Haku: The dream of a Saudi brand with a Japanese twist

The main four hand-drawn characters by Njood Alkharboush, the founder of Haku. (Supplied)
Updated 02 September 2018

Haku: The dream of a Saudi brand with a Japanese twist

  • Njood Alkharboush, a Saudi graphic designer, has created a Saudi brand called Haku, which has a Japanese twist
  • Haku was launched in early 2018

JEDDAH: A large segment of Saudi youth and teenagers are so fascinated with the Japanese cartoon films and series known as manga (Japanese comics) and anime (animation) that they are eager to buy models and stickers of related popular characters. 

The fantasy world of manga and anime is aimed at children, teenagers and young adults, but the themes can become a little dark.

A Saudi graphic designer, Njood Alkharboush, has created a Saudi brand called Haku which has a Japanese twist. 

Alkharboush brought her dream to reality when she designed anime characters with a Khalijee twist inspired by her passion for Japanese anime. 

Haku is basically a Saudi brand and an online shop that provides products symbolized in a mixture of Saudi and Japanese culture, offering 12 products including stickers, pins and card games. 

“The products imitates the Japanese Manga designed in a Saudi concept in terms of the characters and items,” Alkharboush said. 

She has designed a new Poker concept known as “Kotchina” in Arabic by recreating the four characters of the original Poker card game through turning them into a Khaliji anime and changing the outfit into traditional Khaligie clothes (Thobe). 

“Each character is available as a sticker and a pin.” 

Alkharboush also has her very exclusive collection of pins, including an Arabic coffee cup held by the skeleton of a human hand, a female police car and a “Saudi skull,” a new character of the skull of a man with a long beard and Ghutra.

Haku was launched in early 2018, The project depends on designs that are hand-drawn, using the popular trend related to Saudi-Khaliji culture. 


Real business

The name of the project refers to a fictional character in the well-known Japanese movie “Spirited Away,” directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Released in 2001, it reportedly made the highest revenue in Japan’s film history and surpassed the most popular

American movie of the time, “Titanic.” 

Alkharboush told Arab News: “Haku is my favorite anime character of Miyazaki.

“I started to think seriously of turning my senior project into a real business after I saw the way people were attracted to it and the amount of appreciation and admiration generated. 

“Our first clothing line will be launched in early 2019 and our current products are also available in Concept stores in Jeddah, Riyadh. Soon they will be available in Bahrain and Dubai.” 

The business aims to bring happiness to people who find joy in little things, inspired by cute Japanese anime and cartoons migrated into Khaleeji culture, said Alkharboush.

“I want all these characters to pop up in people’s way wherever they go with real knowledge of who they are, to reflect the Saudi culture, as the Japanese anime have become an integral part of modern Japanese life and culture.” 

Alkharboush encourages all small businesses to believe in themselves, value their ideas and trust in what they are doing, never hesitating to bring their dream to reality. 

Such startups would emphasize the importance of the younger generation’s creativity to be spread and help to widen the horizons of the Saudi and Khaleeji culture.

A Saudi company called Manga Productions focuses on producing animations and developing video games with creative and positive content, targeting all local and international groups of society. 

Manga Productions seeks to launch several animation and video game projects to promote Saudi ideas and messages internationally. 




What's an anime?

Anime refers specifically to animation from Japan or as a Japanese-disseminated animation style often characterized by colorful graphics, vibrant characters and fantastical themes. Poker: Poker is a family of card games that combines gambling, strategy, and skill. Ghutra: A traditional Middle Eastern headdress fashioned from a square scarf, usually made of cotton. Arabic coffee cup: Typically made of glazed white ceramic, it is usually plain or decorated with colors, but does not have a handle.

Meet the Egyptian sisters revitalizing classical music

The sisters are apparently in the very early stages of discussions about performing in Saudi Arabia. (Getty)
Updated 20 February 2020

Meet the Egyptian sisters revitalizing classical music

  • The award-winning Ayoub sisters discuss their childhood, culture, and working with Mark Ronson

LONDON: Two Egyptian sisters, Sarah and Laura Ayoub, are rapidly establishing themselves among the UK’s premier young classical musicians with their mesmerizing talent. We met for the first time at the Arab Women of the Year Awards in London last November where they collected an award for Achievement in Cultural Exchange. Now, we’re sitting with the sisters at the stylish Balans Soho Society café in Kensington.

Sarah, the eldest, plays the cello, while younger sister Laura plays the violin. They were raised in Scotland, where their father, a maxillofacial surgeon, earned his PhD at Glasgow University before he and his wife settled in the city. 

The sisters’ musical aptitude was evident at an early age. Sarah describes how their mother took the two sisters to a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” at the Glasgow Concert Hall when they were very young. In fact, at just 18 months old, Laura was really too young to attend, but she sat quietly throughout and stunned her mother by humming the music on the way home.

Sarah, the eldest, plays the cello, while younger sister Laura plays the violin. (Getty)

Sarah showed the same precocious talent. When her mother enrolled in night school classes to learn the keyboard, she discovered that when she sat down to practice with her daughter perched on her knee, her little girl could play everything by ear. So, she decided to enroll her daughter into the class, saying, “You’ve got more promise.”

