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Muslims as a Familiar Presence in Japan

The increasing importance of research on Muslim societies

Yoshimi Shimizu, Ph.D./Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Social Anthropology


Islam is counted as one of the world's three major religions. Nearly two billion people follow Islam, second only to Christianity. However, in Japan, Islam has been a religion which is relatively unfamiliar to Japanese people, partly because the number of believers in Japan is small.

I enrolled in the Department of Arabian Studies at the university and studied abroad in Egypt when I was an undergraduate student, which led me to become involved with Muslim societies (Muslims are followers of Islam). Since then, I have continued to make research on Muslim societies, with a particular interest in folk beliefs. When I was a graduate student majoring in social anthropology, I carried out fieldwork at an Arab Muslim village in Jordan for about two years. On sabbatical leave after working for Chuo University, I conducted fieldwork at a Malay Muslim village in Brunei for approximately one year.

Muslim trends in Japan

The number of Muslims in Japan started to increase from around the end of the 1980s, which roughly coincides with the time when the number of foreign workers engaged in unskilled labor in Japan began to increase. In other words, the biggest factor in the increasing Muslim population was likely the fact that some of these foreign laborers were from countries with large Muslim populations, such as Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. In 1993, which is the same year that Chuo University established the Faculty of Policy Studies, the acceptance of technical trainees from Indonesia to Japan began through an intergovernmental agreement.

In 1998, I conducted research on the actual situation of Muslims in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture. My findings showed that most of the Muslims in Kanazawa City were international students studying at Kanazawa University and their families, and that there were no mosques (Islamic places of worship). The Friday prayer held by Muslims took place in a rented Japanese-style room on the second floor of the Co-operative Associations of the university's Faculty of Engineering. Currently, the number of Muslims in Japan is increasing, and mosques are being built all over the country. Kanazawa Mosque was opened in Kanazawa City in 2014.

In Tokyo, an area called " Islam Yokocho (Islamic alley)" is located near JR Shin-Okubo Station. Since the turn of the century, Muslim-run stores selling halal (Arabic for "permissible under Islamic law") food and ingredients (halal shops) and restaurants serving food that can be eaten by Muslims (halal restaurants) opened one after another in the area, so it came to be known as "Islam Yokocho". Even before this commercial development, a mosque was located in a room on the upper floor of a multi-tenant building in a corner of the alley. Even now, at the time of prayer, the adhan (call to prayer) is played over a loudspeaker so that it can be heard throughout the area. Halal shops and restaurants existed even before the development of the alley, although they were a few in number.

Since the beginning of the 2010s, an increasing number of tourists from countries with large Muslim populations (Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.) are visiting Japan. This increase is due to the relaxation of visa requirements for Southeast Asian countries and the depreciation of the yen. In conjunction with the increase in tourism, there is rising demand for restaurants serving food that can be eaten by Muslims, and so-called halal businesses have started to attract attention.

Japanese universities and Muslims

Since its founding, the Faculty of Policy Studies has had several classes taught by faculty members such as myself who make research on Muslim societies. Therefore, our students have had the opportunity to learn about Islam, as well as Arabic, Persian, Malay-Indonesian, and other languages from regions with large Muslim populations. These classes were sometimes taught by Muslim instructors. For this reason, some of our students have been interested in Muslim communities in Japan since that time. I had a seminar student who conducted research in Enzan City, Yamanashi Prefecture, in order to learn about the cemetery situation of the growing Muslim population in Japan. In recent years, for their graduation theses, some of my seminar students have researched the Muslim cemetery at Tokyo Metropolitan Tama Cemetery, conducted interviews at "Islam Yokocho," and researched the trends of Muslims in a city in the Tama region.

