As a Japanese person just starting to study Halal, I eagerly ask Muslims in Japan to share their knowledge. I know that pork and alcohol, popular ingredients in Japanese cooking, are Haraam. That leaves me uncomfortable, especially when I am serving guests.
Japanese food is attracting attention along with the registration of “Washoku” (traditional Japanese cuisine) as an intangible cultural heritage. Japanese food, both beautiful in appearance as well as delicious and making use of seasonal ingredients, has created a distinctive world. However, having said that, there is no need to consider it so formally. You can simply order by pointing at what the person next to you is eating or the photographs on the menu. There is still only a small selection of Halal Washoku, however the number of restaurants providing information in English is increasing throughout Japan.
The answer is information. In countries like Japan with Muslim minorities, a critical point is, I believe, to provide accurate information about ingredients and cooking methods, in order to meet Halal requirements. That is vitally important not only for Muslims but for all consumers. When information is adequate, we can leave the decision about whether something is Halal or Haraam, or whether one wants to eat it or not, up to the consumer.
A lot of Japanese food is considered Halal food. The Japanese archipelago, surrounded by sea and full of mountains and rivers, is blessed with an abundance of agricultural products and seafood. The long land, stretching from north to south, provides a variety of foodstuff throughout the year. Sashimi, Sushi and Tempura are Halal foodstuffs themselves, but become Haram in the cooking process. However, Tempura can be enjoyed as Halal as long as it is not covered in sauce like tendon (tempura served over a bowl of rice); there will be a greater number of Halal choices if you study in advance.
Washoku, Intangible Cultural Heritage
“Washoku” is the general name given to traditional Japanese food, however the number of modern Japanese dishes is also increasing. Curry and ramen, famous as soul food in Japan, are now recognized as new Japanese foods in Southeast Asia. The appearance of Halal curry and ramen is just a matter of time and will be a boom amongst Muslims in the near future.
If you cannot wait for this, you should visit Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, a popular tourist spot in Yokohama. They have launched a vegetarian menu called “global standard ramen” in response to requests by both Westerners and Muslims which has been well received. Please leave a comment if you want to eat Halal Japanese food because, as seen in this example, it may become commercialized and spread outside of Japan.
I have a number of Muslim friends from different countries whose religious beliefs are not always the same. I am not going to argue about whose beliefs are correct; to me and others in Japan, what matters is working hard to ensure that what we offer our guests pleases our Muslim friends. Truth be told, we have not put enough effort into addressing that issue properly, until now.
What about using alcohol as a disinfectant, for example? Studying Islamic teachings may make it possible to judge whether using alcohol to for sterilization would be acceptable.
Serving Halal foods is a part of Omotenashi. In Japan, the Halal question has also touched off an effort to learn more about the religious views of our friends from all over the world—an exploration that has only begun.