The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, has the world’s top reserves of crude oil. H. E. Dr. Abdulaziz A. Turkistani, ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Japan, speaks Japanese proficiently and has studied abroad at Waseda University. Toshio Motoya spoke with Ambassador Turkistani about topics including the desirable future relationship between Japan and Saudi Arabia, as well as changing impressions of Japan as seen by foreign national
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. This is our third meeting; each time we meet I am surprised by how much your Japanese is improving.
Turkistani Thank you very much. I still have a long way to go with Japanese (laughs). In 1973, when I was a third-year middle school student, a meeting was held between King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and the current Japanese prime minister. The interpreter was Takashi Hayashi, a Japanese man who was a top executive at Arabian Oil Company. Hayashi is now 95, but he is still very energetic. I was impressed by his fluent Arabic, so I told my mother that I wanted to study Japanese and become an interpreter like Hayashi. My mother replied that I should study various subjects in addition to Japanese, become an ambassador, and become able to go to Japan. I studied with that intention. I performed Japanese-language interpretation for the king in 2006, and was able to become the ambassador to Japan in 2009. If you have a dream and work towards fulfilling it, it can come true.
Motoya I agree. If you have a strong will, you will succeed. I understand that you studied abroad at Waseda University after graduating from a university in Saudi Arabia.
Turkistani Yes. I studied marketing and advertising under Tasaburo Kobayashi, who passed away recently. He was an extremely passionate teacher. Public relations theory is a subject in which one learns about humans, so it was fascinating for me, a person who is very interested in human beings.
Motoya You have made use of what you learned there in your business and your job as an ambassador. I recently visited Bahrain, where I held meetings with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the crown prince, and many government officials. Bahrain was a wonderful country. The reason I visited was because Dr. Khalil Hassan, the ambassador to Japan, was very fond of the book containing English-language translations of my “APA Words to Live By” that are serialized in Apple Town, this magazine. He arranged my trip to Bahrain. When I arrived at the airport, a Mercedes-Benz was waiting beside the airplane to welcome me. We rode in it to the town, where we received wonderful hospitality.
Turkistani That sounds like a great experience (laughs).
Motoya Ambassador Hassan asked me to send 20 copies of the “Words to Live By” book ahead of time. He took the book with him when he spoke in advance to the government officials. Thanks to that, the scheduling for the meetings went very smoothly. In particular, the prime minister – who is the uncle of the king – was very impressed by my book, and he set up a meeting for me with the crown prince. Moreover, the crown prince introduced me to the king.
Turkistani Everything certainly went very well.
Motoya Yes, it did. I heard the king does not talk very much, but our actual conversation was quite exciting, perhaps because I showed him a photograph from when I rode in an F-15 fighter aircraft. The king is a very active man; he still flies helicopters, which he learned when he was in the army. I am also fond of vehicles such as cars, and I enjoy shooting, so perhaps he felt we have something in common.
Turkistani King Hamad of Bahrain is a very kind man. Incidentally, have you translated your “Words to Live By” book into Arabic?
Motoya No, although there is an English translation. Turkistani In that case, I will translate it into Arabic. I actually just finished writing a book about Sakamoto Ryoma, and am writing a book in Arabic about Japanese proverbs. For proverbs in particular, one must translate after fully understanding the meaning – this shows the ability of the translator. Interestingly, in Arabic there are similar proverbs as in Japan.
Motoya Wisdom must be a universal thing.
Turkistani I will definitely translate your book.
Motoya Yes, I would like that!
Motoya In Bahrain, I was referred to as “your excellency.” The reason is become Ambassador Hassan, together with my “Words to Live By” book, introduced me as a man who has never carried out restructuring or experienced deficits during the 41 years since I founded my company. He also said I was a man who had created Japan’s largest hotel chain in just one generation. People say that you should think of crises as opportunities; I have certainly taken all major economic fluctuations as opportunities. Yachts are able to move forward as long as the wind is blowing, even if it is a headwind – they cannot do anything if the weather is entirely calm. After the collapse of the bubble, both the “fund bubble” and bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers turned out to be opportunities. That’s why the APA Group of today exists. We actually opened six hotels over the past month, and APA Hotel Shibuya-Dougenzakaue is scheduled to be opened tomorrow.
Turkistani That’s wonderful.
