TAITO WARD, Japan: In a sushi restaurant in Tokyo, a group of customers is shuffling in. They first take a quick glance at the menu to check if there’s anything that might go against halal rules.
The restaurant is only one of many in Japan that are looking to the halal food market to expand their business, as visitors from predominantly Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia are increasingly visiting Japan.
However, there are also difficulties they face in catering to these customers.
“In Japan, places where they handle halal seasoning are very limited,” said manager of Sushi Ken Masao Ito. “I have had difficulty getting my hands on them. The fish itself is not a problem. (But) another problem is processed food.”
However, they have managed to find alternatives. At Sushi Ken, the seasoning is made in-house. The radish roll tastes a little different, but is still delicious. At another Yakiniku, or grilled meat restaurant, its owners are doing even more to obtain halal certification.
“They have to change all their ingredients, items,” said chairman of the Japan Halal Foundation, Mohamed Nazer.
The restaurant has even prepared a whole new kitchen to be able to serve halal meat. According to its manager, the cost of doing so has been high, though he stopped short of unveiling the exact amount.
“If things work out, we would like to be a halal meat wholesaler to expand business,” said manager of Pangu, Hiroaki Sato.
The restaurant eventually earned a stamp of approval, a boon for Muslims diners as a mosque is located nearby.
'MUSLIMS CAN ENJOY WITHOUT ANY WORRIES'
Taito ward now has 17 restaurants with halal certification, a huge step up from when there were only Indian restaurants serving halal food in the past. This change is in part due to subsidies of up to US$820 offered by the local city government, part of a scheme that started in October.
They used to have only Indian restaurants serving halal menus. This change is partly due to subsidies of up to 820 US dollars offered by the local city government, thanks to a system launched in October.
"When you travel, you want to enjoy the food of that country, the regions, and if that cannot be done here in Taito ward, it's sad,” said director of tourism at Taito City office, Takuji Kwai. “We offer lots of delicious food. So we decided to create an environment where Muslims can enjoy without any worries."
A growing number of local governments are also trying to encourage more of their businesses to cater to Muslim visitors. The halal exhibition in Japan is one that has seen success, with an increase of 80 exhibitors last year to 120 this year.
"Japan is not a Muslim country so the market is very small,” said chairman of the Japan halal Expo Executive Committee, Yoshichika Terasawa, Chairman. “It’s gradually expanding. But it depends on Muslim visitors to Japan. I hope more food suppliers (and) exporters go to the cities to find their new market, the Muslim market."