Eimei, a giant panda that has lived in Japan for 28 years, left west Japan's Wakayama park along with his twin daughters to fly back to China on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old male panda, along with his eight-year-old Japan-born twin daughters Ouhin and Touhin, has left their current home at Adventure World, a theme park in the town of Shirahama in Wakayama prefecture.
Around 7:15 p.m. local time, the three pandas boarded a plane that will take off from the Kansai International Airport to a facility in southwest China's Sichuan province, escorted by Koji Imazu, director of the park.
Prior to their departure, a farewell ceremony was held at the park on Tuesday afternoon, joined by a crowd of 2,000 visitors, and was livestreamed on YouTube for 13,000 viewers.
"The Eimei family has established a deep friendship with the Japanese people with irreplaceable and special contributions to the promotion of Sino-Japanese people-to-people friendship," Chinese Deputy Consul General in Osaka Fang Wei said at the ceremony.
The three pandas returning to China will always be shared stars and witnesses to the friendship between China and Japan, said Fang when delivering a speech on behalf of Chinese Consul General in Osaka Xue Jian.
On Tuesday, the famous Japan-born female giant panda Xiang Xiang left Tokyo's Ueno Zoo and arrived at a giant panda research and breeding facility in the city of Ya'an of Sichuan.
Tuesday also marked the three pandas' final public appearance in Japan, when many fans waited hours in line at the park, some in tears, to bid goodbye by taking photos of Eimei and Touhin munching on bamboo.
Touhin's twin sister, Ouhin, was not on display as she was showing signs of being in heat.
"I captured the image of Eimei enjoying the food with his eyes closed!" Aya Ito said with much excitement as she walked out of the panda house. "One day when I turned to the last page of Eimei's memorial album and saw his smiling face, I immediately booked a round-trip ticket for this final visit."
The interior designer who now works in Tokyo told Xinhua that she has recently been motivated to learn Chinese because of the pandas, hoping to visit them in China one day.
Eimei, or Yong Ming in Chinese, with his age the human equivalent of 90, is the oldest giant panda living in Japan. Coming from China in 1994, it is fondly nicknamed "Super Papa" for fathering 16 giant panda cubs born at Adventure World, setting the world record for being the oldest giant panda to have successfully bred in captivity.
Last year, Eimei was appointed as a special envoy for Sino-Japan friendship.
Thanks to the friendly cooperation between the Adventure World and the research base of giant panda breeding in China's Sichuan province, Wakayama and Sichuan forged a prefecture-province friendship relationship in January 2022, said Shuhei Kishimoto, governor of Wakayama prefecture.
Upon the pandas' return, only four giant pandas, all females, will be living at the Adventure World.