Falconry bridges the gap between Emirati and Japenese tradition

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ABU DHABI // Falconers from around the world share a common language through a love for their birds and passion for their sport, said attendees at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition.

They said that it was easy to communicate because the connection they feel as falconers and with the birds allows them to bridge language barriers.

At the Japan Oil Development Company stand, visitors found Noriko Otsuka in the familiar stance of a falconer, but with a different cultural aesthetic.

“Falconry is a very traditional Japanese culture, not only Emirati, you’ll find this passion everywhere in the world,” said Ms Otsuka, head of the Tokyo-based Suwa Falconry Preservation Society.

“When I see falconers, from Europe, USA, or here, the Arabs, I see very similar things. We must respect the falcon and we respect each other,” she said.

Falconry, known as takagari in Japan, has been a popular pastime since the fourth century. It was primarily a practice of nobles until the 17th century.

Nowadays, said Ms Otsuka, its popularity has declined.

Her passion for falconry began in her childhood but did not fully develop until she was at university 20 years ago.

“The first time I saw a falcon, I think I fell in love,” she said. “It was a very beautiful bird, and ever since that day I have practised, but I still learn something new when I meet falconers from other places.

“Now whenever I see someone who is a falconer, we have a mutual respect, as I do have a respect for the falcon, as a master,” she said.

Ms Otsuka said that the practice of falconry in Japan treats the falcon as a master – one who can teach patience and one from whom the falconer can learn as well as teach.

Mohammed Al Hammadi, an Emirati from Al Ain, said falconers in this country also regard and respect the hunting bird as a teacher.

“You learn this, inherently in the sport, you learn it from the animal. This is the patience of a bird, so anyone who practises will find that this is the case,” said Mr Al Hammadi, 53, who has been a falconer since he was seven.

Aside from learning lessons from his falcons, Mr Al Hammadi said that he also learns from counterparts from overseas.

“When I meet another falconer, from anywhere, we can understand each other through our birds. We don’t need to know how to speak the language,” he said.

“Nonetheless, I will find myself trading information with them, talking to them or at least trying to communicate with them as best I can through the birds.

“Somehow I always come out of these meetings having taught something, and having learnt something new, ” he said.

But certain lessons, he explained, can be taught only by the bird.

“Every falconer will tell you the same. You must respect the falcon in order for him to respect you,” Mr Al Hammadi said.

“This isn’t a specific cultural thing for us, this is a mutual thing for all falconers.”

Adihex runs at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre until Saturday.