Motoya The APA Group began the “Summit Strategy” in April 2010. This action was in line with my “Words to Live By” that says, “Choose the right timing to bring about victory.” I saw that land prices had fallen because of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, so we purchased sites for 41 buildings in cash. Hotels and condominiums are being successively built on these sites now. This summer, the average operating ratio for APA Hotel in Tokyo was more than 95%. Looking at single hotels, APA Hotel＆Resort Tokyo Bay Makuhari, the tallest hotel in Japan, had an operating ratio of more than 98%. Tokyo Bay Makuhari has around 1,000 rooms, but we have decided to increase this number by 500 rooms.
Turkistani It seems like everything is going very well.
Motoya Now is a good time, so we are carrying out such projects all at once. But if the situation worsens, we can stop suddenly. This is possible because I own all of the group’s stock – it couldn’t be accomplished with a so-called “salary man” president.
Turkistani The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia is in Roppongi, where there is also a new APA Hotel.
Motoya Yes, APA Hotel Roppongi-Ichome-Ekimae. That hotel is always full.
Turkistani I thought so (laughs).
Motoya I don’t know much about Saudi Arabia. Would you please share some basic facts-
Turkistani Yes, I will. Saudi Arabia comprises the majority of the Arabian Peninsula. Its area is approximately 5.7 times that of Japan. Around 27.14 million people live there. The state religion is Islam, and of course the language is Arabic. The country is a monarchy ruled by King Abdullah, who currently serves as the prime minister as well. Our principal industry is oil and petrochemicals, and we export a great deal of oil to Japan as well.
Motoya Saudi Arabia imports many products, such as electrical appliances, from Japan.
Turkistani That is correct. I feel that the relationships between the Arab and Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, will grow in the future. A total of 33% of the oil imported into Japan is from Saudi Arabia. The share of oil imported into Japan from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – a regional cooperation institution consisting of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia – is more than 70%. The truth is that, over the past half century, we have only seen each other as places to trade oil and electrical appliances. We must accept this fact and then decide what to do in the future. First of all, we must increase the number of Japanese people who visit the Arab countries like yourself, as well as the people from Saudi Arabia who come to Japan. Afterwards, I feel that we must think about what to do together. Rather than adding one and one to make two, we need a strategic partnership that adds up to three.
Motoya I agree entirely.
Turkistani I came to Japan when I was 21, and studied at a university in Japan for eight years. I want to increase the number of people like myself by the thousands. Conversely, I also want more Japanese people to come to the Arab countries, whether for business or other reasons.
Motoya I received various offers in Bahrain, including about the franchise development of APA Hotel. My plan is to make APA the undisputed top hotel group in Japan before expanding, mainly into Asian countries such as Korea, Taiwan, and China. In the gulf countries there are five-star luxury hotels and extremely cheap hotels, but there are few hotels for businesspeople with compact, affordable rooms of good quality like APA Hotel.
Turkistani That’s certainly true.
Motoya Apparently, five million people from Saudi Arabia visit Bahrain each year. This is an area in which gasoline is around 10 yen per liter – 20 yen at most – so people don’t need to worry much about travel costs. The problem is lodging expenses; I was told that business hotels like APA Hotel, where you can stay at costs that are one third those of luxury hotels, will become important in the future. I heard that the smallest hotel room size in Bahrain is 24 square meters. APA Hotel’s rooms are half that size, so earning rates can be maintained while lowering prices. When I explained this, a person from a major hotel in Bahrain was quite interested.
Turkistani Perhaps the people of Bahrain want to use APA Hotel as one model of advancement into Bahrain, which can be shown to Japanese corporations in order to entice them to expand into the country. There is still little investment from Japan into Saudi Arabia, and I think that Japan is scared of doing so. However, Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20, and stopped receiving official development assistance (ODA) in 2008. Many people from Saudi Arabia in all demographics have very good impressions of Japan. I would like for Japanese people to think seriously about Saudi Arabia as an investment destination, and for us to become good partners.
Motoya I understand. I hope that many people will become interested in Saudi Arabia through Apple Town, this magazine. People in Saudi Arabia have a positive impression of Japan, yet in recent years that isn’t at all true for Japanese people. Japanese people should be proud of their country, but since World War II we have increasingly had a culture of contempt for our own nation. In the Arab countries like Bahrain, there are always dignified men who attend official functions in their native dress – they are proud of their own culture, which I think is wonderful. However, the only men in Japan who wear kimono to official functions are probably Kabuki actors. Having pride in one’s country and culture is a proper attitude; it’s wrong to think that something is strange just because it is different from Western culture. People from both Saudi Arabia and Japan should embrace their uniqueness, be proud of their own countries, and build relationships while having respect for other countries.
