Egyptian Ambassador to Japan
“I once asked someone why the Egyptian vegetable tussa jute or molokhia is so popular in Japan. She answered, ‘because Tussa jute contains umami, a taste Japanese are fond of.’ Egypt is a distant country from Japan, but there are some things we have in common,” smiles the ambassador Hisham EL-ZIMAITY.
The ambassador came to Japan in September 2011. “I soon got used to life in Japan,” he recalls. “I like to try out foods from different countries. Japanese dishes are all delicious. My big favorites are teppan-yaki (cuisine fried on a hotplate) and sushi. Kobe beef is also great,” he says. “The Japanese language is hard, though. I don’t have enough time for study, so unfortunately I still can’t speak it.”
The ambassador has visited many places in Japan including Nara, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukushima. “Wherever I go, I’m impressed with people’s self-discipline. In addition, Japanese people are capable of acting as a group. Such virtues were apparent at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake and when the stadium (stands) were cleaned up by Japanese supporters after the World Cup soccer matches. I think Egyptians could learn something from this,” he says.
The ambassador has also been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Those atomic bomb tragedies should never happen again,” he says with a sad face. “In Egypt, our Foreign Minister releases a statement every August 6 saying that it’s important never to use nuclear weapons again. We’d like to work alongside Japan in order to abolish nuclear, biological and chemical weapons,” he says.
“I also like the honest hardworking spirit of the Japanese,” says the ambassador. “And Japanese people don’t hesitate to venture out into the world to learn about other cultures. Japanese are among the world’s best violinists and pianists in classical music. This is also impressive.”
“Japanese and Egyptians have some things in common,” says the ambassador. “For example, we all cherish family values. I’ve heard that Japanese children often don’t leave their parents’ home until they are married. It’s the same in Egypt. When I go out to restaurants on weekends, I see young people who come to enjoy their time with their parents. I’ve also witnessed situations in which everyone listens respectfully once an older person starts talking. I think it’s just like that in Egypt.”
According to the ambassador, good hygiene is another thing Japanese and Egyptians have in common. “Cleanness is important for Muslims, so we wash before prayers five times a day. I’m under the impression that it’s important also for the Japanese.” He says they’re also alike in the way they incorporate different cultures into their own. “In Japan, people wear all kinds of fashions. Some, however, try to preserve traditions by wearing kimono.”
“In Egypt, more people wear Western clothes in urban areas, but in the countryside, people still dress traditionally,” says the ambassador. “People wear a garment called the jellabiya in the Nile Delta. On the Sinai Peninsula, their outfits resemble those worn by the Jordanian and Palestinian Bedouins. Western Egypt has a Libyan-influenced brownish costume. And in the very hot region of Nubia they wear white. I enjoy wearing something similar to the jellabiya on ceremonial occasions and suchlike.”
With its numerous ancient sites, tourists flock to Egypt from all over the world. “Our country had the oldest kingdom in history,” says the ambassador. “Right now, the Great Egyptian Museum is being built near the Giza pyramids with help from Japan. When it’s completed, it’ll be a wonderful place where you can admire the long history of Egypt from the times of pharaohs, to Roman times, to Christian times, through to the Islamic era, finishing off with a panoramic view of the pyramids.”
An issue for the tourism industry of Egypt is that (the country) has so many superb ancient sites that few people visit other tourist spots. “You can go diving in the Red Sea. You can enjoy fishing and all kinds of seafood dishes on the Mediterranean coast. Siwa, an oasis town in the middle of the desert, is believed to be the place where in the Temple of the oracle, Alexander the Great received the order from the god Ammun to rule Egypt and the rest of the world; and Queen Cleopatra enjoyed her baths. Also famous is the Ecolodge hotel, where you can experience the ancient lifestyle.”
“Tourists spend a week in Egypt on average,” says the ambassador. It takes two days just to see the Valley of the Kings and other sites near Luxor, so we are now trying to come up with a strategy to encourage visitors to repeat their visits. We’d like them to visit ancient sites on their first trip and enjoy leisure activities and see Egyptian lifestyles on their subsequent trips.”
In Egypt, you can sample dishes that were eaten in the times of pharaohs. “Onion, carrot, lentil beans, cabbage … these ancient vegetables are painted onto temple walls,” says the ambassador. “One of the common main dishes is Coshari – rice mixed with fried onion and macaroni. My suggestion would be kofta – ground meat grilled on metal skewers. The fava-bean paste we eat on Ramadan nights makes us full. I’d also recommend our dates.”
Besides tourism, one of Egypt’s main industries is the manufacturing of aluminum and cement products. Egyptian cotton is also well-known. “The tolls for the Suez Canal are important for Egypt. The bridge – which looks like “rainbow bridge” – Japan built in 2001 over the Suez Canal is helping us. Japan is also cooperating in the construction of a subway line.”
The ambassador enjoys listening to music in his spare time. “I listen to a lot of rock, jazz and soul music. I often go to the jazz club called the Blue Note,” says the ambassador. “I also like reading. I’m now reading about Japanese history and trying to understand why the Meiji Restoration was achieved without much violence. I feel I understand today’s Japan better by learning its history.”
“Egypt has been politically unstable for the past few years, but things have now returned to normal. Please choose Egypt as the destination of your next vacation,” concludes the ambassador. “We are looking forward to welcoming Japanese visitors along with people from around the world.”
- Tourism of Egypt
- Photos courtesy of the Embassy of Egypt Tourism Office
Text: SAZAKI Ryo