Over at ComingAnarchy, I have a post on the unique foreign policy of Oman. In reading about Oman, I read with fascination about the unique relationship that developed between Oman and Japan in the years before World War II.
The story begins when a traveler called Shigetaka Shiga visited Oman during the late winter of 1924. He visited the Sultan’s palace without any appointment, said he was from Japan and wanted to take the opportunity to visit the Sultan, to propose closer friendship between the two countries. After palace servants checked with Sultan Taimur, he welcomed Shiga, and the two had a good conversation about promoting bilateral relations. In this conversation, Shiga later remarked that Sultan Taimur said that Oman, due to its unique history with trading with the Far East, and sitting closer to the Indus River than to Mecca, belonged more in Asia than in Arabia.
Shiga visited as Sultan Feisal was enjoying the last years of comfortable rule in Oman. Born in 1886, he ascended to the throne in 1913, and faced widespread rebellion in the countryside. He was aided by the British, who ultimately brokered a peace that ultimately limited the Sultan’s power to the city of Muscat and the coastal region of the country, and took on great financial obligations to the British personally, which ruined him. He abdicated for financial reasons in 1932 and passed the throne to his son.
After his abdication, perhaps prompted by this chance meeting with Shiga, the former Sultan traveled across Asia to Japan, where he arrived in Kobe. He traveled under a pseudonym and hid his identity to all but top Japanese government bureaucrats. In Kobe, he became acquainted with a young Japanese lady and ended up marrying her in 1936. They settled down in Kobe, and the two had a daughter, Princess Buthaima, who was born in 1937.
During this time, the new Sultan of Oman Sultan Said visited Kobe together with his younger brother, Sayyid Tareq. They visited their father and it was there agreed that, should the new young Sultan die without issue (he did not yet have a son), his younger brother should become Sultan — an understanding that became known as the “Kobe Agreement.”
Taimur lived in Kobe for four years, but he left with his daughter when his wife died, and from there he moved to India. He died 1965 in Bombay, India, but ended his days by commending Japan for providing the highest standards of civilized living.
Sultan Said played an important role in modernizing his country but was unable to end the civil unrest that swept through the interior regions for decades. He was finally ousted and replaced with his son in a palace coup, who became the current Sultan Qaboos. Qaboos served in the British Army as a young man, and he visited Japan in 1964 on his way back to Oman after finishing his service in the English Army. This makes Oman the only country in the Middle East where three generations of leaders have visited Japan.
Such it is that Oman and Japan have a certain special relationship that exists, to a limited degree, to this day. Oman was critical in brokering non-military financial support for Kuwait during the Gulf War. Japan was Oman’s biggest trading partner in the early 1990s. And today Japanese investment forms a critical part of Oman’s oil production infrastructure.