I was waiting patiently at the traffic light when the familiar sound of the Emirates airline jingle came tinkling from my radio. In addition to the popular Osaka flight, it told me, Emirates was now offering direct flights to Tokyo five times a week. The light turned green and I drove on. But all the time I was thinking just how much the rays from the Land of the Rising Sun now fall on Emirati lives.
A quick look at the road confirmed that the vast majority of cars driven by Emirati families are Japanese. If there was ever a competition to name our national car it would be a close fight between the infamous Nissan Patrol, and pride of the nation, the Toyota Land Cruiser. Newcomers to the UAE could be forgiven for believing that or that it is actually issued with our passports.
The traditional Emirati khandouras worn by most men are largely tailored from Japanese fabric. The same goes for the ladies' black abayas. The fact that a product of Japan's earth embraces us every day is something I doubt many people ponder about.
Japanese Manga novels have a huge following among Emirati youth, with whole library sections at local colleges dedicated to the genre. Our very own Qais Sadeeqi became the first ever Emirati recipient of the prestigious Zayed Book Award for Gold Ring, a classic Arabic graphic novel with illustrations by none other than the Japanese Manga guru, Akera Hemikaw.
I have my own unique connection with Japan. As a writer I find the works of the contemporary novelist Haruki Muraki refreshing and thought-provoking. As a poet I am deeply inspired by modern haiku-style poetry, and have even started experimenting with it in classical Arabic.
In addition to its literature I am equally intrigued by Japanese martial arts. I recently began studying judo under the tutelage of Dubai-based Sensei Ueda Toyoaki, considered by most to be the father of Kodokan judo in the UAE — the man who planted the first seed of it in our desert sands some 31 years ago.
Driving on, the more I thought, the more I seemed to see Japan everywhere I turned. It was as though a kimono-wearing, face-whitened genie was now following me everywhere. I suddenly felt homesick for everything just Emirati, purely Arabic.
The fact that I had not even left my country added to the bizarreness of the situation. I switched the car radio to one of the local Arabic talk stations and drove towards the only place I knew I could get what I needed.
As I walked through the wooden front door of my parents' house, the smell of the Arabic incense bakoor welcomed me in. After greeting my mother with a kiss on the forehead I sat down with her and poured myself some traditional Arabic coffee, letting its aroma fill my nostrils before sipping.
I flipped through the local Arabic newspapers, and spoke to my mother in colloquial Gulf Arabic. With her loving hennaed hands she prepared me some Arabic food, and I dug in enthusiastically. The Japanese genie retreated.
As I feasted, my mother left the room and returned with a book in her hand. Mum has always been reading the latest Arabic novel ever since I could remember, so I asked her, between bites, "Who's the novel by, mum?"
"Oh, it's not a novel, son," she replied excitedly. "It's a wonderful numbers game that works your mind. Your father and I are competing against each other in it; it's called Sudoku. Have you heard of it?"
Wael Al Sayegh is an Emirati cultural consultant, poet and writer.