Photo/IllutrationChie Towata, left, poses for a photograph with Ambassador Khalid al-Muslahi during a commemorative party in Nara on April 14. (Akira Nemoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NARA--Chie Towata has planted a seed that is reviving Silk Road ties that might have once existed between this ancient capital and Oman, a sultanate along the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula.

It all started about a decade ago when Towata, a 41-year-old Nara website designer, became acquainted with a Japanese woman who had obtained Omani citizenship and invited her to visit Nara Prefecture.

“I pledge to carve out a history of friendship between Nara and Oman steadily, page by page,” Towata said in a speech on April 14 during a party to commemorate the incorporation of the nonprofit Nara-Oman Friendship Association, founded in 2010, over which she presides.

The party was also attended by Khalid al-Muslahi, the Omani ambassador to Japan, who said, “Let me affirm my support and friendship (for the association) ... I believe that Oman’s relationship with Nara is also only going to become stronger in the coming years.”

Oman, a Middle Eastern monarchy with Muscat as the capital, had about 85 percent the landmass of Japan and a population of 4.56 million in 2017. Its main industries include oil-related businesses, farming, fishery and tourism. Japan imports crude oil, natural gas and other products from Oman, which, in turn, buys automobiles, home electric appliances and other merchandise from Japan.

The budding friendship between Nara and Oman began when Towata saw a TV program about Suad al-Mudhaffar, born Mihoko Morita, in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, who later married an Omani man and obtained Omani citizenship.

Al-Mudhaffar, who founded a school in Oman, has published books including “Sabaku ni Tsukutta Sekai-Ichi no Gakko” (The world’s No. 1 school founded in a desert), which carries an Aspect Inc. imprint.

“I didn’t even previously know the location of Oman,” Towata said. “But I was moved so much by the fact that there was a Japanese woman who was working so hard.”

She invited al-Mudhaffar to visit Nara Prefecture and worked with the Rotary Club of Nara-Omiya for her to address an audience at a lecture on Nov. 22, 2009.

“Nara was the last stop along the Silk Road,” Towata told al-Mudhaffar when they first met. Al-Mudhaffar replied by saying, “Oman also hosted an important port that was part of the Silk Road.”

The two women livened up as they thought about and discussed the possible human and trade ties of olden times.

EXHIBITIONS, FESTIVAL, COOKING CLASSES

In 2017, the association had a young Omani illustrator visit Nara Prefecture and organized exhibitions for her in the village of Kawakami and the city of Tenri.

In January this year, 10 or so association members, including Towata, took part in the Muscat Festival, a national event held in the Omani capital, where they promoted Nara Prefecture by presenting Yamato-cha green tea and strawberries from the prefecture.

Towata said many of the Omanis she has gotten to know have an unassuming nature.

“It looks like Nara is being overshadowed by the neighboring cities of Osaka and Kyoto,” she said. “Nara has a lot of attractive tourism resources but is not very good at advertising them. Well, that may be one thing that Nara has in common with Oman.”

By the latest count, the Nara-Oman Friendship Association has 60 or so Japanese and eight Omani members. The association has plans for organizing Arab cuisine classes and other events.

“I want to help the process of getting to know each other through the prism of culture,” Towata said.