If you want to see Ueno Zoo’s adorable infant panda, you’ll absolutely want to get there before the gates open.

Tokyo’s Ueno neighborhood is where you’ll find the capital’s premiere zoo, which has been attracting visitors for generations. Ueno Zoo started getting even more attention last June, though, with the birth of a baby giant panda.

Given Japan’s humongous soft spot for cute animals, the zoo’s new resident, who has since been named Shan Shan (or Xiang Xiang, if you’re going by Chinese Romanization rules) became an instant media darling, with animal lovers across the nation oohing and ahhing at photos and videos shared by the zoo. After a period of being on very limited display to randomly selected applicants, as of this month Shan Shan can now be seen on a first-come, first-served basis by any visitors, and the response has been tremendous.

While Ueno Zoo has three separate entrances, visitors wanting to see Shan Shan need to enter through the main gate, since that’s were staff hand out seiriken, numbered tickets that indicate when you can enter the viewing area from where you can watch Shan Shan. To avoid overcrowding and excess stress for the panda, the seiriken are limited to 9,500 tickets per day, and we decided to stroll past the entrance on a weekday morning, when we figured the crowds would be smallest.

We showed up bright and early, well ahead of the zoo’s opening, and saw cones connected by railings arrayed in a sprawling, serpentining formation stretching from the main gate out into the surrounding Ueno Park. The zoo opens at 9:30 on weekday mornings, and at 9, still 30 minutes before anyone would be let in, the line looked like this.

Oh, sorry, we have to zoom out to fit the whole thing in there.

That’s the zoo’s entrance circled in yellow off in the far, far distance. And remember, this was on a Thursday morning, when kids are ostensibly supposed to be in school and their parents, as well as childless panda fans of working age, are supposed to be at work. And that’s not even the whole line. There’s another section detached from the back of it.

▼ Location of the first line marked in yellow

▼ Video proof of Shan Shan’s crowd-creating cuteness.

We asked a zoo employee who was on crowd control duty how long he expected the day’s 9,500 seiriken to last and were informed that on previous day, also a weekday morning, they were all claimed by 11 a.m. So if you’re hoping to see Shan Shan, you’re sort of pushing your luck if you don’t get to the zoo before it opens, and if you’re planning a weekend trip, it looks like lining up at least an hour before opening is going to be essential.

Related: Ueno Zoo
Photos ©SoraNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]