In 2014, The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (dated May 13) reported that an increasing number of university cafeterias in the Tokyo metropolitan area are offering dishes made with halal ingredients (halal food) in consideration of Muslim international students. When the article was published, I was asked for advice on serving halal food at Chuo University. Ultimately, our university responded simply by providing Malaysian-made halal curry served using disposable plastic tableware. On the other hand, in 2016, Sophia University commissioned a company named ASlink to open a restaurant exclusively for halal food called Tokyo Halal Deli & Cafe. The opening of the cafe was even featured in newspapers. Branches of the Tokyo Halal Deli & Cafe were opened at Tokyo International University in 2019 and at Rikkyo University in 2020.

Around the time that the number of Muslim tourists visiting Japan began to increase, Japanese facilities such as airports began to open prayer rooms (called musalla in Arabic). Universities are also starting to open prayer rooms. For example, Rikkyo University opened a prayer room in 2016. When I was asked advice on creating a prayer room at Chuo University, I recommended that the matter be handled by Dr. Salimur Rahman Khan, who has been my colleague in teaching Arabic classes since the establishment of the Faculty of Policy Studies and is also one of the directors in the Islamic Center of Japan, a religious organization established in 1975. Dr. Khan provided advice such as establishing separate rooms for men and women and installing water fountains for wudu (ritual bathing for purity) in the rooms. Dr. Khan also donated the prayer rugs used in the rooms.


In April 2020, Chuo University opened prayer rooms on the 4th floor of the Global Building, located near the International Residence Chuo. However, due to the effects of COVID-19, the prayer rooms have only just begun to be used following the resumption of face-to-face classes. Currently, the prayer rooms are used by Muslim faculty and students (international students). In this way, the establishment of Islamic-related facilities on campus has made Muslim societies more familiar to Japanese students at Chuo University. Going forward, research on Muslim societies will become increasingly important in order to advance our understanding of Muslims.

<Reference Literature>

Yoshimi Shimizu
1994: "Introduction to Newly-Established Islamic-Related Research Institutes: Islamic-Related Courses, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University (in Japanese)", The World of Islam, pp. 142-146, Association for Islamic Studies in Japan
2001: "Modern Japanese Society and Islam: Current Situation of Muslims in Japanese Society (in Japanese)", in The Future of the Japanese-Style Corporate Society: Universality and Particularity of Modern Japanese Society, edited by the Chuo Academic Symposium Research Series Editorial Committee, pp. 143-162, Chuo University Press
2016: "Liberal Arts Lecture (272nd): Issues in Halal Businesses and the Current Situation in Japan (in Japanese)", Kusa no Midori, No. 292, pp. 53-56, Chuo University Parents Liaison Association

Hirofumi Tanada
2015: Japanese Mosques: Social Activities of Muslims Living in Japan (in Japanese), Yamakawa Shuppansha

Yoshimi Shimizu/Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Social Anthropology

Yoshimi Shimizu was born in Niigata Prefecture in 1956. In 1981, he graduated from the Department of Arabian Studies, Faculty of Foreign Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (from 1978 to 1979, he studied abroad in the Department of Arabic, Faculty of Letters, Cairo University in the Arab Republic of Egypt). In 1984, he completed the Master’s Program in the Department of Social Anthropology, Graduate School of Social Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan University. In 1989, he completed the Doctoral Program in the Department of Social Anthropology, Graduate School of Social Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan University (from 1986 to 1988, he served as research fellow in the Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, Yarmouk University, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). He holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Tokyo Metropolitan University.

He served as research fellow in the Foundation for the Promotion of Ethnology, as research assistant in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities, Tokyo Metropolitan University, as full-time lecturer and assistant professor in the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University, and as research associate in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei Darussalam. In April 2003, he assumed the position of professor in the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University.

His area of expertise is social anthropology, and his main research theme is the folk beliefs of Muslim societies. In recent years, he has also been doing research on the life history of a woman who was living in the former Manchukuo.

His written works (single-authored) include Daily Life of Arab Muslims: A Record of a Stay in a Jordanian Village (in Japanese), (Kodansha), Let’s Learn About Islam (in Japanese), (Iwanami Shoten), and more.