TOKYO – Striving to get a larger share of Muslim visitors, international airports in Japan have opened new prayer rooms as well offering halal food for Muslims, amid a wider plan to make Japanese ports more Muslim friendly.
“We will seek to create a user-friendly airport for Muslims and other people who will visit Japan for the Olympic Games,” a public relations official at Narita Airport told Nikkei Asian Review.
The official added that the operator of the airport near Tokyo should have done more to publicize the presence of prayer rooms for Muslims and make facilities there friendlier to them.
Airports in Japan have begun earnest efforts at last to become friendly to Muslims, said Ken Fujita, head of a project at the ASEAN Promotion Center on Trade, Investment and Tourism in Tokyo to provide information on Islam to airports.
The steps included increasing the number of private prayer rooms for Muslims as well as offering halal meals in compliance with Islamic rules.
The steps were announced amid plans to show the heart of Japanese hospitality as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
Leading the efforts, Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture put up a new sign earlier on December saying “Prayer Room” for Muslims in front of private rooms in its first and second terminals.
The rooms, called Silence Rooms, were covered with a carpet and a direction panel pointing to the holy city of Makkah.
More steps were announced by January 2014, including the installation of washing equipment in the prayer rooms for Muslims wudu’ (ablution).
By next summer, two more prayer rooms will be built in the area where passengers walk through after embarkation procedures.
Kansai Airport, which created a prayer room in 2006, announced a plan in August to open two more rooms by next spring.
Osaka airport has also started joint efforts with tenants in its passenger terminal building to better receive visitors from the Islamic world.
Haneda Airport in Tokyo will open a prayer room by next March.
The new steps followed Japan’s decision to relax the rules for issuance to visas to visitors from Indonesia, Malaysia and three other Southeast Asian nations in July.
Muslims account for an estimated 90% of Indonesia’s 240 million population and 60% of Malaysia’s 29 million.
A total of 28,000 people visited Japan from Indonesia and Malaysia in October, up 40% from a year earlier.
Islam began in Japan in the 1920s through the immigration of a few hundreds of Turkish Muslims from Russia following the Russian revolution.
In 1930, the number of Muslims in Japan reached about 1000 of different origins.
Another wave of migrants who boosted the Muslim population reached its peak in the 1980s, along with migrant workers from Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Japan today is home to a thriving Muslim community of about 120,000, among nearly 127 million in the world’s tenth most populated country.