[From April Issue 2015]
Wife of the Ambassador of Oman
Abeer A. AISHA
After sustaining damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake and going through the disaster of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, in March 2011 a manufacturer in Fukushima Prefecture received an order worth 2.6 billion yen for water purifiers. The order came with a message: “You can use the water purifiers in areas affected by the disaster before delivery.” “It was the least support our country could offer to our friends in Japan,” says Abeer A. AISHA, wife of the Ambassador of Oman, modestly.
Mrs. Aisha arrived in Japan in January 2008. “My husband visited Japan in 1994 and had a homestay experience with a Japanese family. He was treated very well by his host family, almost like a real son. I’d also heard from my acquaintances that Japanese people were very kind. Our daughter got very ill during the flight to Japan, so she went straight to a hospital upon arrival. She was very well taken care of, so well that it made me understand just how good Japanese people are.”
Japan is the first country she’d been posted to as an ambassador’s wife. “I like casual socializing; formal situations aren’t my cup of tea. So I was very nervous when we paid a visit to the Imperial Palace,” she says. “When the Empress spoke to us, she was quite friendly even though the meeting was rather formal. I was anxious, but she made me relax.”
Mrs. Aisha attends official ceremonies and is required to socialize and take part in activities not only with Japanese, but also with diplomats and ambassadors’ wives from other countries. “At first, I felt under pressure when people paid attention to me, my dress and my speech,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I got homesick because back home I always spend a lot of time with my parents and sisters.”
“It was thanks to my work experience for a bank in Oman that I got over my homesickness,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I dealt with so many types of people, including fishermen, merchants and businessmen, that I became open as a person. We have many foreigners that work in our country, so the culture is international. That’s why I’ve learned to deal with people from different countries in a friendly and polite manner, I think. My husband and children and the friends I made in Japan cured my homesickness, and I ended up becoming a stronger person, as I kept saying to myself that it was all for my family and country.”
“My first concern about living in Japan was our children,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Before coming to Japan, we were posted in the UK for six months. Our children were 15, 13 and eight years old. We moved twice in such a short time that it must have been hard for them to get used to their new schools and make new friends. I was relieved they were fortunately transferred to good schools here in Japan and they adapted quite well.”
She had a hard time with the language and with food. As a Muslim, she consumes neither pork nor alcohol. “There were few expatriates in the area where we first lived. So supermarkets there had very few products with English labels. I didn’t know which ones to buy from those that didn’t have English on. My daughter and I once gave up and went home without buying anything,” she says.
“My daughter loved potato chips sold at the convenience stores, but once she learned enough Japanese at school to read the ingredients, she was disappointed to find out that some pork-derived ingredients were used. That said, Islam is a flexible religion, so it’s not a problem if you ate something without knowing,” says Mrs. Aisha. “We have no more problems now as our chef cooks for us at home and we have a few international stores with English labels near to the embassy. I myself have learned some Japanese phrases such as ‘I can’t eat pork,’” she laughs.
The punctuality of the Japanese and the fact that things are planned several months in advance were pleasant surprises for her. “Whenever we go home to Oman during summer holidays, our relatives suggest we stay longer. Everyone’s surprised when I tell them we have to return because we already have plans for September. I suppose Japanese punctuality comes from the fact that they were raised to respect and value the importance of time. The Japanese way of doing things is good for living comfortably,” she says.
Located in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is a country that has prospered from maritime trade since ancient times. A member of Oman’s royal family has Japanese blood and the country is well known for its friendliness towards Japanese. Historical buildings such as the Bahla and Nizwa Forts, the Royal Palace, and mosques are popular with tourists. Although the Middle East is a region unfamiliar to most Japanese, its resorts are well-known in Europe. Oman’s beaches are teeming with foreign tourists enjoying their vacations.
“Most Japanese must think Oman is a desert country,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Of course, our desert is enormous, but we also have beautiful beaches and oases. The climate in the mountains is good throughout the year and marvelous resorts are everywhere. It’s a stable and safe country security-wise, so please do come for sightseeing. Cherry trees presented by Japan blossom every February in Oman’s Jabal Akhdar. We also have Japanese gardens.”
“You can enjoy wonderful cuisine in Oman. As many traditional dishes use rice and fish, Japanese people will feel at home, I think. Besides, Oman is a country with lots of international influences. From Lebanese food, to Indian, to Southeast Asian, to Western, and to fast food, we have all kinds of restaurants where you can taste delicacies from both the sea and the land.”
“Oman produces a fragrant resin called frankincense. The quality of Oman’s frankincense is the highest in the world and its trade has a very long history. Omanis not only burn it, but also chew it like chewing gum, drink it in liquid form and use it for skin care. Nowadays perfumes, body creams, and lotions are made from frankincense. Oman’s dates are also of very high quality.”
“The Omanis and the Japanese have a lot in common: our hospitality, respect for elders, and the way we take off our shoes before entering the home and sit on the floor. What’s more, Japanese wash their hands at the entrance when they go to a Shinto shrine, don’t they? That’s like us, too; we Muslims also wash our hands before praying,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Oman is a wonderful country. I’m sure tourists would return to visit again.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo
Photos courtesy by KOSUGI Yurika