DUBAI: When people think of Palestine, they generally view it as a war-torn, conflicted area in the Middle East. However, Japanese author Azusa Suga views it as a place full of rich culture, intricate foods and generous hospitality.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News Japan, Azusa said at the end of March, she will be launching a book called ‘A Stroll around Holy Palestine’ (聖地パレスチナ一人散歩).
The author said the book was “neither a guidebook nor an academic book. Just a story of the moment I’ve fallen in love with Palestine.”
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She explained that she wanted to show people, especially the Japanese, her experience with good Palestinian food and culture.
“I want to tell the Japanese people how impressed I was. I want to show the huge passion I have for Palestine,” Azusa added. “I want to say Palestine exists.”
She said she also wanted to show people that Muslims and Christians live together, after many were surprised that alcohol was available in the region.
Azusa first visited Jerusalem in 2015, after she had attended a wedding in Jordan. She had also visited Bethlehem and Hebron during her trip.
“I saw the holy and the unholy,” she told Arab News Japan. “But many people were kind to me. An elder woman took me around Jerusalem and told me about her life. In Bethlehem, I visited Church of the Nativity, Deheishe camp and Beit Sahor. An owner of falafel shop even taught me how to make falafel.”
Azusa said Palestinian and Japanese people were very similar in their sense of hospitality. “The only difference is that Palestinians are more laid back, while Japanese people are a bit strict.”
When it came to food, the photography major said she loved how colorful and vivid Palestinian food was. Azusa’s favorite Palestinian dishes included ‘Maqlooba,’ which translates to ‘upside-down.’ It is a dish consisting of meat, rice and fried vegetables placed in a pot which is flipped upside down when served.
She said she also enjoyed ‘Warak Enab,’ which are stuffed vine leaves and ‘Musakhan,’ a traditional Palestinian dish, composed of roasted chicken baked with onions, allspice, saffron and fried pine nuts served over bread.
Food was not the only thing that interested Azusa, the Japanese author also became interested in poetry and literature written by popular Palestinian authors Ghassan Kanafani and Mahmoud Darwish.
“I read their poetry in Japanese, but I also got my Japanese friends who understood Arabic to explain it to me further,” Azusa said. “People do not know much about Arab literature.”
Azusa enjoyed their poetry so much that she had t-shirts and other products made with Kanafani and Darwish’s faces printed on them.
Her last visit to Palestine was in late 2019, Azusa said, explaining that the situation was difficult and not ideal due to the political tensions in the area.
However, Azusa added that Palestinian people “are patient with a strong will, identity and humor. Even while waiting at an Israeli checkpoint, friends of mine were laughing and joking around.”
The book is available to pre-order in Japanese here.