Is Japan Safe for Muslim Students?

Are you a Muslim student looking to study abroad in Japan? You may be asking yourself: is Japan safe for Muslims and how accommodating are they to different cultures?

Japan is generally considered a safe country for Muslim students. It is a country with a low crime rate and a strong emphasis on respect and safety. There are many mosques and Islamic centers throughout the country, and halal food options are widely available.

The oldest mosque in Japan was built in 1935 by a small community of Muslim residents in the city of Yokohama, who have been there for over 150 years. They arrived in Japan in the late 19th century as sailors and traders from the Middle East and South Asia and established themselves as a community in the port city.

The mosque has a unique architectural design that combines elements of Japanese and Islamic styles, and it has been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government.

The Muslim community in Japan is small but vibrant, and they have made contributions to the country's culture and society. They have influenced the local cuisine with the introduction of halal food, and also played an important role in the development of the port of Yokohama as a trading hub.

Currently, Islam represents only around 0.2% of the total population in Japan. As one of the smallest minority faiths in the country, the prospects of studying there might seem daunting and less ideal, from the food to the ability to pray in common spaces.

Fortunately, many Muslims have settled in nicely in Japan, and here are several reasons why Japan is generally safe for Muslim students.

1. International Islamic Schools throughout Japan

Credits: LaunchGood

Catered to Muslim students, these schools provide a more optimal, comfortable environment for Muslims to holistically grow in. At these institutions, Islamic values and practices are regularly inculcated in students as they go about their daily lessons. Every morning at YUAI International Islamic School which is in Tokyo, Muslim students would perform the tahfiz. In other words, they would memorize the sacred Islamic book called the Quran; a practice that is highly encouraged in this faith to gain good fortune.

What is even more interesting is that the students will still be taught the Japanese language, so that they can better assimilate into Japanese society.

2. Public Schools Accommodating Muslims

Apart from Islamic schools, a number of the public schools in Japan have in place amenities and resources that are Muslim-friendly. This also applies to schools where the Muslim population is rather small. For instance, although the percentage of Muslim students studying at Kyoto University is less than 1% of the whole cohort, there are plenty of prayer spaces available throughout the campus for Muslim staff and students alike.

Credits: Kyoto University

3. Ample Halal Eateries

Muslim-friendly Cafeteria at Beppu Campus, Kitaishigaki (Credits: The Japan Times)

As more Muslim students are expected to be matriculated into Japanese institutions in the future, measures have been taken by schools and daycare facilities in Japan to better accommodate Muslims. The Yokkaichi Municipal Government has urged them to do so, and one such measure is by offering a broader range of halal food to Muslim students.

Besides school cafeterias, there has been an uptick in halal eateries near the schools as Japan is becoming a sharply emerging halal market. Since the country’s producers have been seeking fresh opportunities in the halal sector, suppliers and travel agents have been obtaining halal certification for meals. Japan even became the designated venue for the 2020 Olympics, attracting Muslim athletes and tourists worldwide.

4. Acceptance towards Islamic Wear, particularly the hijab

Credits: fooddiversity.today

There are several rules that Muslims have to follow to be deemed as true practicing Muslims. For example, Muslim women need to don the hijab, a type of headscarf that serves to protect their modesty. Fortunately, the Japanese community embraces the hijab as well as other traditional outfits.

A popular kimono rental shop, Yumeyakata, asked Muslim patrons to bring in their daily-use hijabs, which are usually plain or minimalistic, to be complemented with the colors of the kimono sash. Such examples reflect the high level of acceptance of the Japanese towards Islamic fashion, allowing Muslim students to don their religious garments without fear of being ridiculed or attacked.

Another example is the story of Sahar Nakayama, a 21-year-old (as of 2023) who is a Japanese-born Muslim, born and brought up in metropolitan Tokyo. When she was studying at the Islamic International School at only 5 years old, she was already encouraged to start wearing the hijab. As she progressed to primary and junior high school, she had to inform her Teachers in advance about the need for her to wear the hijab, which is not part of the school’s original dress code. Luckily, the school was nothing but understanding and accepting as they gave her the freedom to use whatever she felt comfortable in, as long as she continued to wear the school uniform.

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