As Tokyo has been selected as the organizing city for the Olympics 2020, there have been ongoing efforts to create a friendly environment for foreigners and eradicate the xenophobic image that many foreigners have against Japan. One of the key factors to achieving this is providing a vegetarian and halal friendly environment.
It is estimated that around 10% of the visitors coming from the U.S. and U.K. are vegetarians. In fact, in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the proportion of Muslims who only eat halal food amount to 90 and 60 percent respectively! The fact is, in Japan, not many people know much about vegetarianism or halal food. This lack of awareness discourages tourists from these countries to visit Japan.It reads; "A Study Meeting About the Avoidance of Eating Troubles for Foreign Customers"
Although I myself am an "omnivore", meaning I am neither vegetarian nor Muslim, I have a very close friend who is vegetarian and has been living in Japan for some time. I guess you could say that she is used to it, but from my own point of view, being a vegetarian in Japan must be really tough. Not only are there very few restaurants that have a vegetarian friendly menu, most Japanese do not fully seem to understand the concept in the first place. Having often been to a restaurant with my friend, in the beginning she would ask the shop owner if the food she wanted to order was vegetarian. Just to make sure, this means that she wanted to know if there were any animal (including fish!) products in the food she wanted to order. She soon found out that not many Japanese people are familiar with this word (in Japanese it is pronounced as be-ji-ta-ri-an), and started asking if there was any meat or fish in it. This resulted in her being served with curry that was actually made with animal products. True enough, it did not contain any actual chunks of meat, but it is still unacceptable for certain vegetarians. Nowadays, after having the experience of living in Japan for a few years, she has stopped asking. She has done all the research herself and seems to get along fine.
This triggered me to imagine how tough it is for a first-time vegetarian visitor to Japan, who cannot speak Japanese, to order food. Many Japanese dishes often include animal products, especially in the soup or dashi (fish bouillon). How do you solve the problem??Saeed Akhtar, director of the NPO "Nippon Asia Halal Association", explains about halal and haram (not halal) and why it is important for restaurant owners to include halal food options in their menus.
There are a lot of people who only eat halal food, or, food that is accepted by Islamic customs. At today`s seminar, besides the obvious reason of wanting to attract more customers, Saeed Akhtar also spoke about the Japanese omotenashi
and wanting to show that to all tourists that come to Japan. He told a heartwarming story of a time he visited Okinawa and was served dinner by a friendly lady who bought a new knife, cutting board and even a new rice cooker in order to make halal food for him. When she accidentally cut a pineapple with the wrong knife, she went right away to the supermarket to buy him a new pineapple, even after he kindly told her he would be fine without the pineapple. That is the Japanese omotenashi he wants to show to all tourists who visit Japan.
Listening to his story, many restaurant owners became interested in creating a halal friendly environment, which meant that they have to include at least two items that are halal. This also applies to vegetarian menus, though a halal environment is much harder to create due to the strict Islam laws. Not only are the ingredients restricted, the way of cooking has to follow closely by the laws too.All these restaurant owners came together to learn more about creating a vegetarian and halal friendly environment!
Honestly, I myself did not know a lot about halal food either, just that in the Netherlands we have special sections and signs in supermarkets and restaurants to aid Islamic customers. I guess it is important that restaurant owners and people in the food business know how to serve halal food and that they make this option available; something that looking by the amount of people visiting today`s seminar is slowly starting to be realized, or at least in Asakusa!