CAIRO – A growing number of Japanese universities are offering halal meals in their menus to cater to the needs of the growing number of Muslim students.
"I'd been making my own meals until now, so this is helpful," a 21-year-old student from Malaysia, eating a halal curry dish, told The Mainichi on Sunday, January 26.
The student was at the student cafeteria at the University of Yamanashi, where new items labeled with Halal stickers were added to the menu.
The cafeteria has offered a total of 10 types of halal meals since December 2013.
He is one of approximately 180 foreign students at the school, some 50 are Muslims from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
Serving Japanese universities, the Tokyo Business Association of University Cooperatives purchases chicken and beef approved as halal by the Malaysian government for the Kanto region.
Catering to Muslim students’ needs, the cafeteria prepared Muslims’ food in the same area of non-Muslims, though using different pots and plates to serve the halal meals.
"Countries and sects vary on what food they consider appropriate," the cafeteria manager, Tetsuya Tanahashi, said, "and so we held numerous discussions with foreign students."
The Yamanashi University was one of at least 19 universities who have incorporated halal options into their menus, according the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations (NFUCA).
The meals are prepared and served in accordance with Islamic law, which stipulates the correct method of draining animal meat of blood and prohibits the consumption of pork products and alcohol.
The University of Tokyo was the first to incorporate halal meat into its meal options in 2010 using meat ordered through the association, and four universities in the region have followed suit.
Setting a goal to double the number of foreign students by 2020, Japanese authorities introduced halal meals to attract Muslim students.
"Because many of the emulsifying agents used in Japan are derived from pork, Japan is known among Muslims as a country where they are unable to eat," Takeshi Ito of the nonprofit organization Japan Halal Association (JHA) said.
The Japanese government has set a goal of bringing 300,000 foreign students into the country by 2020, about twice the number of the current 140,000.
But, the number of Muslim students from Indonesia and Malaysia in the 2012 academic year basically remained unchanged from the previous year at 2,276 and 2,319, respectively.
"Whether or not a place offers suitable eating options is a big factor in deciding where to study," Ito added.
Ikhwan Farid, a Malaysian student at the University of Yamanashi, was the one who proposed incorporating halal options into the school cafeteria menu.
"After studying computer engineering, I want to contribute to linking Malaysia and Japan in the future. But having to eat grilled mackerel and udon noodles every day at the cafeteria is rough,” he said.
“Once halal food becomes more widespread, it'll be easier for younger people to come to Japan."
Islam began in Japan in the 1920s through the immigration of a few hundreds of Turkish Muslims from Russia following the Russian revolution.
In 1930, the number of Muslims in Japan reached about 1000 of different origins.
Another wave of migrants who boosted the Muslim population reached its peak in the 1980s, along with migrant workers from Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Japan today is home to a thriving Muslim community of about 120,000, among nearly 127 million in the world's tenth most populated country.
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