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Friday, April 10, 2009

I hear those cranes a-comin'...

A few months ago, China bequeathed to this island a pair of pandas, a seemingly generous action that in actuality has some serious, and some might say, dangerous political undertones. It is unlikely that a pair of endangered birds from Japan will cause the same level of controversy:

"Hokkaidō 北海道 may give a pair of red-crowned cranes, a species designated as a special national treasure, to Taiwan, following Taipei's 台北 plan to open a representative office in the prefecture, sources said Wednesday."

Unlike the Chinese government's use of "panda diplomacy" to promote "reunion" or "reunification" with Taiwan, the government of Hokkaidō wants to encourage Taiwanese tourists to visit the prefecture in greater numbers. 280,000 Taiwanese traveled to Hokkaidō in 2007 (according to the article), and the popularity of Japan's second-largest island has prompted the government of Taiwan to consider opening an unofficial consulate in Sapporo 札幌, possibly by the beginning of summer.

What's the attraction with the island some Taiwanese know only as "Beihaido"? My guess is that, quite simply, it's snow. Many people here, my wife included, are fascinated by the white stuff, which is what happens when you live on a sub-tropical island where snow rarely falls in places below 3000 meters (9840 feet) in elevation. The traffic jams on the road going up to Hehuanshan whenever there is snowfall testify to the excitement many Taiwanese feel. Of course, snow is great in the abstract, but virtually all of my students who have visited Hokkaidō in the winter have told me that, while they enjoyed their trips, it was definitely "too cold" to live there!

As for me, I've been to Hokkaidō twice (Sapporo, Hakodate 函館, Tōya-ko 洞爺湖 , Sōunkyō Onsen 層雲峡温泉 and Otaru 小樽), but only in the summer, when the weather is very pleasant. I'm sure I would find it too cold in the winter as well. What do you expect from someone who grew up in California?

As for the cranes, the article notes that while the prefectural government has begun preparations, including contacting a local zoo (though without mentioning which one), negotiations with Taiwanese authorities haven't started yet. The story concludes by noting that:

"The crane is known as a symbol of longevity and conjugal love in East Asia. It is listed as an endangered species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, popularly called the Washington Treaty, basically limiting the bird's export to breeding and scientific study. The estimated population of red-crowned cranes in the wild is more than 1,000 in Hokkaidō, according to the prefecture. Given the expected stress in the new environment, the cranes to be donated to Taiwan must have been raised in captivity, a Hokkaidō official said. The official indicated the need for rigorous control after the pair is shipped to Taiwan so they do not get paired with cranes originating in China, which are a different species. Japan has never exported a red-crowned crane originating in Hokkaidō. The prefecture is considering attaching a clause banning the recipient zoo in Taiwan from pairing the Hokkaidō birds with different species, the sources said."

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