Qatar-based Japanese hopes World Cup showcases Qatar’s charms

Toru Moriyasu / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takeshi Fukushima speaks while wearing traditional Islamic dress in Doha.

DOHA — Soccer teams are currently battling it out at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to host the competition.

Japanese national Takeshi Fukushima, a public service worker for a government agency in the Arab nation, is keen for the event to be a success. “I hope the World Cup will help people learn about the charms of Qatar,” he said.

Fukushima, 52, came to live and work in Qatar after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. His interest in the Middle East was sparked after Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Gulf War broke out, while he was a university student in his hometown of Osaka. Seeing people dressed in traditional dress on TV, Fukushima became increasingly interested in the Islamic world. He read widely and deepened his knowledge of the subject.

After graduating from university, he adopted the Islamic faith and began attending Kobe Muslim Mosque, located in Chuo Ward, Kobe. In the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, about 100 overseas students studying in the area lost their livelihoods and took shelter in the mosque. Fukushima lived in the mosque for nearly a year, helping to take care of the students.

The experience taught him a lesson: “There’s no telling when I’ll die, so I’ll do what I really want to do,” he said. Four years later, he went to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to study at a university there. While in the UAE, he became acquainted with a high-ranking person in the Qatari government and was later hired by a Qatari government agency and began living in Doha in March 2002.

Fukushima works in public relations at a government agency that has approximately 2,000 workers, though he is the only Japanese national. His workplace is in a 38-story high-rise building. As part of measures to deal with the heat, Fukushima’s workday starts shortly after 7:00 a.m. and lasts for six hours.

Wearing a thobe — a white ethnic dress — he accompanies a minister and carries out various duties, such as taking photographs when the minister meets with ambassadors of other countries.

Fukushima decided to live in Qatar because “there are a lot of nosy people here, just like Osaka.” He added: “Once you become friends with such folks, they get worried if they don’t hear from you for a few days and will say, ‘Why don’t you come over to my house immediately and eat with us.’ This is one of the reasons I came to like the country.”

Fukushima is a long-time soccer fan. While living in Japan, he was thrilled when the J-League launched in 1993 and he attended matches to support his hometown team, Cerezo Osaka. During this year’s World Cup, he said he intends to watch Japan’s matches at home on TV.

Although Fukushima is not directly involved in the operations of the World Cup, he believes that the success or failure of the event is important for the Qatar’s future, as the country has been criticized by the West over the human rights of migrant workers.

“I hope the event is a success and that it serves to let people know about the kindness and friendliness of the Qatari people,” Fukushima said.