Fifty years have gone by since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Japan. China has a highly emblematic national treasure, which is the panda — and the Japanese people love pandas dearly. China presented Japan with a pair of giant pandas, Kang Kang and Lan Lan, when the two countries restored diplomatic relations in 1972. The comical black-and-white furry animals occupy a special place in Japanese popular culture as many manga and anime productions feature the giant panda in fantastic roles. For example, in the recent highly popular Japanese manga animation Jujutsu Kaisen, there is a character named Panda, an abrupt mutated cursed corpse that can transform itself into a ferocious soldier armed with mystical voodoo powers.
The giant panda is curious but nervous and a highly objectified creature whose appearance is in sharp contrast to the often aggressive polar bear. They are widely loved by people of vastly different cultural backgrounds around the world for the same reason, and that sets them apart from other rare wildlife equally in need of protection.
In fact, the panda exerts a subtle influence on China-Japan relations, as it discreetly transforms the relationship into something more gentle and friendly. There are also some panda characters in Hong Kong comics, such as the Hong Kong-style panda character Deaf Cat created by cartoonist Siu Hak.
The Panda House in Ocean Park Hong Kong could be further developed to help promote cultural exchanges between China and Japan. This could be accomplished by creating panda-driven animations to promote more Sino-Japanese exchanges and cooperation, or by setting an animation-driven theme to lead the development of Ocean Park, much like Disneyland Resort on Lantau Island.
The giant panda is curious but nervous and a highly objectified creature whose appearance is in sharp contrast to the often aggressive polar bear. They are widely loved by people of vastly different cultural backgrounds around the world for the same reason, and that sets them apart from other rare wildlife equally in need of protection
Fifty years after the establishment of China-Japan diplomatic relations, Hong Kong should be more proactive in strengthening its role to promote exchanges between Hong Kong and Japan, especially in the field of popular culture, where cooperation can be furthered. Quite a few Hong Kong people are big fans of Japanese popular culture, and Hong Kong and Japan should have more cultural exchanges. There should be more integrated exchange strategies in the arts and culture as well as many other fields. It is regrettable that exchanges in performing and fine arts are rare, compared with culinary and pop cultures. Actually, cultural exchanges between Hong Kong and Japan are mostly filtered through a Western perspective and very few direct cultural exchanges are made. The M+ museum exhibition of artist Yayoi Kusama is one of many examples of a cultural exchange that is curated from a Western perspective.
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In recent years, Shanghai has witnessed the launch of many cultural and creative undertakings related to Japanese culture. For example, Tsutaya Books, a Japanese bookstore chain, has opened a branch in Shanghai’s Columbia Circle. The interesting thing about Tsutaya Books is that it is a consumer platform for cultural products with a business model that has evolved from Eslite Bookstore. Tsutaya Books is a big hit in Japan. Why does Hong Kong, an international city, not have a branch of Tsutaya Books?
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Besides pop culture, Japan is also known for its tea ceremonies and calligraphy. Although Japanese calligraphy has close ties with Hong Kong, further exchanges on the subject are lacking. Many Japanese restaurants have established a presence in Hong Kong in recent years. However, it seems that more could be done on the cultural front. For arts and culture, there should be deeper cooperation between Hong Kong and Japan; more diverse Japanese cultural activities would be welcome in the city. Hong Kong should explore how to establish a Hong Kong-Japan cultural exchange model and policies, facilitating Hong Kong to become a cultural city with soft power.
The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and artistic director of Zuni Icosahedron.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.