Donburi and chazuke probably aren’t the first dishes that come to mind when you think about halal food. Hell, it’s rare to see much cultural cross-pollination in Japanese cuisine at all—hamburg steak and Naporitan aside.
That being said, the once isolationist island nation of Japan seems to be pushing forward in a real way to embrace halal-certified food—which is a pretty smart move considering Japan’s relative proximity to some of the nations with the world’s largest number of Muslims, like Malaysia and Indonesia. Japan would like to entice the world’s Muslim population to come visit, stay for a while, and eat. The World Halal Forum states that the global trade in halal food and beverages is around $1.4 trillion annually.
Sushi Ken in the Taito district of Tokyo is just one of numerous restaurants in Japan that now serve halal-certified food. Not that the conversion to the halal standard—which bans the use of alcohol and pork and requires slaughter of animals to be done by a Muslim, among other things—has been easy. Plus, Muslim tastes differ. The manager of Sushi Ken, Masao Ito told Channel News Asia, “In Japan, places where they handle halal seasoning are very limited. I have had difficulty getting my hands on them. The fish itself is not a problem. [But one significant] problem is processed food.” At Sushi Ken, seasonings are now made in-house.
In the Taito ward, it used to be that the only halal-certified restaurants were Indian, but now it has 17 restaurants that serve halal food. The local city government actually offered subsidies of up to US $820 to restaurants that earned a halal certification.
There’s even a Halal Expo in Japan. It had 80 exhibitors last year and 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. “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.”
Restaurants in Japan that want to attract Muslim visitors realize that halal certification is only the first step. They also have to serve food that will be appealing to visitors from countries like Indonesia, the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world. To that end, one halal business in Tokyo, Tsutau Co., has enlisted a health and nutrition professor at Bunkyo University to come up with recipes for a new halal cuisine website. The professor, Seiichi Kasaoka, and his students have created a website of recipes of Japanese halal foods that use ingredients like soy sauce without alcohol and halal-certified meats.
As the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo draw nearer, Japan will be seeking all sorts of ways to entice visitors from all over the world to visit its shores. So if you find yourself in Osaka and have a sudden desire for some halal-style adzuki bean soup with satsuma-imo sweet potato, they’ve probably got you covered.