoo was packed with around 12,000 visitors eager to get a glimpse of the male panda cub.
The number of visitors later increased further, reaching its peak the following month at about 70,000 on a single day.
Xiang Xiang has drawn more attention than You You, with the zoo constantly releasing videos and photos showing the baby panda's growth over the past five months, while such information was scarce back in the 1980s, said an official of the Ueno zoo.
"It's hard to project how many will come to see (Xiang Xiang)," the official said.
The country -- and in particular Tokyo's Taito Ward, where the zoo is located -- celebrated the birth of the healthy female cub on June 12, about five years after her mother, Shin Shin, lost another cub within days of its birth.
Nearby businesses hope the baby panda will draw tourists and stimulate the local economy.
Hayato Chiba, a senior official of an organization comprised of local shopping arcades, said the number of customers has already increased since the cub's birth and is likely to grow further when the baby is put on display.
"Everyone is waiting eagerly" for the day Xiang Xiang will be shown to the public, said Chiba.
The organization is preparing 5,000 panda-design key holders as a gift to shoppers, as 3,000 similar items proved popular when they were distributed following the announcement of Xiang Xiang's name in September, selected from more than 320,000 suggestions from the public.
Several local businesses have based their marketing around pandas at the zoo for many years, with the number of visitors to Ueno shopping areas suffering a 15 percent drop when the zoo was without any of the animals following the death of "Ling Ling" in 2008, according to Masahiro Kayano, secretary general of the Ueno Tourism Federation.
"Since then, we became united as a town to protect pandas," said Kayano. "When Xiang Xiang is put on display, our town will become one with the zoo to welcome visitors."
The tourism body will create a map to introduce shops selling panda goods and serving panda-themed food, as well as develop an app enabling users to take commemorative pictures with Xiang Xiang.
The zoo has begun preparation for the cub's display, with staff walking around the enclosure in a manner similar to visitors to familiarize Xiang Xiang with the situation.
Anticipating an increase in the number of child visitors, the zoo has also decided to close a smoking area near the panda cage to make the zoo entirely smoke-free.