Islam in Japan

Islam in Japan

The history of Islam in Japan is relatively brief in relation to the religion's longstanding presence in other countries around the world.

There are few and isolated records of contact between Islam and Japan before the opening of the country in 1853, although some Muslims did arrive in Nagasaki in earlier centuries.

The first modern Muslim contacts were with Malays who served aboard British and Dutch ships in the late 19th century. In the late 1870s, the life of Muhammad was translated into Japanese. This helped Islam to find a place in the intellectual imagination of the Japanese people, but only as a part of the history of cultures.

Another important contact was made in 1890 when Ottoman Turkey dispatched a naval vessel to Japan for the purpose of saluting the visit of Japanese Prince Akihito Komatsu to Istanbul several years earlier. This frigate was called the "Ertugrul", and was destroyed in a storm along the coast of Wakayama Prefecture on the evening of September 16, 1890.

20th century

The first Japanese to go on the Hajj was "Kotaro Yamaoka". He converted [April 1909 in Bombay] to Islam, after meeting up with the pan-Islamic agitator Abdürreşid İbrahim, whereupon he took the name "Omar Yamaoka". Both were travelling with the support of nationalistic Japanese groups like the Black Dragon Society ("Kokuryūkai "), Yamaoka in fact had been with the intelligence service in Manchuria since the Russo-Japanese war. His official reason for travelling was to seek the Sultan's approval for building a mosque in Tokyo (completed 1938). This approval, granted 1910, was necessary as Abdülhamid II considered himself, as Khalifah and Ameerul Mu'mineen (lit. Caliph and Leader of the Faithful; the leader of all Muslims).

Another early Japanese convert was "Bunpachiro Ariga", who about the same time went to India for trading purposes and converted to Islam under the influence of local Muslims there, and subsequently took the name "Ahmed Ariga". "Yamada Toajiro" was from 1892 for almost twenty years the only resident Japanese trader in Istanbul [His memoirs: Toruko Gakan, Tokyo 1911 ] . During this time he served unofficially as consul. He converted to Islam, and took the name "Abdul Khalil", and made a pilgrimage to Mecca on his way home.

The real Muslim community life however did not start until the arrival of several hundred Turko-Tatar Muslim refugees from Central Asia and Russia in the wake of the October Revolution. These Muslims, who were given asylum, in Japan settled in several main cities around Japan and formed small communities. They are estimated at less than 600 in 1938 for Japan proper, a few thousand on the continent. Some Japanese converted to Islam through the contact with these Muslims.

The Kobe Mosque was built in 1935 with the support of the turco-tarar community of traders there. The Tokyo Mosque, planned since 1908 was finally completed in 1938, with generous financial support from the zaibatsu. Its first imams were "Abdürreşid İbrahim" (1857-1944), who had returned in 1938, and Abdulhay Qorbangali (1889-1972). Japanese Muslims played little role in building these mosques. To date there have been no Japanese who have become Imam of any of the mosques.

The Greater Japan Muslim League ("Dai Nihon Kaikyō Kyōkai" 大日本回教協会) founded in 1930, was the first official Islamic organisation in Japan. It had the support of imperialistic circles during World War II, and caused an "Islamic Studies Boom" [Most of its produced literature is preseverd in the Waseda University Library( [ Catalogue] )] . During this period, over 100 books and journals on Islam were published in Japan. While these organizations had their primary aim in intellectually equipping Japan's forces and intellectuals with better knowledge and understanding of the Islamic world, dismissing them as mere attempts to further Japan's aims for a "Greater Asia" does not relfect the nature of depth of these studies. Japanese and Muslim academia in their common aims of defeating Western colonialism had been forging ties since the early twentieth century, and with the destruction of the last remaining Muslim power, the Ottoman Empire, the advent of hostilities in World War II and the possibility of the same fate awaiting Japan, these academic and political exchanges and the alliances created reached a head. Therefore they were extremely active in forging links with academia and Muslim leaders and revolutionaries, many of whom were invited to Japan.

Nationalistic organizations like the Ajia Gikai, were instrumental in petitioning the Japanese government on matters such as officially recognizing Islam, along with Shintoism, Christianity and Buddhism as a religion in Japan, and in providing funding and training to Muslim resistance movements in Southeast Asia, such as the "Hizbullah", a resistance group funded by Japan in the Dutch Indies. Intellectual exchange between the Islamic and Japanese academia was at its pinnacle at this time, only to crumble with Japan's defeat. After the Occupation had begun, the numerous Islamic institutions were dissolved and banned being as they had been at the forefront of academic study and protest in Japan against Western colonialism. Claims have been made of these organisations being mere fronts for the Japanese war effort; however the depth and breadth of Japanese-Islamic studies and academic and political exchange by promiment figures such as Okawa Shumei as well as his student, Toshihiko Izutsu, the volumes of written work produced by these figures and others, their translations of the Qur'an, the conversion of numerous promiment figures in Japanese politics to Islam and their claim and such demonstrate that this was certainly not the case.

Shūmei Ōkawa, by far the highest-placed and most prominent figure in both Japanese government and academia in the matter of Japanese-Islamic exchange and studies, managed to complete his translation of the "Qur'an" in prison, while being prosecuted as an alleged class-A war criminal by the victorious Allied forces for being an 'organ of propaganda'. Charges were dropped for his erratic behaviour officially; however historians have speculated that the weakness of the charges against him were more likely the true reason for this. While Okawa did display unusual behaviour during the trial such as rapping on the head of Tojo Hideki, he also stated that the trial was a farce and unworthy of being called one.

