Xiang Xiang, the giant panda cub born at the Ueno Zoological Gardens in June, has finally made her public debut. You have to enter a lottery for the chance to see her, and because of the enormous number of entries, I was not among the winners. The commemorative stamps sold out immediately as well, and I didn't get the chance to buy them.
The roly-poly, fluffy panda cub is the embodiment of innocence, and I never get tired of watching the videos of her climbing trees and playing with her mother. The lucky people who got the chance to see her in person told reporters things like she was "really cute" and "soothing."
While I understand a panda being "cute," what does it mean to be "soothed" by the animal? Put psychologically, even when small children become able to walk and go out to play on their own, they sometimes won't let go of a blanket or a towel. When the child moves from a life closely protected by their parents to a social lifestyle where they interact with a variety of other people, there is a period when they strongly favor being wrapped up in something like a soft blanket.
Even as adults, when we get tired or a little bit weak, there are times when we want to bury our face into a soft towel like when we were kids. People want to hold their furry pets for the same reason. That warmth and softness is a kind of support that makes us think, "Everything is OK. You can on going just fine."
When we watch the panda cub and her cuteness puts a smile on our face, aren't we also soothed and energized by her softness and roundness? It can't be only me that hears a soft voice whispering, "You made it through this year too. I know just how hard you worked."
At the same time, during this time when we look back on the year and tell ourselves and those around us that we worked hard, isn't the public display of the panda cub Xiang Xiang the ultimate form of "healing" for all of us?
What does next year have in store for us? Xiang Xiang will no doubt sleep and eat a lot, quickly growing into an adult panda. We too have to try not to push too hard, but not falter, and value each day while living in a way that is true to ourselves. And if we get worn out, go to the zoo to be healed by that chubby, soft panda cub and the other animals. I hope next year treats you all well. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)