In Japan, the tourism industry is adapting to the demands of Muslim travelers, offering amenities such as prayer rooms, locally made silk hijabs, and even halal-certified whale meat. This shift is noteworthy for a country with a predominantly homogeneous population and only around 100,000 practicing Muslims. Japan aims to double its number of tourist arrivals by 2020 and recognizes the importance of understanding and accommodating the needs of this growing market.
Datuk Ibrahim Haji Ahmad Badawi, head of Malaysian food company Brahim’s, highlighted the fact that Muslim travelers have not always felt comfortable in Japan. However, there’s a growing awareness within the government of the need to address this issue. Seminars on halal tourism have been organized across 20 regions in Japan, inviting hoteliers and restaurateurs to learn how to cater to Muslim visitors. To help bridge cultural gaps, the Osaka Chamber of Commerce distributed 5,000 leaflets outlining what can and cannot be consumed by Islamic dietary laws, which is a new concept in Japan where pork products and alcohol are commonly used in culinary traditions.
With the Islamic world currently observing the holy month of Ramadan, Japan is actively promoting tourism in mainly Muslim Southeast Asia. Visa requirements were relaxed in 2013 for travelers from countries like Malaysia and Thailand, and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is also expected to have similar visa changes soon.
Japan National Tourism Organization data shows a significant increase in the number of Indonesian and Malaysian visitors to Japan, with Indonesian visitors in 2013 rising by 34.8 percent compared to the previous year, and a 35.6 percent increase in Malaysian tourists during the same period.
Although Chinese tourist numbers have rebounded after tensions with Beijing in 2012, broadening Japan’s appeal as a tourist destination is vital to achieving the target of hosting 20 million visitors by 2020, especially with the Tokyo Olympics approaching.
The prospect of Muslim athletes coming to Tokyo for the Olympics has led to discussions about accommodating their dietary needs. For example, Brahim’s has signed an agreement with All Nippon Airways to supply in-flight halal meals. Numerous large hotels have also sought advice on how to cater to Muslim guests.
Despite a somewhat slow start, the momentum is clear: More Muslim tourists will be coming to Japan, contributing to Tokyo’s share of the global halal tourism market, valued at approximately $600 billion.
Japan’s various regions are gradually catching on to this trend. Major airports now offer dedicated prayer rooms, and tourists can purchase hijab scarves made from Japanese silk at Kansai International Airport. Long-term visitors, including students, are being catered to with 19 universities offering halal menus in their cafeterias.
Tokyo already provides options for those looking for authentic halal Japanese dishes. For instance, a “yakiniku” barbecue restaurant run by Roger Bernard Diaz, originally from Sri Lanka, has adapted its menu to offer halal meats, attracting customers from Southeast Asia and the Gulf region.
However, sourcing halal ingredients can be challenging, as Diaz acknowledges while retrieving halal chicken from Brazil out of a dedicated freezer.
Even those interested in trying whale meat can do so, as Japan’s whaling factory ship received halal certification last year. The Japan Halal Association, one of the two authorized bodies to grant halal status in the country, has seen increased demand, with 40 companies receiving certification since 2012. Tokyo’s being awarded the 2020 Olympic Games has played a significant role in this growth.
In addition to catering to tourists in Japan, producers are gearing up to export halal-certified products, including soy sauce and rice from northern Akita Prefecture.
While businesses continue to accommodate the needs of Muslim travelers, they must also consider the preferences of other customers. For instance, Diaz notes that approximately half of his customers are Muslim, but he still needs to cater to those who consume alcohol.
In summary, Japan’s tourism industry is adapting to the demands of Muslim travelers, recognizing the potential for growth in this market and striving to provide services that cater to their specific needs and cultural practices.