A love of anime and rapidly advancing technology mixed with traditional culture is encouraging more Emiratis to seek out studies in Japan.
Educators and experts at Najah Abu Dhabi 2018, a leading higher education event being held in the capital, have noticed growing interest from UAE students who want to study in the Far East.
An education chief in the capital said Emirati students are attracted by the country’s focus on technology, as well as a desire to master the language.
Representatives from six Japanese universities are attending the fair to take advantage for the UAE enthusiasm for all things Japanese.
"There is more focus on Japan now because they are advanced in terms of technology. There are students going there to study the language," said Amal Al Hammadi, section manager for student guidance and scholarships at Abu Dhabi's Department of Education and Knowledge.
The Japan International Co-operation Centre revealed that since 2013, the number of Emirati students studying in Japan for degree and non-degree programmes had increased by 62 per cent from 102 students in 2013 to 166 students in 2018.
Munehiro Mishima, general manager at the centre, said many students make the move to immerse themselves in a culture they are very familiar with.
“Culture is a huge reason. For many students, their first motivation was anime. Since they were children they have been familiar with anime. According to them, they dream of going to Japan,” he said.
He said students feel a close connection to the culture because Japanese values are similar to Emirati values and attitude. The majority of students from the UAE choose to study engineering while some take up business, international relations, and arts.
“Advanced technology, the unique culture, safety and the quality of life contribute to why more international students choose Japan for studying,” Mr Mishima said.
Abdulla Al Suwaidi, 31, studied international relations at Nikon University and graduated in 2015. He is now working in the government sector in Abu Dhabi.
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As a child, Mr Suwaidi would watch Japanese animation and play Japanese video games.
"I was hooked on animation and especially Dragon Ball. I used to listen to the Japanese language and I wanted to learn more. I used to buy books and learn about the Japanese culture," he said.
In 2005, he got the opportunity to see a traditional tea ceremony and it was then that he decided he wanted to know more about the culture of Japan.
“I wanted to carve my own path. My dream was to travel to Japan but also to study there.”
He also took the opportunity to learn Japanese. After studying in Japan for six years, he is fluent in the language.
He started to learn Japanese as a hobby in the UAE but took it up seriously when he travelled to the country.
“When you understand the language you can communicate perfectly with people. I’m using the language at work now,” he said.
Tokai University in Tokyo has 135 students from the GCC, including 29 from the UAE. Easa Al Shemsi, 22, is a second-year student at the university.
Mr Al Shemsi was studying at Khalifa University when he was inspired by a college trip to Japan.
“I saw little robot arms build a car. For a person studying mechanical engineering, that’s a dream. I saw that and it blew my mind. I thought I have to go study there if I get the chance,” he said.
When the opportunity came up, he travelled to Japan to study mechanical engineering.
“The people who are living around you make a difference. They are all organised the quality of life is good.
"We are still from the early generations to go to Japan to study from this country. Many people find us studying there amusing. Others didn't know it was possible for us to go to Japan for higher studies," he said.
He remembered telling his family about his decision to study in Japan.
“My father said go for it while my mother was worried about how I would manage to find halal food,” he said.
The Najah education fair, which started on Wednesday and features representatives from 150 universities in 20 countries, is at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until Friday.