Masuki Hoshino / Marubeni Saudi Arabia Co., Ltd.
I suppose that when many of you reading this piece hear the name Saudi Arabia, you imagine camels in deserts and a wealthy dynasty with rich oil fields. Saudi Arabia is also the country that most strictly adheres to Islamic law, where even today tourists are seldom accepted, and where it is difficult to enter for purposes other than work or religious pilgrimage. As a result, it is generally difficult to find out much about Saudi Arabia, so I would like to introduce you to the complex living environment here.
(1) Islamic law
As Saudi Arabia is based on the teachings of Islam, alcohol and pork are not sold at all. Women, including foreigners, are forbidden from showing any skin and are required to cover up their entire bodies in black clothing known as abaya as well as cover up their hair with scarves. Further, women are not allowed to drive.
Muslims pray for thirty minutes five times a day, and all shops and restaurants pull down their shutters and close their businesses during these prayer periods. The times vary slightly from day to day, and if you are not aware of the prayer times on a given day, you may find yourself waiting in front of a closed shop for thirty minutes, as I myself have done many times. Quite unlike other Muslim countries such as Bahrain and Dubai, Saudi Arabians expect foreigners to follow the teachings of Islam as well.
(2) Living environment
Many Japanese live in residential areas made for foreigners known as compounds that are surrounded by high walls and gates manned by Saudi military personnel. Daily life within the compounds offer a bit more freedom. Abaya, for example, are not required, and there are amenities such as tennis courts and swimming pools.
(3) Leisure time
In accordance with Islamic teachings, events where many people gather such as concerts and movies are forbidden here, and many people go shopping or golfing in their leisure time. There are markets known as souks where you can be immersed in Arab tradition, as well as large western-style shopping malls and luxury shopping centers located inside 300 meter high towers that offer top brands such as Louis Vuitton.
People also go out into the desert for excursions including barbecues and camel watching. I hope I have managed to convey just a bit about this intriguing country where traditional Arab culture coexists alongside the highly developed towns afforded by abundant oil money.
Marubeni Group magazine "M-SPIRIT" VOL.51 (May, 2009)