Japan Schools Urged to Offer Halal Dietary Options

Schools and daycare facilities in Japan have been urged to accommodate students of different religious backgrounds in their dietary options, including offering halal food to Muslim children, Japan Times reported on Sunday, June 23.

“Since the number of Islamic children is likely to increase in the future, we should consider taking measures,” an official from the Yokkaichi Municipal Government said.

Discussions on schools dietary options started after a Bangladeshi couple in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, pulled their 5-year-old daughter from daycare after the parents found their daughter had been served fried noodles with pork.

“I had always been asking that pork be removed. There is no way we agreed to that,” the father said.

After he complained, the facility began offering the girl half a banana and soup instead of fried noodles. But the father then complained the amount was insufficient for a child her age.

“Considering that children with pork allergies are treated appropriately, it is discriminatory that children with different religious backgrounds cannot lead a normal life,” the father said.

The Yokkaichi Municipal official said the problem was caused by the facility’s poor understanding of religious customs and its failure to communicate properly with the parents.

According to a 2017 survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s Administrative Evaluation Bureau, of the 20 cities in Chubu with sizable Indonesian and Pakistani populations, the boards of education in 14 of them let elementary and junior high school students bring their own lunches for religious reasons.

At Minato-Nishi Nursery School, which is 16 percent Muslim, fish is used instead of meat for such children. The lunches are also cooked in separate pots.

The concept of halal — meaning permissible in Arabic — has traditionally been applied to food.

Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife to their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.

Religious Diversity

Miyuki Enari, a professor at Mie University’s Faculty of Humanities, Law, and Economics, called for nursery staff and state officials to be educated on religious diversity.

“It is better if they have a place to consult or obtain information when they face difficulties coping with such issues,” Enari said.

“As Japan becomes more multinational, food choices become more diverse,” said Maryam Ryoko Totani, 51, head of the Children and Women Islamic Association in Nagoya who converted to Islam 23 years ago.

“Foreign people will not choose to come to Japan unless the nation has a proper understanding (of diverse customs).”

The history of Islam in Japan is relatively brief in relation to the religion’s longstanding presence in other nearby countries. There were isolated occasions of Muslims in Japan before the 19th century.

Today, Muslims are made up of largely immigrant communities, as well as smaller ethnic Japanese community. The Pew Research Center estimated that there were 185,000 Muslims in Japan in 2010.

Japan is a new but sharply growing halal market as the country’s producers are seeking fresh opportunity in the halal sector and striving to seek new local and international markets, especially now that Japan is the officially designated venue for the 2020 Olympics, attracting Muslim athletes and tourists from all around the world.

Catering to the rising number of Muslim tourists, suppliers and travel agents in Japan have been obtaining halal certification and converting their restrooms into prayer rooms.