This should put the final nail in the coffin of that phony viral email about Japan being vitally Muslim-free. Kyoto, a city known worldwide as a major center for Buddhism and as the home of some of the country’s most famous Shinto shrines, is stepping up efforts to better welcome one particular group of foreign visitors: Muslims.
Muslim Village (h/t AcharyaS) With the number of Muslim tourists from Malaysia on the rise, thanks to visa restrictions that were eased last July and the growing number of international conferences in the ancient capital being attended by Muslims from Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, the city decided earlier this year to formally research better ways meet their needs.
Of the nearly 845,000 foreign visitors to Kyoto in 2012 who spent at least one night at a hotel, only about 13,000 were from Malaysia and Indonesia. But that was up from the combined 8,000 or so who visited in 2011, and the figure is expected to grow.
In response, Kyoto established a study group to make the city more Muslim-friendly. It consists of hotel managers, convention bureau officials, restaurateurs and others interested in attracting more Muslims. The group receives advice from the Kyoto Muslim Association, which allows Muslims to visit and pray at the mosque inside and which provides information on halal and Muslim-friendly restaurants in Kyoto.
Some hotels, such as Hotel Granvia and Kyoto Century Hotel, already offer Muslim-friendly meals, while the Kyoto Rose Café, not far from the association’s headquarters, offers halal meals. There are also Japanese- and English-language websites that list halal and Muslim-friendly establishments in Kyoto.
But one idea that the group, under the direction of the Kyoto Muslim Association, is looking at is a more detailed guide to restaurants that are classified as not only “Muslim-friendly” but also “halal,” “Muslim-welcome” and “pork-free.”
A restaurant is designated halal when all of its menu items are halal-certified and contain no pork or pork products, and when no alcohol, including cooking wine or mirin (a sweet cooking wine made from rice), is used during the cooking process. Muslim-friendly means the restaurant has both halal and non-halal menus. Muslim-welcome means no pork or alcohol was used in the cooking, but non-halal meats and alcohol are available. Pork-free means just that, but alcohol may have been used in the cooking and the menu is non-halal.
In addition to offering prayer rooms facing toward Mecca or taking care to ensure the food served meets the requirements of Muslim customers, there are other issues. Rie Doi, director of tourism promotion at the Kyoto Convention Bureau, notes it is especially important that Kyoto businesses interested in selling their wares to Muslim tourists understand the cultural background of their customers.
“For example, some companies may wish to offer certain kinds of souvenirs in colors that are particularly popular in the Muslim world and different from (those) other foreign customers might want,” she said.
At the same time, Muslim tourists, no matter where they’re from, ask the same kinds of questions any tourist might ask. A recent report presented to the study group noted that Malaysian Muslims asked their travel agents why they were going to a particular Kyoto temple or shrine and what, exactly, they could do while there.
The report said addressing these questions was extremely important to Muslim visitors. But not a few tourists — most with limited time, little or no understanding of Japanese, and a minimal understanding of Kyoto’s history — are likely to want the answers as well.
Local-level authorities are stepping up efforts to attract Muslim tourists to their holiday spots as Japan becomes a prime destination for the growing middle-class population of Southeast Asia. Their efforts center on promoting local businesses’ understanding of the religion’s customs, including dietary habits and methods of prayer, to create Muslim-friendly environments. Local authorities will also disseminate information about their efforts, with the Kyoto Convention Bureau set to open a new website, Muslim Friendly Kyoto, by the end of this year. The bureau said it is the first website of its kind by a Japanese public organization and will offer information of interest to Muslim tourists, such as locations of halal restaurants and prayer-friendly accommodations, in four languages commonly spoken by Asian Muslims. Tips to be offered include the manners required when visiting Kyoto’s Buddhist temples without participating in any religious practices.
Fresh off celebrating it’s own National Day on Thursday, Japan is going all out to woo Muslim tourists as it issues special guide of halal eateries and mosques around the country.
“Japan is becoming more and more Muslim-friendly country. We have a number of halal restaurants in major cities and many places have mosques of their own. We welcome tourists from UAE and Middle East to visit Japan and enjoy its beauty and hospitality,” said Daisuke Matsunaga, Consul General of Japan to Dubai, as he marked the holiday on Thursday.
