Although the number of Muslims that reside in Japan are not many, the country is becoming an important tourist destination from countries in the Middle East. Japan is a highly tolerant society but it lacks in knowledge towards Muslim culture and food practices. This, in turn, had led to shortage of services, especially in the food establishment. However, with a boom in businesses and travel, there has been a boom in food and prayer service facilities in the country. Pushing this momentum further is Food Diversity Inc., Japan-based world's only and biggest halal food information provider. The website and the app give a holistic approach to the link between Japan and Muslim countries that consume Halal food only.
Talking about the foundation of the organisation, Shinya Yokoyama, Co-Founder of Food Diversity, reveals that his personal experience was instrumental in the creation of Halal Media Japan, which has been renamed to Food Diversity Inc..
He adds that during one of his stays in Singapore in 2013, he invited his Muslim friend to come to Japan to which his friend replied that Japan was not a Halal-friendly country. Digging deeper into the conversation, Yokoyama understood that the concept of Halal food goes way deeper in understanding the customs of the Muslim people. He decided to study about halal food habits. Dedicated to the cause, he co-founded the company in 2014 as a Halal Media Information Agency.
Today, the organisation has grown to provide services such as portal applications, a guide to the city and consulting services, as well as conducting trade shows and modest fashion shows in Japan. However due to the lack of awareness, majority of the user accessibility is within Japan (30 per cent). Reason being a lot of tourists access the portal in Japan because of no knowledge of this app overseas, including the Middle East nations.
Mainly focussing on restaurants and hotels, the portal is a guide for the Muslims on how to live in Japan. The aim, according to Yokoyama, is to welcome Muslims to work and study and holiday at ease.
The need for halal certification products
As more and more visitors look at visiting Japan, so do their dietary demands seep in with their arrival. Being the culinary capital of the world, the country has to abide by standards fit for global visitors.
According to Yokoyama, the halal food market is huge but acquiring a halal certificate is very complicated in Japan. Since it is not officially recognised by the government, and Yokoyama continues to work towards the cause, it is up to independent parties such as non-profitable organisations NPOs and Masjids in Japan to create parameters of halal food - these are the most trusted sources. But those are not uniform across the boards. Therefore as part of his ongoing efforts, Food Diversity Inc. has been working with all bodies to create a single standard for the future, which ideally should had been in place by the time Tokyo Olympics began.
On the existing situation in food establishments regarding certifications, he adds: "In the last five to six years, many establishments are not happy with the varied halal certification system. Our role is to work with the restaurants to disclose information on the ingredients being used in the kitchen, Muslim chef/owner/staff or all or none. These are certain conditions that Muslim consumers judge a place on."
As a media company, Food Diversity ensures that correct information is provided. Rich in produce, many fruits and vegetables in Japan are considered halal. However, since chicken and beef meat have to pass parameters of edibility by Muslims, finding the right place can be complex, he notes.
A halal society by history
Did you know that until 150 years ago, the Japanese were prohibited from eating meat? Medieval Japan was practically vegetarian. The national religions, Buddhism and Shintoism, both promoted plant-based eating, but what was likely more key to keeping the Japanese off meat was the shortage of arable land on the islands. Yokoyama reveals that the cuisine was mostly vegetables and fish, and fish is considered halal among Muslims.
"Being a pescatarian society, we have been eating halal food for centuries; just that we are not familiar with the culture of Islam. We want the Muslims to understand and consider halal food that based on Japanese culture, which is pescatarian. On the other hand, we ask the halal-certified restaurants to be sensitive in their use of beef and chicken with certification."
Continuing he says that Japan imports most of its chicken from Thailand and Brazil that are already halal-certified and written in packaging. This information is very vital for Muslims and food establishments to know and this is exactly what Food Diversity Inc's main role is.
Connecting the gap
Aiming to be a bridge between Japan and islamic countries, Food Diversity Inc. has gone beyond just being the provider of information. It now wants to be the facilitator for manufacturers and hotels to penetrate the halal-certified food sector in Japan. But beyond that, the company wants to be the educator for halal food. During the pandemic, Yokoyama has given lectures in different cities in japan on how to cater to Muslims, vegetarians and vegans as consultants. "Our vision is very clear: Unite at one table - all should sit with one another irrespective of the religion and nationality. And our mission is to make it happen."