Turkistani I agree. I am currently thinking of two things for the construction of a relationship between Saudi Arabia and Japan. The first is business – namely, how to encourage increased investment and industry, particularly the downstream industry. The second is how to invigorate the exchange between individuals. For example, it might be a good idea to hold more cultural events. There are many parts of Japanese culture that I would like to share with Saudi Arabia, including karate, the tea ceremony, and ikebana (the art of flower arrangement). I have also spoken with Jiro Kodera, the Japanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia who recently took up his post. I think great effects could be had just by dispatching one calligrapher to Saudi Arabia.
Motoya Such mutual understanding is vital. Very few Japanese people are informed about Saudi Arabia, such as the fact that it has a population of nearly 30 million people, or that the GDP per person is more than 20,000 dollars. Revolutions occurred in many countries such as Egypt and Libya during the Arab Spring that began in Tunisia from the end of 2010 to the beginning of 2011. However, the political situation in Saudi Arabia was stable.
Turkistani I believe the fundamental problem of the so-called “Arab Spring” was the issue of unemployed young people.
Motoya Yes, that’s true.
Turkistani Saudi Arabia has a similar problem; its unemployment rate is high as well. I would like to somehow absorb expertise from Japan, which has a low unemployment rate even among the developed countries. Right now, a total of 480 international students from Saudi Arabia are studying in Japan. They gather at the embassy once per month, and I am hoping to hold lectures there about Japan and the wisdom of the Japanese people. I would appreciate it if you would speak once, too.
Motoya Are the international students all young people?
Turkistani Yes, they are mostly in their twenties.
Motoya I understand. I will give a talk to them.
Turkistani Thank you! Let’s definitely make that happen (laughs).
Motoya I am also thinking of creating a section in Apple Town called “From ambassadors around the world” in which the ambassadors from different countries across the globe take turns introducing their countries each month. A total of 55,000 copies of Apple Town magazine are published each month. It is also seen by the six million people who stay at APA Hotel each year, so I believe the ambassadors would have a large audience for what they wish to say.
Turkistani That’s a good idea.
Motoya Let’s make that happen soon, as well (laughs). At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Turkistani I came to Japan for the first time at 6:20 p.m. on April 7, 1982.
Motoya You remember that well! (Laughs)
Turkistani Yes, I do. When I first rode on the Yamanote Line, I remember being surprised that I saw young people giving up their seats to elderly people, even though they weren’t sitting in the priority seats. But in recent years, the number of young people who give up their seats is decreasing; it’s unfortunate that such wonderful, old customs are becoming obsolete. I hope that people will always place importance on such valuable customs. We must prize the native cultures of our own countries more.
Motoya I agree entirely.
Turkistani In addition, since I came to Japan I have also learned about the precious nature of this country’s ethics. This refers to respect given to teachers and older people, as well as affection for younger people. I think these are manners for operating society in a good way.
Motoya That is also dying out in Japan recently.
Turkistani Yes. Because we live according to the precepts of Islam, our behavior is in line with a certain standard whether we are in Saudi Arabia, Japan, or the U.S. But Japanese people seem to have forgotten their own culture that is worthy of pride.
Motoya I see. Japanese people and foreign nations have entirely different viewpoints. If one suddenly notices something because of what you pointed out, that’s an opportunity for awakening, which is a wonderful thing.
Turkistani Japan is very important to the Arab countries – this is unchanged both now and in the past.
Motoya The Arab countries are very important to Japan as well. If we stopped receiving oil from those countries, Japan might fall into chaos like during the previous oil crisis. Because the Arab countries are so important, it’s a major problem that Japanese people don’t know much about them.
Turkistani Japan is referred to as an “island country,” but it has become fully internationalized. People from across the world want Japan to serve in the role of flag bearer for peace. After all, the word “Islam” contains the meaning of “peace.”
Motoya Is that so- Islam has the opposite reputation of being extreme and violent… I’m glad you came here today, if only to spread awareness of that.
Turkistani Thank you very much. I will work as hard as I can to continue serving as a bridge between Japan and Saudi Arabia, so that the two countries can construct a mutually beneficial relationship.
Motoya I look forward to that. Thank you for joining me today.
H. E. Dr. Abdulaziz A. Turkistani
H. E. Dr. Abdulaziz A. Turkistani was born in 1958 in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia. After graduating from King Abdulaziz University in 1979, he entered Waseda University in 1980. He studied public relations theory and earned his master’s degree in 1984. In 1999, he earned his doctoral degree from Cairo University. Ambassador Turkistani has served in many important positions in the worlds of business and academia, including general manager of the Saudi Research＆Publishing Group and department head of business and administration at King Saud University. He became the ambassador to Japan in 2009. Ambassador Turkistani has also written many books in both Arabic and English.