As part of the policy to attract tourists from the region, Japan has designed a special guide that details all the information about restaurants offering halal food as well as mosques as well as other services that cater to Muslim tourists. The Japan Travel Guide for Muslim Travellers is available on official Japan Toursim website: www.jnto.org.
Japanese businesses catering to Muslims have been picking up steam as more tourists from Southeast Asia travel to Japan to take advantage of the weakened yen. An increasing number of restaurants and hotels have begun serving halal foods that are permissible by Islamic law. Some companies in Japan have even begun exporting halal foods. On Nov. 2, Muslim students from Malaysia got together with their Japanese counterparts in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, to throw a barbecue party. In accordance with Islamic law, no pork or alcohol was used at the barbecue, and beef was handled according to a strict set of prescribed steps. The event was organized by the Halal Japan Business Association, a Tokyo group seeking to popularize foods and other products and services for Muslims.
Tokyo – A tasting event for the new dishes which will be added to the Halal Recommended Menu was held in the First Cafeteria at the Ookayama Campus on October 23. About 20 Muslim students enjoyed tasting the dishes. Tokyo Tech University Co-op cafeterias have been offering a Halal Recommended Menu since 2010 at the Ookayama Campus and since 2011 at the Suzukakedai Campus. Executive Director Hirano of Tokyo Tech University Co-op said:
“If you are trying to adhere to strict halal requirements, you need to ensure that there is no mixing of halal and non-halal ingredients and wash tableware separately from other tableware, which are difficult tasks in practice. The Tokyo Tech University Co-op made Six Commitments pertaining to the offering of its Halal Recommended Menu. We also provided an opportunity for Muslim students to give us feedback through a tasting event.”
The Kuwait News Agency reported that the Japanese government is prepared to pay for half of the costs involved in upgrading processing facilities to make them compliant to halal standards. The Japanese government hopes to increase beef exports in particular. At the moment Hong Kong and Thailand are the main customers of Japanese beef, but there is also a high demand for it in the UAE. They also aim to expand the market to Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
For observant Muslim travelers, Japan’s Kansai International Airport has long been a food desert. Now they can slurp noodles with everyone else. In July the kitchen at The U-don, a Sanuki udon noodle shop, was halal-certified. A self-service udon noodle restaurant inside Kansai International Airport, Za U-don, obtained halal accreditation from Malaysian Halal Consultation & Training, according to its operator Kansai In-flight Catering Co. This was no mere act of cultural kindness: From 2011 to 2012, the Renzo Piano-designed airport witnessed a 70% increase in visitors from Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous nation and home to its largest Muslim population. The people’s stomachs have spoken, and halal udon was only the beginning of the airport’s—and Japan’s—larger vision to embrace Southeast Asian tourists. In its quest to become “Japan’s first Muslim-friendly airport,” Kansai International plans to add prayer rooms and halal meal options while 16 restaurants will go pork- and alcohol-free. After all, nothing says “welcome to our country” like overpriced airport food.
For Malaysians taking the long haul flight to the ‘Land of The Rising Sun,’ there are always concerns over whether the food served inflight is ‘halal’ or not. However, Iskandar Ezzahuddin Ahmad Zulkiflee, Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) Vice President of Commercial Products, has now reassured all Japan-bound Muslim passengers to have no worries or doubts about the meals served onboard as the food is definitely ‘halal’. “In Kuala Lumpur, the food served on the MAS flights is prepared by Brahim’s Airline Catering Sdn Bhd as well as other inflight caterers for other destinations,” he told Bernama. The collaboration came about after TFK Corporation obtained the ‘Halal certificate’ in food preparation standards from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim). However, there still persisted doubts since all workers of the company were non-Muslims. As per the provisions of the halal certificate issued by Jakim, the TFK Corporation has a completely different section to prepare meals for the MAS. So much so that the entrance to the section itself is emblazoned with the ‘halal’ in big Roman letters. All cooking utensils, including the pots and pans carry, a coloured sign that indicates that these are to be used ‘only for halal food preparation.’ Explained MAS’ Executive Sous Chef, Abdul Razak Rejab, “Not a single cooking utensil from the halal kitchen is used in preparing non-halal food. In fact, these utensils are not allowed to leave the halal section of the kitchen at all.