Muslim travellers are now looking beyond Muslim-majority countries to satisfy their wanderlust while sticking to their religious obligations. With increasing affluence and easy access to flights, these travellers are making their presence felt in countries such as China, Thailand and South Korea, apart from traditional favourites Malaysia and Indonesia. With a potential customer base of 1.6 billion, attracting Muslim tourists is high on the agenda of many countries, including Japan.
With its rich history, modern architecture and scenic landscapes, as well as a superb transportation network, Japan would be a popular choice for any traveller. Now, the pull for Muslim travellers is even stronger with the increased availability of halal food, which is sourced and prepared according to Islamic principles and mosques.
Although there is no official census data on the number of Muslims in Japan, a representative from the Islamic Center Japan has said in news reports that the number stands at at least 100,000 and rising. Many originate from the Indian sub-continent, Turkey and Indonesia, and some have married locals who have in turn converted to Islam. In the last two decades, many mosques have been built to cater to the Muslim community.
Tour operators in Singapore are customising their packages to meet the high Muslim demand for holidays in Japan. CTC Travel's Harmoni Holidays, which took a group of 100 Muslim travellers to Okinawa in June, is planning a tour to Hokkaido later this year, with mosque visits a key aspect of the itinerary.
Apple Muslim Holiday under Apple Vacations Singapore was set up in 2009 to cater to the needs of Muslim travellers. Its sales director Mr PS Cheong expects the market to continue to grow in the next two to three years.
He says: "Japan's rich history and culture make it an attractive destination for Muslim travellers. They also enjoy the flower season and theme parks. We use Malaysian or Indonesian guides in our tours and make 100 per cent halal food arrangement."
Mr Abdul Rahim, a general manager at TM Fouzy Travel, says its Muslim tours to Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido will launch in September. Travellers will also get a chance to meet Muslim families and imams in Japan to find out more about the Islamic way of life. "There is an increased number of enquiries on Japan tours," says Mr Abdul Rahim. "The co-existence of ancient traditions and modern life, the highly organised way of doing things, a high level of safety and the physical beauty of the country are very appealing to the travellers."
There are more than 50 mosques located throughout Japan, with the earliest one built in Kobe in 1935. The websites of the places of worship list prayer times for the city.
Tokyo Mosque (also known as Tokyo Camii)
1-19 Oyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-006 (near Yoyogi-uehara metro station)
Tel : 03-5790-0760
This mosque first existed in 1938, before it was torn down in 1986 and rebuilt into the present Ottoman-inspired building.
4-6-7 Taito, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0016
A mosque cum community centre, it conducts various activities like language and cooking classes, and cultural exchange programs.
3-42-7 Minami Otsuka Toshima-ku, Tokyo 170-0005 (near Shin-otsuka metro station)
The mosque is part of the Japan Islamic Trust, which issues halal certificates. It has a library and offers marriage and burial services.
Osaka Ibaraki Mosque
4-6-13 Toyokawa, Ibaraki-shi, Osaka 567-0057 (near Toyokawa monorail station)
This mosque also houses a shop selling halal meats, noodles, rice and seasonings. The shop is open after every prayer time.
3-7-2 Nishi, Kita 14jo, Kita-ku, Sapporoshi, 001-0014 (near Sapporo JR station)
Also the home of the Hokkaido Islamic Society, whose members cook food and share them every year at an iftar, or breaking fast, gathering during the holy month of Ramadan.