Regardless of which day it is, or what time of the year, the cultural district of Asakusa in Tokyo is bustling with millions of tourists visiting from all over the world. A favorite ritual for visitors is to stand and pose for photographs at the entrance that leads to Nakamise shopping street and eventually the oldest temple in the capital, Sensoji.
After snapping the perfect photo, tourists then usually make their way over to the multiple food outlets near the station for a bite to eat. Unfortunately, many of the restaurants aren't able to provide food to cater for specific dietary requirements and Muslim tourists. Successfully finding somewhere to eat that offer dishes that coincide with Islamic law is especially difficult.
Endy Harmoko was aware of the situation. He already thought up a plan of action for when his Indonesian family arrived for a visit on a chilly February day. Harmoko is from Indonesia and has been staying in Japan for twelve months to study economics at Yokohama National University. He took his family to a halal-certified ramen shop called Naritaya, which is located a short distance from the oldest temple in the capital. At the restaurant, the family asked for some noodles and a plate of karaage fried chicken.
Harmoko explained how it was a relief to be able to find a halal restaurant as he usually has to cook his food at home.
The famous Naritaya opened its doors on January 15th hoping to make a trade like all other restaurants. The fact that they serve all of their food meeting the requirements of Islam makes them that bit different.
They display their menu on the wall, written in both English and Japanese. Some of their tastiest meals include gyoza dumplings made with chicken and beef and custard pudding for those with a sweet tooth!
Options like alcoholic drinks, pork, and meat that isn't manufactured in agreement with Islamic laws are not served. They even refrain from using seasonings that do not meet Islamic requirements.
The manager of Naritya explained how it was a series of trial and error to create authentic Japanese cuisines without using the traditional seasonings, which aren't permitted under Islamic law. He explained after persevering they were able to create a flavor that tasted great. He explained that being able to provide all customers with a traditional cuisine is important seeing as they travel so far to experience the culture.
Nearly one year after opening, around 80-90% of their customers are Muslims. They enjoy serving customers from all different nationalities such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and African countries. Through great reviews and word of mouth, they have become a very successful restaurant.
With Muslim visitors now making up a huge proportion of the Japanese tourism industry, it is important that local businesses and chain restaurants make options available to all of their tourists. Such changes are necessary if Japan wants to continue to thrive as a popular tourist destination that is both welcoming and appealing to people from all different backgrounds.