Jin Huixin, a 30-year-old Shanghai middle school teacher, had been waiting for a chance to visit a Japanese warship for many years. He realized his dream when the Japanese navy destroyer "Sazanami" arrived on a five-day visit to China.
"I have seen 23 warships from 15 countries that had come to visit China, but I never had a chance to see a Japanese warship."
The big fan of warships flew to Zhanjiang to see the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer. Braving the drizzle on Wednesday morning in the southern Guangdong Province, he went on board the ship and had a close look at major weapons such as "vertical launch system" and "close-in weapon system," all of which were tagged with name signs in glass and aluminum picture frames.
He smiled and posed for a photo besides a paper-board portrait of a legendary Japanese boy, a lucky symbol for the ship. Many Chinese soldiers who came to visit the ship did the same thing.
"Sazanami" with its 240-member crew, is the first Japanese warship to visit China since World War II. Despite the Japanese national flag on the ship, which still brings the memory of Japanese military atrocities alive to many Chinese, the warship also brings smiles to all the visitors at the site.
"This is a sign that the Chinese are more confident and they are aspiring to build friendly and peaceful relations with their most acrimonious enemy in the battle field more than six decades ago," said Professor Gao Hong of the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"The warship's visit shows that China and Japan have accepted each other, and will promote a strategic, mutual beneficial relationship in the 21st Century," Professor Gao added.
The military exchange came after another breakthrough in Sino-Japanese relations as a result of President Hu's landmark visit to Japan earlier this year. The two countries announced last week they reached principled consensus on the East China Sea issue and Japanese companies are allowed in the development of Chunxiao oil and gas field.
The charcoal grey Japanese warship berthed alongside the silver grey Chinese warship "Shenzhen" at the dock of Zhanjiang. The Chinese and Japanese navy personnel, all clad in white uniforms, visited each other's ships.
Apart from the exchange of visits, officers from both sides will hold seminars to exchange experience on disaster relief and other activities. "Sazanami" is also open to visits for local residents.
Japanese officers reminded the visitors the rain had made the decks slippery, and they could choose to walk on the non-slip gangways in the middle of the decks.
"I'm especially interested in the missile system on the ship," the Shanghai teacher Jin said. "Japan invaded us before, but now the relationship is peaceful and we should look forward to the future."
"The Japanese navy developed well, and China should learn from them through exchanges. The navies of the two countries can draw lessons from the history and work together for further collaboration and development."
The destroyer arrived Tuesday, and the Chinese navy held a reception for the visitors that evening.
At the beginning, the military staff from the two sides were very prim. But after a few rounds of drinks, the atmosphere turned lively. In spite of the language barrier, many tried to talk to each other at the reception.
"I thought the Japanese military men were quite rigid, but actually they are lively people and are well educated," said navy officer Pan Lanbo, who works on the "Shenzhen" and visited Japan last November.
"I also think their weapons and management are very modernized."
The destroyer with 4,650 standard tonnage, set off from Hiroshima on voyage for a reciprocal visit; the Chinese missile destroyer "Shenzhen" docked in Japan late last year.
Tetsuya Hayashi, who works at the public affairs section of maritime staff office, Japanese ministry of defense, said he was happy to visit China. "I found Chinese people very friendly, and the liquor tastes good."
On Wednesday morning, Japanese unloaded disaster-relief goods including food, blankets, hygiene masks, disinfectant and other items they had brought for the quake area in southwest China.
However, Japanese media gave a low-key coverage to the warship's visit. Kyodo News Agency quoted Japan's Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba as saying he didn't think the visit would remove completely all the barriers of the Sino-Japanese relationship. "A trustworthy relationship could not be set up in one single day."
And in crowded Internet chatrooms in China, the coming of the Japanese warship became a major topic of debate. A netizen from Wuhan in the central Hubei Province, said at the portal sina.com: "Japan did wrong to us before. But we can still learn from them now." Another from the central Henan Province call the visit a "historical breakthrough." He added "we should develop our country without losing our nation's integrity."
"The Japanese warship to China brings with it an aspiration forre building trust and strengthening cooperation, but the aspiration is not enough. What we expect is substantial progress and mutually beneficial future for both peoples," said Che Hu, a senior editor of Beijing-based magazine Military World.