[From May Issue 2015]
“It’s gotten so that when I’m with non-Japanese friends in a restaurant, waiters only address me. Of course, I can speak Japanese and added to that, since I am of Indonesian descent, I appear to be Japanese, however I am a Saudi Arabian born and raised in Mecca,” says Furat BANTAN in a droll manner with perfect pronunciation. “I am Bantan, just like junbi bantan (completely ready,)” he jokes.
Japanese anime and games are extremely popular with young people in Saudi Arabia. Bantan also became interested in Japan because of this. “I watched Japanese anime and played Japanese games that were not translated into Arabic with the help of English subtitles. Thanks to this, I became accustomed to the Japanese language and, since I often checked words in the English dictionary, I memorized English words as well,” he laughs.
After graduating from high school Bantan won a scholarship from the Saudi Arabian government to study aboard and elected to go to Japan. “In Saudi Arabia, Japanese cars, air-conditioners, TVs and so forth are highly prized. I also wanted to learn about such advanced technology,” he says.
When Bantan came to Japan he attended a Japanese language school in Osaka. “Teachers admired me and said ‘Bantan, your Japanese is very good,’ but my listening, pronunciation, and keigo (formal language) skills were all down to watching anime,” he says modestly. One year later, he entered the Tokyo Institute of Technology – one of Japan’s most prestigious universities.
What awaited him at university were classes in which scientific and technical terms were frequently used. “I didn’t even understand which textbook I had to open. I asked the Japanese student sitting next to me ‘which one is it?’ and received an astonished look,” says Bantan. Moreover, the classes and textbooks were aimed at students who’d studied the curriculum of Japanese high schools. “Classes progressed as if I would naturally know things I had not learned at high school in Saudi Arabia.”
Bantan could not keep up with the classes at all and he had to repeat his first year. “It was so difficult that I wanted to die. There was an exchange student from my own country in my dormitory, so we survived by cheering each other up. After all, kanji is difficult. Arabic letters are phonetic symbols, so I had a very hard time with kanji which have numerous pronunciations,” he says.
Bantan bought textbooks written in English and studied by comparing the Japanese textbooks to them. “I taught myself from the most basic level with titles like ‘anyone can understand’ and ‘for Dummies’ (for people who do not know the subject). Because English was not my mother tongue, it was difficult to understand the contents. But I came to understand the technical terminology as I checked the equivalent term in English.” After about a year and a half of entering university he came to understand what was being taught in class. He passed the N1 grade of the Japanese proficiency test when he was in his senior year.
He also experienced the Japanese system of job hunting. “Because Japanese companies demand that I act the same way as Japanese natives, I wore a suit and carried a bag just like them,” he says humorously. When (the then) Crown Prince Salman visited Japan from Saudi Arabia, Bantan acted as an interpreter. Currently, he works at a Saudi Arabian government office located in Tokyo. “I want to encourage interaction between Saudi Arabia and Japan. In addition, it’s my dream to someday start a business. I want to dedicate my entire life to creating the Bantan Group that will establish and run schools teaching Arabic, regular schools, mosques, and more.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo