Shihab Alfaheem’s current assignment as the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Japan
represents much more than just another stop in a diplomatic career. For Alfaheem,
it marks the return to a country that inspired him as a child and formed his career.
Alfaheem’s first encounter with Japan came at a young age watching Japanese
animation programs such as “UFO Robot Grendizer,” “Captain Tsubasa” and others that
used to air on UAE TV channels.
The flow of cultural productions from Japan to Alfaheem’s television and other
households across the UAE was a byproduct of the cultural, economic and diplomatic
exchange between the two countries that formally began in May 1972, six months after
the unification of the UAE in December of 1971.
Alfaheem grew up amid this UAE-Japan exchange, which shaped his life’s trajectory.
What started as a fascination with Japanese animation gradually developed into a
deeply personal relationship with the country where he now serves as ambassador.
Before assuming his current post in December 2020, Alfaheem worked as a diplomat in
various capacities with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he entered in
2012. Prior to becoming a diplomat, he worked in the oil and banking industries,
where he got his first taste of life in Japan. In 2003, Alfaheem’s former employer,
Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., stationed him in the city of Beppu in Kyushu for a one-year
on-the-job training program.
Over the course of that year, Alfaheem became so enamored with Japan that he
made sure to come back and visit at least once a year. “I really like the diversity
of Japan,” he said. “Whether it’s Osaka, Fukuoka or Kagoshima, each place shows a
different face of the country. There is so much to explore, and I am very happy for
the chance to serve here.”
Alfaheem’s decision to become a diplomat was inspired by his desire to “give
back” to his country. “The contributions I can make as a diplomat to further enhance
our relationships with Japan and other countries around the world inspires me to
wake up every day,” he said. “Last year the UAE celebrated the 50th anniversary of
its founding, and I want to do everything I can to ensure that my country continues
to progress and improve its connections around the world.”
Diplomatic relations between the UAE and Japan formally began in May 1972, but
Japan has had a presence in the UAE since as early as 1955, when Toyota established
its first distribution agreements in the region. In addition to trade, which has
generally centered on automobile imports from Japan and oil exports from the UAE,
the two countries have engaged in collaborative projects such as the Emirates Mars
Mission, the UAE’s first interplanetary space probe, which launched from the Tanegashima
Space Center last year.
Alfaheem noted that Japan is an important partner in the field of sustainable power
generation. “Japan has played a significant role in our efforts to pursue renewable
energy,” he said, “and we’re working on several different projects related to solar
power and carbon capturing.”
Shipments of blue ammonia from the UAE to Japan illustrate this partnership.
A low-carbon carrier fuel for hydrogen, blue ammonia is expected to significantly
contribute to decarbonization efforts across multiple sectors. In August 2021, the
UAE sent its first cargo of blue ammonia to Japan.