|Morning rush hour in Shinjuku. More halal facilities in Japan now.
Japan is becoming Muslim friendly as I discovered during my visit to the Land of the Rising Sun in November to attend the 30th anniversary of IATSS Forum in Suzuka.
Prayer rooms at airports and halal eateries in Tokyo make it easy for Muslim visitors to enjoy their stay there. This wasn't the case when I was there 10 years ago.
I would love to see prayer rooms in departmental stores and more halal cafes but the existing basic facilities will do for now.
My visit to Japan last month reinforced my conviction that one can practice Islam anywhere.
My search for halal began when our group landed at Nagoya Airport around 7.30 am mid-November.
|Entrance to the Gandhi, a halal restaurant. I was happy to find it.
Our bus to Suzuka Circuit Hotel, our home for the next four days, would only arrive at 3 pm, which meant we had several hours to savour the cosy airport.
As I surveyed my immediate surroundings at the airport my eyes took me to a signboard which displayed the surau or prayer room sign.
It was a relief to find somewhere to pray.
The prayer room was located discreetly at the rear end of the arrival hall next to the airport's office. It was divided into two sections: male and female.
It did not have an area for ablution like the type at suraus in Malaysia but that was not a problem because the facility is available at the restroom next to the prayer room.
I thanked Allah for this convenience and began to look forward to my stay in Japan.
There is no prayer room at Suzuka Circuit Hotel but it is available at the IATSS Forum building, a five-minute walk away.
After Suzuka, my IATSS Forum friends and I proceeded to Tokyo for a three-day stay.
We had booked rooms at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel which was familiar to us because this was the hotel we had spent a few nights during the final leg of our IATSS Forum training stint many years ago.
|Chicken curry with rice.
There was no common surau at the hotel but I discovered a halal food restaurant -- Gandhi -- at the basement of the hotel complex.
I had most of my meals here. I noticed many Japanese executives enjoying dishes such as nan, tandoori and rice with various types of curry, among others.
I also found a halal food kiosk nearby, run by the same people -- Muslims from the sub-continent -- who manage Gandhi.
A young Moroccan woman, who works at Shinjuku Washington Hotel, approached me at the lobby in the morning just before we boarded the bus to Narita Airport.
"Let me know if you want help finding halal food," she offered,
"Urghh ... it is too late, I am leaving now," I sighed.
The prayer room at Narita Airport, like the one at Nagoya Airport, was located at the arrival hall.
On the way home, I sat next to a Petronas staff who is based in Yokohama. He was going back to Kuala Lumpur for a short break.
He confirmed my observations about Japan becoming more sensitive to the needs of Muslim travellers.
He told me that some shopping centres in Yokohama would oblige requests from Malaysian Muslim students for a small space for prayer.
Indeed, other Malaysians I encountered during my stay in Suzuka said the same thing.
Some Muslims who enjoy Japan say they are heartened by these positive developments taking place there.
In Sha Allah, I will be back.