Land of the Rising Sun
Just very recently, a group comprising Muslims and people of other races and religions in a chat platform received a posting that makes claims implying Japan is discriminating Islam and Muslims – a negative image for Japan, and a bad image for Muslims as it strongly implies that Islam and Muslims are so bad as to be kept at bay by Japan. Obviously this would be embarrassing to the Japanese Government and hurtful to Muslims around the world and to those Muslims in that chat group. I am one of those in the group.
This article provides readers with some perspectives of Islam in present-day Japan as well as sources that debunks the ill-intentioned claims.
First of all, the offensive posting is headlined “Japan keeps Islam at bay by putting restrictions on Islam and all Muslims.” But is this claim true?
It is not. In fact, Japan is witnessing a surge in its Muslim population in the last three to four decades. The number of non-Japanese Muslims working in Japan is increasing; the number of Muslim tourists is increasing, the number of Japanese converts to Islam is increasing, and more and more Japanese are learning about Islam by attending lectures and visits to mosques. The land of the rising sun is fast embracing Islamic interest in the face of globalisation.
Japan is a homogeneous country with its people speaking just one language. However, since about two decades ago Japanese perspectives have widened, and Japanese hospitality towards Muslims is blossoming. Tourism is one of the areas of focus. Japan is attracting Muslims to it by boosting its tourism industry with Islam-friendly facilities, even making prayer rooms available at airports.
Obtaining halal food (permissible for Muslim consumption) is now not a concern. Many halal eateries have sprouted in major Japanese cities apart from Tokyo. To facilitate Muslim visitors, lists giving the location of halal restaurants are made available online. Mosque-visits to allow Japanese to see the interior of the mosque and learn about Islam are regularly arranged.
In an article, “Japan embraces Muslim visitors to bolster tourism”, Michael Penn, president of the Shingetsu News Agency, says: “The Japanese are opening their arms to Muslim tourists”. (17, December, 2015, Aljazeera)
Michael points out that the Aichi Prefecture in central Japan has published a Japanese-language Muslim Hospitality Handbook.
The 15-page handbook outlines the basic Muslim beliefs, common difficulties that Muslims face when visiting Japan, the facilities that Muslims need for their prayers, the locations of the local mosques, the food Muslims can eat, and other information and services helpful to Muslim visitors. ( http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/12/japan-embraces-muslim-visitors-bolster-tourism-151215112245391.html )
MOSQUES AND THE QUR’AN
There are numerous mosques all over Japan.
The oldest mosque is the Kobe Mosque, built in 1935. “But the Tokyo Camii, which is modeled on Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, is the country’s largest. Today, over 80 mosques dot the country, and most of these are in major cities with big expat populations such as Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama,” says Ms Naomi Schanen, staff writer of The Japan Times.
Tokyo Camii, in Shibuya, was first built in 1938 and rebuilt in 2000 and can accommodate some two thousand Muslims during prayers. “Camii is a Turkish word derived from the Arabic jami, and refers to a central “congregational mosque”. (“Tokyo Camii: Japan’s Biggest Mosque”/Nippon.com http://www.nippon.com/en/features/c01301/ )
The Tokyo Camii holds regular mosque-visits for non-Muslim Japanese adults and high-school student to get them see the interior of the mosque and know some basic facts about mosques and Islam.
Almost all mosques in Japan conduct Islamic classes for Muslim adults and children, would-be Japanese converts and non-Muslim Japanese who want to know Islam.
Copies of the Qur’an is a must-have in any mosque for people to read it while waiting for the prayer to start or at any other time of the day.
The Qur’an has been translated in over 200 major languages. In Japan, the first Japanese who translated the Qur’an into Japanese was Mr Shumei Okawa, a prominent Islamic scholar in both the Japanese government and academia in matters of Japanese-Islamic exchange and studies.
A decade later, in 1958, another prominent figure, Mr Toshihiko Izutsu, who was professor emeritus at Keio University, completed the translation of the Qur’an into Japanese. [Note: When one says “Qur’an”, it is the one in its original Arabic received by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as Revelations from God delivered by Angel Gabriel, the same Angel who delivered Revelations to all the prophets, including Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus (Peace be upon them), while translations are not the “Qur’an” but merely people’s efforts in interpreting the original.]
Japanese Muslims can get a copy of the translation of the Qur’an from the mosques in Japan, and any non-Muslim Japanese can get a free copy from the organisation, “Japanese Muslims”. ( http://www.japanesemuslims.com/free-quran/ )
CONVERTS TO ISLAM
Over the last 30 years, Japan is seeing an increase in the number of Japanese converting to Islam. Regarding the number of monthly converts to Islam, Naomi Schanen mentioned in her article in The Japan Times article, “Converts make up 10% of growing community”, that Mr Shigeru Shimoyama, a spokesman for the Tokyo Camii Mosque and a convert himself, had estimated in an interview with Nippon News in 2013 that around five Japanese enter the Islamic faith every month. (Mr Shimoyama has edited and published numerous works explaining Islam to Japanese readers.)
