Saudi Arabia and Japan’s time-tested relationship

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1971: King Faisal bin Abdulaziz's Visit to Japan source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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2017: King Salman bin Abdulaziz's visit Japan, source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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2016: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Japan, source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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2014: King Salman bin Abdulaziz's visit Japan when he was Crown Prince , source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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1994: Japanese Crown Prince Narhito and his wife Princess Michiko visit Riyadh source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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1990 Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu's visit to Saudi Arabia, source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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1981: Visit of Japanese Crown Prince Akihito to Saudi Arabia, source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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1960: Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Defense, visits Japan, source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, King Abdulaziz's envoy, attended the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and appears alongside Prince Abdullilah Bin Ali, Crown Prince of Iraq, and Prince Aki Hito, Crown Prince of Japan, London, 1953. source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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Photos of Nakano's trip to Saudi Arabiaو 1939, source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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Photos of Nakano's trip to Saudi Arabiaو 1939, source: King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
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Updated 12 January 2020

Saudi Arabia and Japan’s time-tested relationship

  • What began as a Hajj pilgrimage by a Japanese national has blossomed into a multifaceted partnership

RIYADH: The history of Saudi-Japan relations can be traced to a Hajj pilgrimage undertaken by Yamaoka Kotaro in 1909. The Japanese pilgrim was the first to document his visit to the Arabian Peninsula.

Kotaro, who named himself Omar, left from Japan to perform the Hajj with pilgrims from Mongolia. He was the first Japanese pilgrim to reach Makkah.

The second Japanese to perform the Hajj was Tanaka Ipei, also known as Hajj Noor Tanaka Ipei. He visited the Arabian Peninsula in 1924 and again in 1933.

Ipei, who was one of the pioneers of Islamic studies in Japan, published a book about his journey in 1925 called “Junrei Haku Un-Yuki Isramu.”

He wrote at length about his desire to strengthen relations between Japan and the Arabian Peninsula.

Two of Ipei’s students, Inoumoto Momotaru and Takeshi Sozuki, accompanied him on the Hajj. Both of them later wrote books about their journey.

In 1943 Sozuki published his book, “Pilgrimage to the Place of Seichi Makkah Junrei.” This was published in Arabic by the King Abdul Aziz Public Library in 1999.

The book described his meeting with King Abdul Aziz in Makkah and how he admired the king’s personality.
When Sozuki met the king he was overwhelmed — and cried as he shook his hand. He stood by the king’s side while the king shook hands with the rest of the guests and expressed his appreciation to Muslims who had come from the farthest reaches of Asia to perform the Hajj.

“Abdul Aziz is an invincible man, and victory is his ally wherever he went,” Sozuki wrote in his book.

“If Ibn Saud did not exist in the world, the Arabian Peninsula would not have been unified until today ... I still remember Ibn Saud with his strong body, frightening stature and strong expression that fills his facial features.”

Sozuki wrote in his book about how Saudi Arabia was important for all Islamic countries, both geographically and religiously.

The Japanese consulate in Port Said in Egypt was tasked with monitoring the situation on the Arabian Peninsula. Interest surged when King Abdul Aziz entered Makkah and joined Madinah, Jeddah and the Hijaz province to Saudi Arabia.

The Japanese consul in Port Said contacted the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to spread the news about King Abdul Aziz and his success in unifying the country and launching reforms and development.

In November 1927, Tokitaro Kuroki, the Japanese vice-consul in Port Said, wrote to Yoshikazu Tanaka, the foreign minister, explaining the economic situation on the Arabian Peninsula after King Abdul Aziz had unified Hijaz. “Ibn Saud’s success is completely a dramatic story, and it’s rare to find such rapid progress,” he said.

In 1939 the Japanese government sent the minister plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia with a delegation that included Ejiro Nakano on what was considered the first official visit. He met King Abdul Aziz and offered to work with the Saudi government to implement an economic agreement.

One of the objectives of the visit was to convince King Abdul Aziz to allow the opening of a Japanese commission in Jeddah to strengthen Saudi-Japanese relations and facilitate the arrival of Japanese pilgrims.

Nakano wrote about his trip and then published a book in 1941 in Tokyo, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

In the daily reports of Nakano’s trip, he described meeting King Abdul Aziz with the Japanese minister plenipotentiary in Cairo: “And about the international relations, the king said: We want to have good relations with neighboring and powerful countries in Europe, and we respect Japan as a great country in Southeast Asia.”

When Saudi Arabia announced it was at war with Germany and Japan in 1945, the Kingdom and Japan stopped working on a treaty of friendship and trade. However, the holy cities of Saudi Arabia remained open to Japanese Muslims.

After the end of World War II, Japan’s relations with Saudi Arabia began to develop again, with an increase in Japanese exports to the Kingdom and an influx of Japanese missions to the Kingdom to obtain agents for Japanese exports, as well as coordination with the Saudi Ministry of Finance to facilitate trade.

