Two days each year, once in the autumn and again in spring, the setting sun passes behind an NTT antenna tower in the Taruyamachi area of Akashi City, Hyogo. Due to the arrangement of dishes and other receivers, as the sun moves behind them, for the briefest of moments the face of a giant cartoon panda appears, like some benevolent forest god looking down on the town below.
This autumn, on 12 October at 5:28pm, people all over Akashi City gathered to witness the biannual moment of celestial cuteness—an event which has come to be known as the Sunset Panda. However, with cloudy skies and light drizzle it became unclear whether the roly-poly sun bear would come out to play this time…
Although the Sunset Panda was viewable to anyone with a decent enough vantage point and/or telescopic equipment, a special team of 20 people called the Yuyake Panda Mitemitai—a pun meaning both “I wanna see the Sunset Panda!” and “The Sunset Panda Viewing Corps”—gathered by the Akashi Municipal Planetarium to watch the event.
Aside from having one of the best seats in the area, The Sunset Panda Viewing Corps also live-streamed the sunset on both YouTube and Niconico. They started about an hour early though, which means the resulting video is a lot of just staring at the sky with some people chatting in the background.
It does help to build the suspense though, as faced with that grey sky it really doesn’t look like the Sunset Panda will be visible at all. Still, one hour is a little much for a build-up, so you’ll likely want to scoot that little YouTube slider up to around the 50-minute mark.
Suddenly just as the sun begins to make its pass. There appears to be a small opening in the cloud cover.
And just barely we can see the Sunset Panda peek out from beneath the overcast. One of the Sunset Panda Viewing Corps tries to keep the energy up doing his best impersonation of that “double rainbow” guy from a while back.
▼ “Whoa-ho-hooo Panda kita kita kita!”
Then we’re treated to a few minutes of partial panda fun before the sun slips away for the evening.
Not the greatest Sunset Panda on record, but like my grandfather once said: “It’s better to have a part of a panda than no panda at all.” Actually, he was referring to his second divorce settlement when he said it, but I think it applies equally well in this case.
Here’s a different video of the Sunset Panda under more favorable conditions in the autumn of 2013.
Even though this year was a bit of a bust, Sunset Panda will return next spring. It’s a cute little piece of juxtaposition and a testament to how people can see the cuteness in anything…even a massive ball of nuclear fusion 150 million kilometers away shining on a lattice of steel tubes and parabolic antennas. D’awww.