Well-known Japanese wrestling, Antonio Inoki, converted to Islam in the 1990s, changing his name officially to Muhammad Hussain Inoki (though changing one’s name is not a must upon conversion), and continues to make his mark as an ambassador for world peace.
Another person, Ms Junko Hayashi, 37, who converted to Islam in 2001, has become Japan’s first female Muslim lawyer.
Yet, another convert is Prof Hassan Ko Nakata, a community activist, who sits on the board of directors of the Japan Muslim Association (JMA) whose President is Sheikh Amin Tokomasu, a Japanese and graduate of Al-Azhar University. In an interview, Prof Nakata said that JMA was established in 1952 by Japanese converts to Islam. “It is the oldest Islamic organisation in Japan. We in JMA maintain Muslim cemeteries, publish translations on the meaning of the Holy Qur`an, produce journals and generally publish and disseminate material on Islamic issues.” He also said that most converts are Japanese women who have married foreign Muslim men. (http://english.religion.info/2010/08/07/islam-in-japan-an-interview-with-professor-hassan-ko-nakata/ )
Many Japanese who married foreign Muslims live in their countries while keeping close ties with their parents and relatives in Japan. One such person is Ms Keiko Soeda, who married a Singapore Muslim, Mr Yacob Hussain, 20 years ago and lives in Singapore with her husband. They have three children, from nine to 18.
When asked if halal food is easily available for Muslim tourists, Mr Yacob, a businessman, who makes business trips to Japan and also visits his in-laws, said: “There are halal outlets in Tokyo airports. Last December, I was in both Haneda and Narita airports in Tokyo. I was happy to see there were restaurants serving halal food. At Haneda I saw a halal restaurant and bought some food; and at Narita, there were two big restaurants certified halal by both Malaysia and MUIS of Singapore.”
He added: “Japanese are friendly, and they may also know halal food outlets, and even take you there.”
FRIENDLY AND COURTEOUS
Mr Yacob’s wife, Ms Soeda, agreed and added: “Yes, Japanese people are friendly and courteous. There is no uneasiness in my family for me marrying a Muslim. In the last 40 years or so, most educated Japanese love travelling and they have contacts with Muslims. For instance, our Tokyo Governor. Ms Yuriko Koike is not a Muslim but she studied and graduated from Cairo University and speaks fluent Arabic and English. She speaks in Arabic when speaking with Embassy officials from Arab countries and has strong ties with Arab countries. She is now working hard in preparing to welcome Muslims from all over the world for the 2020 Olympics.”
Ms Soeda said that even before she married Mr Yacob she had known Muslims in Japan. “Also, there are many Pakistanis and Turkish Imams (prayer leaders) in Japan’s mosques. There are Muslims from Indonesia and Malaysia studying in Japan. Some of the older Japanese may have a bit of misconception about Islam. But there are already some Japanese working very hard to inform the Japanese public that Islam is a peaceful religion and inform them about its teachings. Providing accurate information about Islam in the Japanese language is very important like what Mr Shimoyama, a Muslim convert, from Tokyo Camii Mosque is doing.”
As for Muslim requirements, Ms Soeda said that the Halal Media in Japan is an active organisation. “They provide information regarding halal restaurants, mussolah or prayer rooms on FB and makes Muslim-friendly maps for major cities in Japan.”
When asked how often she visits her parents in Japan, Ms Soeda said: “My husband and I try to visit my family in Japan once a year.”
Mr Yacob, praising Japanese social values, said: “Though our cultural background is different, we have so many common values. These common values make me comfortable with Keiko’s family.”
He added: “Her parents are very warm and respect our differences. My mother-in-law has a whole set of utensils just for us to meet our halal requirements. They don’t think of it as a burden but she does it out of love and respect for me and Keiko who has converted to Islam and taken the name Khaiyisha Abdullah.”
Ms Soeda and her husband have allowed their children to learn about Japan and its culture. “We just spent the Japanese New Year (2017) there and our kids experienced Japanese traditions like eating osechi (traditional Japanese new year food), toshi koshi soba (noodle we usually eat between 31st and 1st midnight of the New Year) and made mochi ourselves.”
She added: “We want our kids to be broadminded. We allowed them to visit shrines and see how they celebrate the New Year. It was a good learning experience for them. As my children are bigger now and can understand and appreciate the many aspects of Japanese culture, we even visited Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima and Niigata and the World Heritage Sites during our visit to my parents.”
Another Japanese, Ms Sakura Tsutsumi, 23, who my wife and I have had the pleasure of personal contact three times within a year, the latest being in mid-February this year (2017), has been exposed to eating and staying with Muslims.