The first Japanese mission after the war arrived in the Kingdom in 1945, according to a letter from the head of the horticultural department at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance, Assistant for Business, Cities and Urban Projects held a ceremony in Jeddah. The event, attended by high-level Saudi government officials, businessmen, agencies, merchants and diplomats in Jeddah, had a significant impact on Japan’s trade activities with the Kingdom.

Japanese economic activities and ambitions to expand trade in the Kingdom, as well as the need for Saudi markets for Japanese imports and the improvement in Japanese-Saudi relations in 1953, led to royal approval for the continuation of the Ministry of Finance and National Economy in the establishment of trade between the two countries.

The depth of Saudi-Japanese relations is also mirrored in the warmth of the relationship between the two countries’ royal families.

Crown Prince of Japan Akihito met Prince Fahd bin Abdul Aziz during the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II in London in 1953.

The crown prince of Japan was seated behind Prince Fahd according to the protocol of the English royal palace. Prince Fahd switched places with the crown prince out of respect for Akihito’s status.

The Japanese imperial family valued Prince Fahd’s action and decided in appreciation that Saudi Arabia would be the first country that the Japanese crown prince visited — and this became a tradition for all reigns in Japan.

The story of Saudi-Japanese diplomatic relations began in 1957 when Toseda Yutaka was appointed commissioner in Saudi Arabia. “I have been appointed as a delegate to his Majesty’s Government (King Saud) … a while ago, but the recent incidents in the Middle East have hindered my arrival at that time, and I have been very pleased to come to your country (Saudi Arabia) that has been taking quick steps to progress, which I’ve never thought existed,” Yutaka said.

“I take this opportunity to thank His Majesty King Saud, who has been one of the first countries to support Japan and voted for Japan during the negotiation of accepting Japan as a member in the United Nations,” he said.

The Kingdom took further steps when it opened its embassy in Japan in the same year. Asaad Al-Faqih was appointed ambassador and Saudi commissioner to Japan in 1957.

The Japanese commission in the Kingdom requested permission to open an embassy in Saudi Arabia, and in 1958 Japan opened its embassy in Saudi Arabia.

All information in this article has been sourced from the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah)
 


Uthman Taha: ‘I wish the verses about heaven would never end’

Taha is the official calligrapher of the Qur’an at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. The 86-year-old is still in the recovery phase, his wife said, and has been advised to rest and to avoid stress. (Supplied)
Updated 15 August 2020

Uthman Taha: ‘I wish the verses about heaven would never end’

  • The Syrian Qur’an writer, regarded as one of the world’s finest calligraphers, is on the road to recovery following his recent hospital admission

MAKKAH: Syrian calligrapher Uthman Taha is in good health and recovering at home after a 13-day stay in a hospital where he was treated for what he and his wife initially suspected to be the novel coronavirus COVID-19, although he ultimately tested negative for the virus.

Taha is the official calligrapher of the Qur’an at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. His wife, Fatimah Umm Al-Nour, said Taha had a chest infection during his stay at the hospital and stressed that he had been “careful and took all the precautionary measures” and that he had not left the house for five months before his hospital visit.
The 86-year-old calligrapher is still in the recovery phase, his wife said, and has been advised to rest and to avoid stress. She praised his doctors, who have consistently checked in with the couple since Taha returned home, and added that she has tested negative for COVID-19 too.
Taha is regarded as one of the most skilled calligraphers in the Arab world. Al-Nour told Arab News that he continues to practice calligraphy daily.
Taha, who has written the Qur’an 12 times at the King Fahd Complex, was born in 1934 and attended school in Aleppo. His father was also a skilled calligrapher, who used the Ruq’ah script, and Taha studied with several of Syria’s finest calligraphers including Mohammed Al-Mawlawi, Mohammed Al-Khatib, Hussein Al-Turki, and Ibrahim Al-Rifai.
When he moved to Damascus for university, Taha began to learn other scripts, including Thuluth, Naskh (in which he is now considered a master), and Farsi. He received his calligraphy certificate from master calligrapher Hamed Al-Amadi in 1973.
He arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1988, and began work as a calligrapher at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. He writes the Qur’an in the Ottoman script, and copies of his work have been distributed throughout the Islamic world.
What makes Taha’s work unique is that each page of the Qur’an that he writes concludes at the end of a verse. The secret, he explains, is to simplify the words — which is the origin of the Kufic script in which the Qur’an has been written since the days of Prophet Muhammad’s companions — keeping the letters close to one another.
Taha spent years perfecting his technique of evenly distributing the words in every line so that the space between the lettering is consistent throughout every page of every book, which means eliminating many of the script combinations that make such consistency difficult.
He explained to Arab News that when he is working on his Qur’an calligraphy he is transported: “When I begin writing the Holy Qur’an, I resort to solitude to allow myself to be invested in the verses and their interpretation, forgetting about the world around me,” he said. “I wish the verses about Jannah (heaven) would never end, and my hand trembles when I write the verses about Jahannam (hell).”