DUBAI: Japan and the Middle East’s efforts to bridge the gap between the two cultures has been shaping up to be fruitful over the past few years. One Japanese man has taken the extra step to ensure the two regions are well informed of each other.
Mansour Al-Yabani, or Japanese Mansour, lives in the UAE and learned to speak, write and read in Arabic in an effort to communicate with his peers and friends.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News Japan, Mansour explained that he moved to the UAE nine years ago, as part of a university exchange program between the UAE and Japan.
“I got to learn the Arabic language then. I didn’t learn Arabic in university, the classes for the language were too advanced for me,” he said. “I was taught informally by some professors, I learned the basic stuff, which was the beginning of my journey.”
Mansour said that in Japan, there were some institutions that taught the Arabic language; however, they were far from his home. So, he opted to buy a textbook and self-teach himself for six months.
“At the time, I also had Emirati friends that were studying in Japan, and I was able to communicate and learn the language from them,” he said. Once he started learning, Mansour said he also began to use and practice speaking in Arabic.
“I learned a lot through conversations. Whenever I heard a word, I didn’t know I would ask what it meant,” Mansour added.
According to the Japanese man, he found the grammar and the pronunciation the most difficult in Arabic.
“I think Arabic is difficult, but it is a rich language,” Mansour said. “Whenever a language has a history, it is usually difficult, like Japanese and Arabic.”
When his peers came to know he spoke Arabic, they joked about nicknaming him Mansour Al-Yabani. Ever since, the Japanese man has been going by the name of Mansour.
Mansour’s main aim in learning the 1,500-year-old language was simply to communicate. “I wanted to communicate in the country’s language.”
His journey in the Arab world started long before Mansour moved to the UAE. In 2001, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan invited his samurai family to Bahrain, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the two countries’ establishment of diplomatic relations.
Mansour’s family performed an ancient traditional martial art for high profile people of Bahrain.
“I didn’t have any idea about Bahrain or where it was, I just knew it was near the Arabian sea,” Mansour explained. “Dubai was not well-known back then. I just got to know it is within the Arab world.”
He told Arab News Japan that he was pleasantly surprised when he saw how developed the region was. “I was shocked in a good way,” he added.
In June, Mansour received the Golden Visa in the UAE—a long-term residency visa given to people who fall into select groups. He was nominated due to his hard work promoting Japan’s culture to the Arab world and vice versa.
“Even before I started living [in the UAE], I was active with promoting culture exchange between the two countries,” he said.
Mansour launched some events and projects in 2011, when the large Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami happened. “With our project, we wanted to support the affected people. Emirati youth helped and supported the project.”
Since Mansour gained popularity on social media, he has accumulated over 400,000 Arab followers on Snapchat.
At the moment, the Japanese influencer said he is focusing more on the commercial side of things, promoting businesses and investments, especially when more Japanese people are moving to the UAE.
話し方より話す中身— マンスール منصور @ドバイ (@mansournihon) May 22, 2022
Mansour told Arab News Japan that he was interested in seeing other Arab and GCC countries, but due to COVID-19, he has not had the chance yet. He visited Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, but said he wanted to go back to explore more of the Kingdom and visit the likes of AlUla.
With the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UAE coming up, Mansour said he is planning a few events, one of which may include his performing the traditional martial art he learned as a result of growing up in a samurai family.