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Oman-Japan ties historical and growing: H E Yamamoto

19 Feb 2024 Oman-Japan ties historical, growing By ANIRBAN RAY

Muscat – Oman and Japan’s long-standing relations in culture, business and knowledge are now in the fifth decade. The two countries share a bond that is cordial, economically beneficial and culturally vibrant. In recent times, Japan and Oman have strengthened  relations through diplomatic dialogue and collaborations in various fields, including energy, infrastructure, sports, food and art.

In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily, H E Jota Yamamoto, Ambassador of Japan to Oman, shared insights on the bilateral ties and future plans, including the much talked about Osaka Expo 2025. Excerpts –

As the Ambassador of Japan to Oman, what is your immediate focus in 2024?

I focus on making Japan’s presence and images more recognised and familiar in Oman. Many Omanis will travel to Japan for the upcoming Expo 2025 Osaka and this expo will provide us – even beforehand – the potential to develop tourism and expand business ties. I am always thankful to the many people dedicated to the friendly relations between our two countries.  It is my great honour that on behalf of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, I will soon deliver decorations on Dr Rawya al Busaidiya, former Minister of Higher Education, and Harib al Kitani, former CEO of Oman LNG, in recognition of their longstanding contributions towards bilateral ties.

How many visas were issued to Omanis travelling to Japan last year? What are the main purposes of visit?

Except during the challenging times of COVID-19, nearly 1,000 Omanis travelled to Japan every year. However, the number increased last year. People from Oman normally travel for tourism. Business trips account for 20% of the total visits, for sectors such as automobiles, exports, crude oil and energy.  Some also go to Japan to study and there is indeed a growing number of students who are interested in pursuing an academic career in Japan mainly in engineering and natural sciences.

The Embassy of Japan is currently working on introducing short-stay visa waiver for Omani citizens. Once we have the waiver, there will be a welcome impact on Omani travel trends.

Does the Embassy or Government of Japan have any new projects in Oman for 2024?

My first priority is to enhance Japan-Oman defence cooperation and exchanges. Last year, a long-awaited bilateral defence dialogue was held for the first time, and we will keep the momentum this year. Further, as the sultanate is heading to achieve Oman Vision 2040, Japanese cooperation is now set to come into play full swing.  The Embassy is supporting those businesses in line with the vision. We are also looking forward to several upcoming projects in Duqm and Dhofar where we plan to work on green steel market, among many others.

Is there any plan to have a Japanese school in Muscat?

As of now, we have 120 Japanese living in Oman, including children. Japanese children here in Muscat go to either international schools or local schools. But they also have an opportunity to receive Japanese-style education.

Japanese language courses are available for local residents in Muscat. The Oman-Japan Friendship Association resumed the courses last year after a nearly four-year gap. The courses are taught by native professional Japanese teachers. 

Can you elaborate on new investments and business exchange between the two countries?

Investments in many businesses are currently being considered, including cooperation in crude oil, LNG, power generation and desalination. Now Japanese companies are also focusing on clean energy, like green hydrogen and its derivatives, ammonia, green steel and so on. The Government of Japan has also been an active supporter of the Green Hydrogen Strategy of Oman.   

Tourism is another example. This year, there are plans to kick-start the popular Japanese brand Okura Hotel and Resorts in Oman, which will be the first in the Gulf region. There are also plans to have investments in tourist spots such as the springs in Rustaq. Agriculture and fisheries will be promising sectors for cooperation too. Some projects already have tangible results, like Dana Eggs from Gulf International Poultry Farm in Ibri, which won Oman’s Most Trusted Brand Award in 2023.

How do people-to-people relations between the two countries fare?

We have always had a great relationship between people of the two countries. Yamada Miki, former State Minister of Environment, came to attend a symposium recently. Also, there have been delegations including government ones in diplomatic, defence, economic, academic and archaeology, among many other fields. We always aim to expand and have a diversified human connection. On the cultural front, we are witnessing an enhanced engagement. In 2022, theatre performers, the music band of the Ground Self-Defence Force and calligraphers came to fascinate people in Oman. 

Recently, we also had a sushi exhibition that attracted people from all walks of life, regardless of age.

Interactions among athletes – both amateurs and professionals – have promoted sports exchange through competitions including football, table tennis and field hockey.

H E Dr Khalfan al Shuaili, Minister of Housing and Urban Planning, and Rear Admiral Ali Abdullah al Shidi made a trip recently to Japan and promote people-to-people contact. A high-ranking delegation is preparing for Expo 2025 Osaka and we look forward to more Omanis visiting Japan. There is also great mutual respect between the Imperial Family of Japan and the Royal Family of Oman. Warm contacts between the two will keep boosting our long-standing bilateral ties that are over 52 years old.

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