A few days ago, I messaged her asking three simple questions about Japanese-Muslim relationship and almost immediately came the reply. The following are her exact, unedited replies:
1) “Muslims in Japan are not bad people. They are full kindness people like you!! Bad or good is not depends on their religion. I like muslim friends.”
2) “Yes! In my university, there are many Muslim exchange students!!”
3) “You are sooo kind!!! For this time (holiday in Singapore), I messeged you before the day we meet, but you treated us and cooked really delicious food! Thanks a lot!! You are always great for us.”
Ms Soeda, who works at the Japanese Embassy, said there are many Japanese Muslims in Singapore. “I know of many. We have a network among a few of us, called Sakura Club, and whoever is a Japanese convert can join the club. We all retain our Japanese roots and speak in Japanese and eat halal Japanese food. By converting, we are not less Japanese; we are still Japanese but Muslims.”
The writing of this article, interviewing Ms Keiko Soeda and her husband, Mr Yacob Hussein, and Ms Sakura Tsutsumi and doing some research on Islam in Japan, is the outcome of a sensitive point-form graphic claims that was forwarded by a person to a chat group which comprises Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Mr Yacob and I are in the group.
Finally, regarding the graphic image forwarded by irresponsible people, Louis Jacobson, in his article, “Viral graphic says Japan keeps out radical Islam through strong restrictions on Muslims,” in PolitiFact, highlighted as a starter the following four issues:
In Japan, (1) “permanent residency is not given to Muslims,” (2) the “propagation of Islam” is banned, (3) “one cannot import a Koran published in the Arabic language,” and (4) “Muslims cannot even rent a house.” — Viral image on Monday, November 16th, 2015 in posts on the Internet
Mr Jacobson interviewed three professors on the focussed four claims and the following are their responses:
- “The chain email is nothing but malicious falsehood,” said Prof Kumiko Yagi, Tokyo University.
- All four of the claims we spotlighted are wrong, said Prof Kamada Shigeru, University of Tokyo
- These four claims “are totally unfounded,” said Prof Glenda S. Roberts, Waseda University.
(The full article by Louis Jacobson is given in Appendix 1 of 3 provided below.)
Any responsible person who received such malicious materials pertaining to religion, ought to do some homework first before re-forwarding it to others. People who forward sensitive materials are equally guilty of a serious offence to those who created the materials in the first instance.
Not all forwarded materials carry accurate information. Serious matters – matters that can hurt personal feelings and disrupt harmony ought to be deleted and not re-forwarded. On false information and sensitive matters that touch on race and religion, Mr John Vijayan, a community activist, has this advice: “Do not forward something that is sensitive to race and religion although it may seem okay to the sender but not so to the recipients. It is important to know that the sender is still liable under our local laws if he forwards postings which undermine religions and races, even though they may not be penned by the sender.”
The Qur’an warns against irresponsible and mischievous acts. To irresponsible people in such cases as is being highlighted in this article, the Qur’an, more the 1400 years ago, warned: “O those who believe, if an irresponsible person brings you a report, verify its correctness before telling it to others, lest you harm people out of ignorance.” (Qur’an, 49:6)
25 February 2017
Appendix 1 (The full article by Louis Jacobson in Poilifact debunking the info in the viral image)
The following article, “Viral graphic says Japan keeps out radical Islam through strong restrictions on Muslims,” by Louis Jacobson published in PolitiFact on Tuesday, November 17th, 2015, is reproduced here for free sharing.
The article highlighted the following four claims of the graphic:
In Japan, “permanent residency is not given to Muslims,” the “propagation of Islam” is banned, “one cannot import a Koran published in the Arabic language,” and “Muslims cannot even rent a house.” — Viral image on Monday, November 16th, 2015 in posts on the Internet
About this (headline) statement:
Published: Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 at 4:43 p.m.
Researched by: Louis Jacobson
Edited by: Angie Drobnic Holan
Viral graphic, received by PolitiFact Nov. 16, 2015
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Websites of Japanese Embassies, Consulates and Permanent Missions,” accessed Nov. 17, 2015
Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, “The Prime Minister Hosts the Iftar with the Islamic Diplomatic Corps in Japan,” July 16, 2014
Ministry of Justice of Japan, “The Nationality Law,” accessed Nov. 17, 2015
Email interview with Kumiko Yagi, professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Graduate School, Nov. 16, 2015
Email interview with Kamada Shigeru, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Tokyo, Nov. 16, 2015
Email interview with Glenda S. Roberts, professor of cultural anthropology and Japanese studies at the graduate school of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University, Nov. 16, 2015
Viral graphic says Japan keeps out radical Islam through strong restrictions on Muslims
By Louis Jacobson on Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 at 4:43 p.m.
