Japanese restaurant are grappling with the idea of catering to guests who shun pork and alcohol.
Japan’s tourism industry is attempting to attract Muslim travelers, offering them prayer rooms, pure silk hijab scarves, and halal-certified whale meat. This, in a country with only about 100, 000 practicing Muslims.
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“Muslim travelers still do not feel comfortable here, ” Datuk Ibrahim Haji Ahmad Badawi, head of Malaysian food company Brahim’s, told a recent seminar on halal tourism in Tokyo, one of 20 regional conferences being held in Japan on this topic. “The government seems to have understood this.”
The Osaka Chamber of Commerce handed out 5, 000 leaflets as a guide to what Muslims are allowed to eat. Naturally, it’s been a tough concept for the Japanese that kitchens should be pork and alcohol free.
Tourism to Japan is heavily promoted in mainly-Muslim Southeast Asia for the current holy month of Ramadan. In 2013, Japan relaxed visa requirements for travelers from Malaysia and Thailand. Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, is next.
According to the Japanese National Tourism Organization, 136, 797 Indonesians visited Japan in 2013, up 34.8 percent on the previous year. This compared with 176, 521 Malaysian visitors in 2013, an increase of 35.6 percent.
A number of large hotels are looking to cater to Muslim guests.
Halal supervised Japanese dishes in Tokyo include a “yakiniku” barbecue restaurant, run by Roger Bernard Diaz from Sri Lanka. The restaurant gets reservations from southeast Asia and the Gulf.
Muslims looking to taste whale meat can now enjoy it in Japan, where a whaling factory ship was certified halal-compliant last year. The Japan Halal Association, founded in 2010, grants the status.
Association chairwoman Hind Hitomi Remon, said, “Since 2012, we have issued certificates to 40 companies, and that number is set to rise a lot this year, ” as the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games grow nearer.