At primary school the sisters had the option to play either trumpet or violin. Their mother, Sarah recalls, calculated for a moment before declaring: “Trumpet? A bit too loud. Let’s go with the violin.”

By the time the sisters were ready to move on to secondary school, it was clear that their musical talent needed to be the focus. They attended the Douglas Academy School of Music in Milngavie, Glasgow.

The sisters’ musical aptitude was evident at an early age. (Supplied)

“It didn’t mean, at that point, that we had chosen music as a career,” says Laura. “We were just going to crank it up a notch.” 

That meant violin, cello and piano tuition; singing lessons; harmony; and composition and music theory. They played in orchestras and quartets and sang in vocal ensembles and choirs.

But alongside their music studies, the sisters still had to study a full academic curriculum.

They were raised in Scotland, where their father, a maxillofacial surgeon, earned his PhD at Glasgow University before he and his wife settled in the city. (Supplied)

“The only way to fit all that in was that at some point during the school day, you had to miss out on an academic subject to receive your music lesson. It was up to you to catch up,” says Laura, recalling that, more often than not, it was the music students carrying the heaviest workloads who were consistently at the top of their classes. The old adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it; the more things you do, the more you can do,” comes to mind. 

Sarah went on to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Laura at the Royal College of Music in London.

It was only when Sarah moved to London and the sisters started sharing a flat that a closer musical collaboration began. “We tapped into this creativity that we didn’t realize we had and started writing new things and playing in different styles,” says Sarah.


In 2016 they were selected for a “Priceless Surprises” campaign organized by Mastercard alongside Grammy award-winning DJ and producer, Mark Ronson, thanks to their cover version of Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” (the smash hit performed by Bruno Mars). The sisters say they felt a little conflicted about entering the competition by putting the video online, as they knew that whenever anyone pops their head above a parapet it can attract unfriendly fire. 

“I had just started my undergraduate studies at the Royal College of Music and the standard was incredibly high,” Laura says. “I don’t think anyone was really venturing outside of the classical sphere at that point. For me, as a first-year student, putting that video of us playing ‘Uptown Funk’ online was quite scary. We almost didn’t do it. Anything that resembles self-promotion usually comes with a bit of potential judgment — but (eventually) we followed through.” 

And it had an electrifying impact on their lives. Not only were they among the six acts whose covers were selected as winners by Ronson, but they then found themselves in the iconic Abbey Road studios recording a collaborative version under the famous producer’s direction. That recording was played at 2016’s prestigious BRIT Awards to an estimated TV audience of 5.8 million.

In 2016 they were selected for a “Priceless Surprises” campaign alongside Grammy award-winning DJ and producer, Mark Ronson. (Supplied)

“The fact that Mark Ronson selected our version — which was in its complete infancy with under 200 views, most of which were from our mother to be honest — was incredible,” Sarah says. “For him, it would have meant many hours going through potentially thousands of YouTube covers.”

In 2017, the sisters dropped their debut album, “The Ayoub Sisters” — recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Abbey Road Studios. It was released by Decca in partnership with Classic FM and went to Number One in the UK’s Classical Artist Album chart. 

One track on the album that the sisters are particularly proud of is the beautiful “Call to Prayers (A Message of Unity),” in which Sarah and Laura utilize the Islamic call to prayer — the adhan — and evocative chants from the Coptic Orthodox Liturgy to deliver a powerful message of peace. “In a musical way we symbolized how these two faiths can thrive together beautifully and in harmony,” says Laura.

In 2017, the sisters dropped their debut album, “The Ayoub Sisters.” (Getty)

On their website the video of this recording includes a quote from the Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb: “The time has come for the representatives of the Divine Religions to strongly and in a concrete way turn towards mercy and peace.”

The sisters themselves, of course, are living examples of cultures coexisting. They say they greatly value their Scottish upbringing and all the opportunities their schooling opened up to develop their musical talents, and they are also very proud of their Egyptian heritage, which they say means more to them now as adults than it did when they were young. 

At the time, their annual childhood holidays with family in Cairo seemed routine, but they have grown to really appreciate their culture to a fuller extent. They have performed at the Cairo Opera House and had the honor of playing the Egyptian National Anthem live at the World Youth Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh, where they received an award for their musical achievements from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

The sisters received an award for their musical achievements from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. (Supplied)

The sisters, who manage themselves, are now in demand from fans around the world. Their schedules are becoming increasingly hectic, and the sisters are conscious of the need to maintain a healthy work/life balance. “We recognized last year that that’s something we should be careful about,” Laura says. “We try to go out as much as possible. It’s important to get out of the flat — which is our workplace, studio and rehearsal room as well as our home. It’s so easy, especially in the winter, to stay in. When you don’t have concrete work hours built into your schedule, you can find yourself wondering ‘Where does my day start and when in theory should it end?’” 

They are apparently in the very early stages of discussions about performing in Saudi Arabia. “We have had a few enquires and we are very keen,” says Sarah. “I have noticed that there is a buzz happening in the Middle East and Gulf region. It is becoming more and more recognized as a cultural hub for music and art.”

And wherever they travel, they make a point of contacting local primary schools to try and arrange music workshops. “Giving our time in this way is rewarding, and educational for us as well. We aim to do more workshops this year, especially in the Middle East. It’s one of our big goals — to give back,” says Laura.