Amid rising concerns about terrorist attacks by ISIS, we’ve seen an uptick in chain emails and viral images about Islam.
One viral image points to Japan as an example of a country that keeps out radical Islam by cracking down on all forms of Islam and its adherents, implying that this is a good model for the United States to follow.
The graphic is a simple black-and-white block of text with the headline, “Japan keeps Islam at bay by putting restrictions on Islam and all Muslims.” The graphic then mentions a variety of ways in which Japan supposedly keeps tight control over the Muslims in its midst:
“Japan is the only nation that does not give citizenship to Muslims”
“Permanent residency is not given to Muslims”
“Propagation of Islam in Japan is banned”
“In the University of Japan, Arabic or any Islamic language is not taught”
“Japan is the only country in the world with a negligible number of embassies in Islamic countries”
“One cannot import a ‘Koran’ published in the Arabic language”
“Muslims must follow Japanese law and language”.
“The Japanese government is of the opinion that Muslims are fundamentalist, and unwilling to change their Muslim laws”
“Muslims cannot even rent a house in Japan”
“There is no sharia law in Japan”
We wondered whether the graphic is accurate. To streamline our analysis, we focused mostly on these four claims — that in Japan, “permanent residency is not given to Muslims,” the “propagation of Islam” is banned, “one cannot import a Koran published in the Arabic language,” and “Muslims cannot even rent a house.”
We heard back from three experts who have experience with the intersection of Japan and Islam, and all three said the graphic is blatantly incorrect.
“The chain email is nothing but malicious falsehood,” said Kumiko Yagi, a professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Graduate School who has written extensively about Islam and other religions.
Kamada Shigeru, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Tokyo, agreed, saying that all four of the claims we spotlighted are wrong.
He said Japan doesn’t discriminate in permanent residency on the basis of religion and that “propagation” of Islam is not banned. He added that the Koran or other religious books in Arabic can be imported.
As for renting a residence, he said there may be some reluctance among residents of Japan to rent apartments to foreigners as a general rule, but he said there’s no specific animus toward Muslims.
These four claims “are totally unfounded,” said Glenda S. Roberts, a professor of cultural anthropology and Japanese studies at the graduate school of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University in Tokyo. “It is disturbing that such an email is circulating,” she added. “These claims are simply ridiculous.”
Other claims in the graphic are easily debunked.
For instance, the graphic claims that “Japan is the only country in the world with a negligible number of embassies in Islamic countries.” Yet a quick visit to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website shows that Japan has embassies in such countries as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, plus a permanent representative to the Palestinian Authority.
Meanwhile, there is nothing in Japanese nationality law that prevents Muslims from becoming naturalized citizens. The requirements concern length of residency, age, a history of “upright conduct,” the ability to support oneself and a willingness to give up other nationalities. There is no mention of religion.
As for universities not teaching Arabic, we found that the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies does. Classes in Arabic are also taught at the Arabic Islamic Institute in Tokyo.
Last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear Japan’s respect for people of the Islamic faith during an event with the Islamic diplomatic corps.
“I have found that a fundamental aspect of the spirit of Islam is harmony with and love for others,” Abe said. “I believe therein lie points of commonality with the Japanese spirit, which is founded on co-existence.”
The graphic says that in Japan, “permanent residency is not given to Muslims,” the “propagation of Islam” is banned, “one cannot import a Koran published in the Arabic language,” and “Muslims cannot even rent a house.”
Each of these four statements is incorrect, and the overall point of the graphic — that Japan keeps itself free from radical Islam by discriminating against all Muslims — is dramatically off-base. We rate these claims Pants on Fire. -END-
Appendix 2 (A video debunking the info in the viral image – by a young non-Muslim lady)
“Japan is NOT anti-Muslim”
Appendix 3 (Just 15 of the numerous Youtube videos about Japanese Muslims and Japanese-Muslim relationship)
1. “Meeting the Muslim in Japan (With English subtitle)”
“Muslims Vs Japanese – Inside Lens – NHK WORLD – JAPAN NEWS”
“Japanese and Islam (Explained by convert Shimoyama)”
4a) “Rise of Islam in Japan ♥ Part 1
4b) “Rise of Islam in Japan ♥ Part 2
“Very Emotional Converts to Islam Japan”
“Japanese Islamic Marriage in Tokyo Camii”
“Japan getting ready for Muslim tourists”
“Being Muslim in Japan”
“Muslims In Japanese Society”
“Bridging Muslims and Japanese – Inside Lens – NHK WORLD”
“Japanese listening to the Qu’ran for the first time”
Japanese Man Journey To Islam
Japanese Adhan / Azan Jepun (Muslim Brotherhood)
Japanese Style Qasidah Burdah – Nasheed by Sh. Ahmad Abu Hakeem Maeno