Ties that bind Japan and Arabs: Arts and culture

A Japanese woman serves tea during a tea ceremony. (Shutterstock)
Updated 28 October 2019

Ties that bind Japan and Arabs: Arts and culture

  • A YouGov study has found positive signs of younger Arabs' engagement with Japan
  • An increase in tourism would help bolster knowledge and cultural understanding

LONDON: As Saudi Arabia and Japan’s relationship develops through the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 partnership, the two countries are increasingly looking at ways to strengthen their cultural ties, with plans that include developing anime and boosting tourism.

Anime may at first appear to be a surprising means of enhancing cultural exchange between the Kingdom and Japan. But it is loved by younger Arabs, with up to 40 percent of young Saudis believed to be fans of anime, according to Ahmad Hawssah, founder of Koi Market, an anime online store based in Jeddah.
A poll by Arab News and YouGov, which asked residents across the MENA region a range of questions related to Japan, found that younger Arabs are significantly less well-informed about Japan than older generations.
But the survey showed positive signs of younger Arabs’ engagement with Japan. When asked to select the three things they most associate with Japan, 62 percent of younger Arabs chose anime, compared with only 16 of those aged over 40 — suggesting that, even though their overall levels of knowledge are lower, younger Arabs remain engaged with Japanese culture in ways that their older counterparts are not.
Anime, therefore, represents an ideal way of connecting young Saudis to a country that will be a significant strategic ally for the Kingdom in the coming years.
Moreover, the exchange is unlikely to only go one way. Increasingly, Saudis are talking about exporting their own anime, which will give international audiences, including those in Japan, a window into the Arab world.
A significant step in this direction is the Saudi anime film “The Journey,” a feature-length collaboration between Manga Productions, an affiliated company of Misk Foundation, and Japanese studio Toei Animation.
Misk Foundation was founded in 2011 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to develop youth leadership skills, and to focus on education, technology, media and culture.
“The Journey” will be set in the Arabian Peninsula in the distant past and will employ authentic details from the Kingdom’s history.
Interviewed by Arab News in May, Shinji Shimizu, Toei’s managing director, highlighted the film’s significance in fostering Japan-Arab relations. “It’s not just a movie, it’s about cultural exchange and forming a connection between countries,” he said.
CEO of Manga Productions, Bukhary Essam, has said the company intends to produce animation itself by 2030, allowing Saudi Arabia to present its own culture and characters to Japan and the wider world.
But anime is not the only means of strengthening cultural ties between the Kingdom and Japan. Another is tourism.
Tourism is a big industry in Japan, and many Arabs of all ages have a strong desire to visit. According to the poll by Arab News and YouGov, although only 4 percent of Arabs have previously visited Japan, 87 percent would like to go , revealing a major opportunity for the Japanese Travel and Tourism Association to increase visits from the region.
“The recent changes to the Saudi leisure tourism sector are groundbreaking,” Jeremy Alston, founder of VisitSaudi.travel, told Arab News. “Opportunities now exist for Japan and Saudi to collaborate around knowledge transfer, infrastructure development and for Japan to become an important source market of visitors to the Kingdom.”
Saudi Arabia has been making strides in its own tourism industry in recent years, and there is much to attract potential Japanese visitors — from food to natural wonders.
An increase in tourism would help to bolster knowledge and cultural understanding between the two countries as they map out a future in partnership.


Japanese bidet makers flush with post-coronavirus opportunities

Updated 04 April 2020

Japanese bidet makers flush with post-coronavirus opportunities

  • Long a fixture in Arab and Asian toilets, the device is now getting a second look in US and Europe
  • Modern-day models have functions such as seat warmers and controls for water temperature

DUBAI/TOKYO: As supermarkets in the West struggle to keep rolls of toilet paper on their shelves, Japanese people do not have to worry about disappearing toilet rolls, as they have something superior: the Washlet.

Just as bidets are popular in the Arab world, shower-toilets such as the Washlet from Japan are in a league of their own.

With such functions as seat warmers, deodorizer to even air dryers, the popular Japanese company Toto creates luxury toilets that have become a staple of Asian homes, restaurants and public buildings.

Toto introduced the first electric toilet with an integrated bidet, the Washlet, in Japan in 1980.

The Japanese company, which was founded in 1917, prides itself on its commitment to improving the environment by creating sustainable toilets that include water-saving features such as eco-friendly flushes.

There is also a unique option in some of Toto’s bidets: Flushing sounds or even music that can cover up embarrassing noises when people do their business.

Washlets have many options in its latest products, including controls for water temperature and jet stream power and direction.

Customers have a choice of speedy and soft jet streams.

Most Washlets have two jets, one for men and one for women. A control panel at the bottom makes the seat easily maneuverable. But advanced Washlets have a control panel at the wall so a user can relax while doing their business.

Toto’s most expensive toilet is the Neorest 750H, which costs over $13,000, according to the official website.

The popular toilet includes an automatic lid that opens or closes when one approaches, an adjustable spray position, a multifunctional wall-mounted remote control and an air-purifying system along with a Bluetooth connectivity to play one’s favorite tracks.

The Washlet even has its own museum. The Toto museum, located in Tokyo, showcases the history and evolution of the bidet in order to pass on the “corporate values to future generations.”

The Toto museum in Tokyo, Japan. (Courtesy: https://jp.toto.com)

According to the official Toto Museum website, which showcases the culture and history of plumbing equipment, the company “hopes the museum provides visitors an opportunity to learn about the philosophy behind TOTO Manufacturing and how products have developed.”

Toto has several showrooms around the Middle East, including multiple in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait.

The company also has a showroom in San Francisco. However, while the Western world is aware of these smart hygienic products, their own habits have yet to grow accustomed.

Other big names in the toilet market include Inax and Toshiba. Prices range from about $175 at discount stores to about $325, although an expensive model can cost more than $400.

Japanese-style bidets are enjoying a spurt in popularity owing to toilet-paper shortages in Western countries resulting from panic shopping amid the coronavirus public-health emergency.

At the same time, production has reportedly hit a snag. Nikkei xTECH has reported delays of parts from China, where the first major coronavirus outbreak occurred, amid disruptions in the chain of business.

Suppliers have also not been able to keep up with increased demand from manufacturers trying to stock up on parts they fear may be difficult to obtain moving forward.