He was transferred to a hospital on official claims of mental instability and then prison, and freed not long thereafter, dying as a Muslim 1957 after a quiet life where he continued lecturing, on his return to his home village and wife, who survived him. He had recounted seeing visions of Muhammad in his sleep.

Post World War II

In the 1970s, another "Islamic Boom" was set in motion, this time in the shade of "Arab Boom" after the 1973 oil crisis. After realizing the importance of the Middle East and its massive oil reserves for the Japanese economy, the Japanese mass media have since been giving big publicity to the Muslim World in general and the Arab World in particular . With this publicity many Japanese who had no idea about Islam got the chance to see the scene of Hajj in Mecca and hear the call of Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) and Qur'anic recitations. Beside numerous sincere conversions to Islam at the time, there were also mass conversions of several tens of thousands of people.Fact|date=February 2007

The Turks have been the biggest Muslim community in Japan until recently. Pre-war Japan was well-known for its sympathy and favour towards Muslims in central Asia, seeing in them an anti-Soviet ally. In those days some Japanese who worked in intelligence circles had contact with these Muslims. A few converted to Islam through these contacts, and embraced it after the war ended. There were also those who went to Southeast Asia as soldiers during the war. The pilots were instructed to say "La ilaha illa Allah", ("There is no god but Allah", the Muslim declaration of faith) when they were shot down in these regions, so that their lives would be spared. It was reported that one of the pilots was actually shot down and captured by the inhabitants. When he shouted the words to them, to his astonishment they changed their attitudes and treated him well.Fact|date=February 2007

The Japanese invasion of China and South East Asian regions during the second world war brought the Japanese in contact with Muslims. Those who embraced Islam through them returned to Japan and established in 1953, the first Japanese Muslim organisation, the Japan Muslim Association under the leadership of the late Sadiq Imaizumi. Its members, numbering sixty five at the time of inauguration, increased twofold before he died six years later.

The second president of the association was the late Umar Mita. Mita was typical of the old generation, who learned Islam in the territories occupied by the Japanese Empire. He was working for the Manshu Railway Company, which virtually controlled the Japanese territory in the north eastern province of China at that time. Through his contacts with Chinese Muslims, he became a Muslim in Peking. When he returned to Japan after the war, he made the Hajj, the first Japanese in the post-war period to do so. He also made a Japanese translation of the meaning of the Qur'an from a Muslim perspective for the first time.

Thus, it was only after the second world war, that what can properly be called "a Japanese Muslim community" came into existence. Though many Islamic organisations were established since the 1900s, each of them had only very few active members.

Muslim demographics

There is no reliable estimate of the Muslim population in Japan as the government does not inquire about people's religion on census forms or other official documents. The majority of estimates of the Muslim population have been put at around 100,000, but this may be an exaggerated figure.

The most reliable scholarship puts the number of Muslims in Japan at around 60,000-70,000, [ [ Japan Focus ] ] of which about 90% are foreign residents, and 10% are ethnic Japanese. At the present time, Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Iranians make up the largest communities of foreign Muslims in Japan.


According to [] , 'There are currently between 30 and 40 single-story mosques in Japan, plus another 100 or more apartment rooms set aside, in the absence of more suitable facilities, for prayers. Many Muslim communities have plans to build mosques in the near future.

Education about Muslims in Japan

The potential number of proselystizers represented by the Muslim community in Japan is itself extremely small in proportion to the national population of more than 120 million. Students together with immigrant workers constitute a large percentage of the Muslim community, which is concentrated in major urban centers such as Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo but is seldom organised in such a way as to conduct effective programs to familiarize non-Muslims with Islam. However, some Muslim students association and local societies have organized camps and gatherings in an effort to improve the understanding of Islamic teachings and for the sake of strengthening the bond among Muslims.Fact|date=August 2007

Further difficulties are faced by Muslims with respect to communication, housing, child education and the availability of halal food and Islamic literature. These constitute additional challenges to dawah in Japan.


* Abu Bakr Morimoto, "Islam in Japan: Its Past, Present and Future", Islamic Centre Japan, 1980.
* "Arabia", Vol. 5, No. 54. February 1986/Jamad al-Awal 1406.
* Hiroshi Kojima, "Demographic Analysis of Muslims in Japan," The 13th KAMES and 5th AFMA International Symposium, Pusan, 2004.
* Michael Penn, "Islam in Japan: Adversity and Diversity," "Harvard Asia Quarterly", Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 2006.
* Keiko Sakurai, "Nihon no Musurimu Shakai" (Japan's Muslim Society), Chikuma Shobo, 2003.
* Esenbel, Selcuk; "Japanese Interest in the Ottoman Empire;" in: Edstrom, Bert; The Japanese and Europe: Images and Perceptions; Surrey 2000
* Esenbel, Selcuk; Inaba Chiharū; "The Rising Sun and the Turkish Crescent;" İstanbul 2003, ISBN 975-518-196-2
* "A fin-de-siecle Japanese Romantic in Istanbul: The life of Yamada Torajirō and his Turoko gakan;" Bull SOAS, Vol. LIX-2 (1996), S 237-52


External links

* [ Islam-QA Japanese] - Japanese Islamic website offering a comprehensive library of Islamic references and resources in the Japanese language.

* [ Shingetsu Institute] The Shingetsu Institute tracks Japanese-Islamic relations from an academic perspective.

* [ "Islam in Japan" page at the Shingetsu Institute]

* [ "Local Mosques and the Lives of Muslims in Japan" page at Japan Focus]

* [ Videoclip of the Tokyo Mosque]

* [ Islamic Center Japan]

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