Female giant panda Xiang Xiang on Tuesday morning left Tokyo's Ueno Zoo to fly back to China, her home country.
Around 7:10 a.m. local time, a white truck carrying the five-year-old panda slowly drove out of Ueno Zoological Gardens, before heading to Narita International Airport.
The panda will take a flight from the airport at 12:45 p.m. local time, and is expected to arrive at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in southwest China's Sichuan Province at 5:25 p.m. Beijing time, said the zoo.
Upon her return, Xiang Xiang will be sent to Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, a giant panda research and breeding facility in the city of Ya'an, Sichuan, which is known as the hometown of giant pandas, according to the zoo.
Xiang Xiang was born at Ueno Zoo in June 2017 to Shin Shin (female) and Ri Ri (male), two giant pandas on loan from China, where the ownership over the cubs they give birth to belongs.
As the first panda naturally bred and raised at the zoo in nearly three decades since You You, born in 1988, Xiang Xiang gained huge popularity among Japanese people after she was born.
She was originally scheduled to travel back to China by the end of December 2020, but her return was postponed multiple times due to her popularity in Japan and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now five years and eight months old, the panda has reached her breeding maturity.
"Considering the future of Xiang Xiang and the giant pandas as a species, it would be amazing if it found a good mate and breed in China," Yutaka Fukuda, director of Ueno Zoo, told Xinhua.