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Halal Food presents tasty opportunities for Japanese businesses

Students from Malaysia and elsewhere enjoy a barbecue in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, with beef prepared according to halal rules. (Masanobu Furuya)

Students from Malaysia and elsewhere enjoy a barbecue in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, with beef prepared according to halal rules. (Masanobu Furuya)

Japanese businesses catering to Muslims have been picking up steam as more tourists from Southeast Asia travel to Japan to take advantage of the weakened yen.

An increasing number of restaurants and hotels have begun serving halal foods that are permissible by Islamic law. Some companies in Japan have even begun exporting halal foods.

On Nov. 2, Muslim students from Malaysia got together with their Japanese counterparts in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, to throw a barbecue party.

In accordance with Islamic law, no pork or alcohol was used at the barbecue, and beef was handled according to a strict set of prescribed steps.

The event was organized by the Halal Japan Business Association, a Tokyo group seeking to popularize foods and other products and services for Muslims.

According to the association, the growth of restaurants preparing halal food for Muslims is mostly in Tokyo.

Halal Deli in Ikebukuro began deliveries of halal “bento” lunch boxes in April for tourists and office workers. Among Halal Deli’s customers was a soccer team from Egypt that was visiting Japan.

One of the meanings of the Arabic word “halal” is “permissible,” and it refers to things that comply with Islamic law. Under this law, even seasonings containing pork or alcohol content are off-limits. There are also prescribed steps for handling nonpork meats.

The impetus for the spread of halal offerings in Japan is the rising number of visitors from Southeast Asian countries with large Muslim populations.

From January to June, 65,200 Indonesians traveled to Japan, a 50-percent increase from the same period last year, while 16.5 percent more Malaysians—more than 70,000 people–also visited, according to Japan National Tourism Organization statistics.

The Halal Japan Business Association expects tourist demand for halal food to expand to 120 billion yen ($1.18 billion) in 2020, 4.5 times the value in 2011.

Certifications for Islamic food are also becoming more widespread.

Malaysia Halal Corp., a consultancy firm in Tokyo, has acquired an “Inspector” qualification from a Malaysian government-affiliated organization that shows the company has obtained accurate knowledge of halal. Since 2011, the company has been certifying halal restaurants in Japan.

Kamori Kanko Co. in Sapporo received a halal certification for restaurants at five affiliated hotels last fall. One of the hotels, Rusutsu Resort in Hokkaido, had around 250 Malaysian construction company employees and their families stay for four nights at the end of last year.

“We get inquiries from Indonesia, Malaysia and Arab countries,” a hotel official said.

Yoshimura Shoten Co., a fish products supplier in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, exports “gyoza” dumplings to places like Singapore. The ingredients contain minced horse mackerel in place of pork. Yoshimura Shoten’s “Asian Gyoza” has earned a halal certification.

“Annual sales are in the millions of yen,” said Tsukasa Yoshimura, company president. “But I want that to be 10 times bigger in three to four years.”

According to the Pew Research Center in the United States, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Food alone has an estimated value of 60 trillion yen in the halal market.

Japanese companies are also producing more halal food in Muslim countries.

Last year, Ajinomoto Co., which entered the Indonesian market in 1969, opened a new factory to produce its Masako flavored seasoning used in soups and other foods so consumers can enjoy the taste of chicken and beef.

A worker prepares halal-certified "gyoza" dumplings made with minced horse mackerel at Yoshimura Shoten in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture. (Emi Hirai)

A worker prepares halal-certified “gyoza” dumplings made with minced horse mackerel at Yoshimura Shoten in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture. (Emi Hirai)

Kewpie Corp. began doing business in Malaysia in 2009, and has obtained a halal certification for its mayonnaise factory. The company has also set up a local subsidiary in Indonesia where it is building a 1-billion-yen factory to produce mayonnaise and salad dressing.

At an international tourism expo held in Malaysia in March, the Japan Tourism Agency gave travel agencies restaurant guides for establishments in Tokyo and Osaka where Muslims can dine. The agency’s International Tourism Promotion Division said it wants to “find new customers.”

In August, the agriculture ministry formulated a document detailing strategies by country for exporting individual agricultural produce, lumber and seafood products, citing places in the Islamic world such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East as important regions.

For example, by 2020, the ministry’s plan is to export five times as much beef as now–which would be worth 25 billion yen–by promoting it in Muslim countries and elsewhere.

(This article was written by Emi Hirai, Masanobu Furuya and Itsuhiro Suzuki.)

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