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A hybrid family
by Matovu Abdallah Twaha November 10, 2017
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At a time when Arabs’ “image is, unfortunately still widely negative in Japan,” one family is walking the road of improving this image by holding lectures in Japan and the UAE through periodic mutual visits — and the results are seen in the numbers of participants.

“In order to understand each other, face-to-face communication is very important but not indirect information,” says Rie Noor Nakao.

Wikipedia defines communication as “imparting or exchanging information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium,” while information is “facts provided or learned about something or someone.”

Leave it to Nakao, a mother of three, who has lived in Sharjah for 20 years with her Bahraini husband Abdul Jalil Ali Al Saad until his death back in February.

As a family, they have been organising visits to Japan, holding lectures in Japanese schools and communities, and in return, the Japanese also organise visits to Sharjah and, “openly ask us questions that they would not ask people on the streets about Arabs, Islam and local culture.”

Nakao’s husband was a writer and researcher with an inclination towards promoting Arabian Gulf culture and heritage. They together championed, with passion, the interactive programme between Arabs and Japanese.

“We are determined to keep this bridge running by carrying out his wish of the cultural exchange programme which he had at heart,” says Nakao.

“In the last three years, approximately 400 Japanese tourists have visited our house in Sharjah to learn more about local life and culture of the UAE directly through the cultural interaction with us.”

Also communicating with their Japanese peers are their three children 17-year-old Reem, 15-year-old Yousef and Saif, 12. Saif is the 2015/16 winner of the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Award for Distinguished Academic Performance. For the 2016/17 Sharjah Award, he couldn’t pass the interview as his father was terminally ill and passed away two days later.

“The impact is deeper when the communication is between children,” says Nakao, the author of My Life’s Sail to the Emirates, a publication of Sharjah Institute for Heritage.

Her book was signed during the 2016 Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) with her husband’s last book. Hers was one of the two books selected as Elite Books from 50 titles that drew a congratulatory letter from the Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. Nakao and her husband were working on their next book titled The Story of Pearl, which she says she will “hopefully” complete next year.

The 70-page book is a photo novella painting containing 20 different dhows of the Arabian Gulf; some of which have no longer exist. “Sadly, many people don’t know all the types of dhows nowadays,” she notes.

My Life’s Sail to the Emirates is written with a picture of the dhow on one page while on the opposite page there are one or two lines explaining the type of dhow painted in six different languages: Arabic, English, German, French, Japanese and Spanish.

It is sailing that defines Rie Nakao, who was born in Unzen City in rural Nagasaki and has been a sailor for most of her life.

At 22 she joined the Ship for World Youth Programme, a Japanese Government initiative to construct a strong, cross-border personal network, which led to her travelling the world. “I sought to gain more knowledge of the world. I sailed and passed by Spain, Oman, South Africa, Dubai Syria, Bahrain and Australia. I visited around 50 countries in my 20s but I was most fascinated by the Arabian culture and its people.”

She studied an Arabic course in Damascus for eight months before becoming the first Japanese licensed Tour Guide in the UAE.

She says she became more aware of Emirati life and Islam, a religion she converted to in early 1999 before getting married to her Bahraini husband later that same year. Nakao has lived in Sharjah ever since.

Her environ is dotted with verses drawn in Arabic calligraphy she has written or “written by my daughter and I draw the work,” she explains. She draws with the combination of Japanese style. She has been a visitor to the Bahraini exhibition.

On the similarity between Japanese and Emirati cultures Nakao says both have a high value of respect and are working hard to reserve their traditions. “However, we starkly differ in the form of greetings. Here, they embrace, kiss and shake hands while in Japan, we bow and keep distance.”

It might be a physical distance, but Nakao’s hybrid family is actively and positively closing the negative image gap between the Japanese and the Arabs. “My life is devoted to the Arabian Gulf as I continue my sailing.”

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