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.
There is a wide array of halal eateries in Tokyo, as well as other major cities. They serve mainly Pakistani / Indian, Middle Eastern, Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines. Do note that many restaurants serve alcoholic drinks even if the food is 100 per cent halal-certified.
Nishiazabu, 1st & 2nd floor 3-1-20, Nishiazabu Minato-ku Tokyo (near Roppongi metro station)
This establishment serves Middle Eastern food, including falafel, tahini, tagine and couscous, in an Egyptian setting. There are also belly dance performances several times a week.
Daini Nisshin Bldg. 2F, 7-10-20, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo.
A chain of restaurants located all over Tokyo, Siddique serves spicy Indian and Pakistani fare including naan, keema and curries. Apart from Shinjuku, there are also branches in Chiyoda, Minato, Chuo and Arakawa. The owners also run Dong Khoi, a restaurant serving halal Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
Seno Bldg. 7F, 3-18-4 Shinjuku,Shinjuku-ku,Tokyo
Another multi-branch restaurant serving Indian food. Lunch sets and dinner buffets consist of rice, naan and curries, including perennial favourite butter chicken. Also available in Roppongi, Shibuya and Minami-aoyama.
3-14-5 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku Tokyo (near Shibuya metro station)
This restaurant serves BBQ Japanese beef. Various cuts of meat are served to customers who then grill them on stoves. There are also set meals pairing the meat with vegetables and rice.
Ginza Five Star Bldg. 8F, 5-8-13, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 (near Ginza metro station)
Tuck into satay kajang, Sarawak-style beef, Ipoh claypot rice and various Nyonya dishes within the batik-clothdraped walls of this restaurant.
Merah Putih Cafe Shinjuku-ku Hyaku Nin Cho 2 - 10 - 9 Shin Okubo Initial House 304 (near Shin-okubo metro station) Tel: 03-6279-2399
Owned by an Indonesian who was a student in the city, the restaurant serves her hometown fare including nasi campur, rendang, mi ayam, gado-gado and sop bakso.
Kyoto Rose Cafe
88-3, Miyagaki-cho, Kawaramacbidorikojinguchinoboru , Kmigyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto (near Jingu-Marutamachi rail station)
The dishes are a fusion of East and West, including kebabs, burgers, sausages, soups and salads.
Warung Jawa Zeusu Bldg. 1F, Kita14jyou, Nishi3Chome, Kita-ku Sapporo-shi Hokkaido
Popular among Malaysian and Indonesian students from the nearby Hokkaido University, this eatery also runs a shop selling halal meat, chicken and spices.
1-9 Dojimachikagai Dojima Kita-ku Osaka
There are a total of four Mughal restaurants in Osaka, serving South Asian fare like tandoori chicken, naan and curries.
Bagus Indonesian Kitchen
Toyo Bldg. 1F, 1-9-11, Nakatsu, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
Familiar Indonesian fare such as soto ayam and nasi campur awaits patrons here.
This story was first published on sgtravellers.com.