Halal is a growing sector with major potential in Japan.
One spur has been the Japanese government’s 2013 waiving of visa requirements for tourists from Malaysia, and an extension from 15 to 30 days of the maximum stay for multiple-entry visas for Indonesian travellers.
Another factor is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which is expected to see Muslim visitor numbers increase both in the run up to and during the world’s biggest sporting event.
In addition, the 2015 Tokyo meeting of the World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation and the Alliance Forum Foundation voiced support for the growth of the halal food industry in Japan. At the meeting, the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak signed an agreement with Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe to extend cooperation between the two countries for the halal food industry.
“This agreement has increased the number of manufacturers and imports of halal-based food in Japan,” says Arushi Thakur, a food and beverages senior analyst at the London-based market research company Technavio.
The long-time resident foreign Islamic population of Japan as well as Japanese Muslims is another reason for the growth of the sector.
Although making up only a tiny proportion of the country’s 126 million-plus residents, the numbers are growing.
Toshio Endo, a director of the 500-member, Tokyo-based Japan Muslim Association (JMA), says that although there are no firm data for the number of Muslims in the country, “We estimate the Muslim population of Japan at about 150,000 people, 10 per cent of which is made up of Japanese.”
Seventy mosques dot the country, most of them in Tokyo and the big cities of Fukuoka, Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and Sendai, Mr Endo says.
Keigo Nakagawa, a researcher and consultant for the Tokyo-based Japan Halal Business Association (JHBA), with 152 member companies, says there are no exact figures for halal establishments in the country, either. However, there are approximately 500 restaurants, 100 hotels and 50 bento (Japanese “lunchbox”) stores serving halal cuisine, he says.
“Besides halal certified businesses, there are a large number of establishments that serve halal food, such as Indian, Turkish and sushi restaurants,” he adds.
One such is Leziz Kebab, a Turkish kebab restaurant chain, the third outlet of which opened in July in Tokyo. The owner, Mirza Arpa, says the new store is not yet halal certified but the ingredients it uses are. “I am presently negotiating for halal certification,” he says.
Shigeru Ishii, a public relations director for the Japan Foodservice Association, grouping 420 companies totalling 73,000 outlets, says his organisation does not have a firm grasp on the numbers of halal eateries in Japan but adds, “We think the number is increasing, as there are more and more Muslim tourists.”
Consumers can also buy halal food in grocers stores. Holy Heart, a small shop in Tokyo that opened in 2013, sells halal products including beef, lamb and mutton from Australia, New Zealand and other countries. The owner Mohammed Shamsu Ddoha says his store is certified by both the Islamic Centre Japan and the Japan Islamic Trust (Jit).
“We have customers from all over the world, including a lot of non-Muslims,” Mr Ddoha says.
The two-storey supermarket Nisshin World Delicatessen in Tokyo sells halal-certified products, including beef and lamb. “We started selling halal products 10 years ago, as we are near several embassies and started getting requests for them by foreigners,” says the general manager Tsukasa Muramoto.
Japan’s two major airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have been serving halal meals for years, since 1986 in the case of the latter, says the ANA information officer Maho Ito says. She says ANA now serves about 4,500 halal meals a year.
JAL, meanwhile, started offering halal meals in 1961 for its flights leaving Jakarta. The airline now serves an average of 3,500 meals a year and carries a total passenger population of about 4.7 million, says the company cabin service group director Mr Hironori Tsunashima.
Since June, all halal meals served on the airline’s international flights departing from Japan have received the Jit seal, Mr Tsunashima says.
And, being Japan, technology also plays a part in the halal sector.
Launched in 2013, a free app called HalalMinds, available on iPhone, iPad and Android, allows consumers who cannot read Japanese but can read English to check more than half of all Japanese supermarket products to see if they are labelled halal. Users scan the barcode of their chosen product to see an English translation of its ingredients and an alert as to whether the food is halal, haram or syubhat – status unclear.
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