Dubai: The year was 1979 when judo specialist Toyoaki Yoneda arrived in Dubai, joining only a few hundred other Japanese citizens then living in the UAE.

He had not planned on moving to the emirate, but the upheaval then taking place across the Gulf in Iran in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution prompted Yoneda to flee the country, leaving his job as the coach of the Iranian national judo team.

Yoneda, originally from Ichikawa, Japan, travelled the world as a judo coach before winding up in Dubai, where he is now the UAE's Chief Judo Instructor and head of the Dubai Karate Centre. "Back in 1979, there was no judo here, people only knew about karate. But, in Japan judo is very important and reflective of our culture," he said.

Twenty eight years later, the Japanese community in Dubai has grown into what is now the largest concentration of Japanese nationals in the Middle East and Africa. And the population is only set to grow with a 20 per cent annual increase in the number of Japanese living in the UAE, according to Vice Consul at the Japanese Consulate Akiyuki Katoka.

The community in Dubai even has its own school located in the Safa area, where some 150 students are taught the Japanese curriculum, with additional English and Arabic classes.

"I feel as though when I arrived ... all those years ago I planted a judo seed in the desert and I am still watching it grow," said Yoneda.

Citizen facts

  • Estimated population of Japanese in the UAE: 2,600 – largest concentration of Japanese citizens in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Principally employed in business/industry.
  • Most Japanese are concentrated in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
  • Dubai has one Japanese school and one Japanese association.