Hotels, railway companies in Kansai cater to Muslim tourists

OSAKA - An increasing number of hotels and railway companies in the Kansai region are becoming more hospitable to overseas Muslim tourists who strictly follow Islamic law by offering appropriately prepared meals, facilities for prayer and language services.

Behind the move are hopes that tourists from Southeast Asia will further increase, as the central government eases their visa requirements.

In August, the Japanese restaurant Uemachi at the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka in Tennoji Ward, Osaka, began offering a Japanese-style halal set meal free of pork and alcohol, ingredients that are banned under Islamic law.

The set has been certified as halal by a screening organisation within Japan.

Kintetsu Hotel Systems, which operates the Osaka hotel and 17 other hotels in Japan under its direct management, obtained halal certification for two more of its hotels.

One of them, The Westin Miyako Kyoto in Kyoto, began serving halal-certified meals on Sept. 8, while the other, Gifu Miyako Hotel in Gifu, will start serving them on Oct. 1.

Ultimately, the company intends to serve halal meals at all of its hotels.

"Many tourists from Muslim countries have a difficult time in Japan regarding dining. We'll provide a better service to attract more tourists from these countries," said a representative of the company.

Meanwhile, Nankai Electric Railway Co. will set up a prayer place exclusively for Muslims on the first basement floor of the main building at Namba City, a shopping facility directly connected with Namba Station in Osaka, on Sept. 30.

In the space, men and women can pray in separate spaces. There is also a facility for them to wash themselves with water before praying.

As there are several modes of transport available between Kansai Airport and central Osaka, the railway company anticipates that promoting the new facility may attract tourists from Muslim countries to its train services.

Local governments have also put more emphasis on being more accessible to Muslims.

The Kyoto municipal government has launched a website exclusively for visitors who speak Arabic, Malay and Turkish to provide information on restaurants and hotels in the city.

According to the Japan National Tourist Organisation, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan from January to July this year was about 7.53 million, an increase of 26 per cent from the same period last year.

The number is the largest ever since surveys gathering such statistics began in 1964.

The number of tourists from Malaysia was about 130,000 - an increase of 63 per cent - and those from Indonesia were about 90,000, an increase of 26 per cent. The numbers are a record high. Many people in these countries are Muslim.