JAPAN

Ashiq Masood

Islam reached Japan towards end of 19th century, much later as compared to her neighbouring countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippine or even China.
Japan is an exonym while her official name is Nippon, also referred to as Nihon. Both Nippon and Nihon literally mean “the sun’s origin” and are often translated as the Land of Rising Sun.
This Island country is an archipelago of 6,852 islands. Administratively divided into 47 prefectures,Honsh?, Hokkaid?, Ky?sh? and Shikoku are four major Islands and taken together account for 97 percent of land area. The densely populated country has a population of12.74 million.
Buddhism and Shintoism are its two major religions. Shintoism is one of the ancient religions which spontaneously took the form of the natural religion of the race since Japanese people started their community life as a homogenous race. Shintoism has no founder or holy book and the shrine is its symbol but not the idol.
Budhism found by Gautam Buddha in India entered Japan during the 6th century. Japanese religious culture is more of a syncretism of both Shintoism and Buddhism. Followers of both these religions form between 81 to 96 percent of total population. Christianity reached Japan in 1543 A.D. Christian missionary activities in Japan were started by a Roman Catholic priest, Francis Xavier and since then missionaries have been propagating Christianity vigorously, however, the total Christian population still remains less than one percent.
Islam is considered as one of the new religions here. Renowned historical sociologist, late Professor Hajime Kobayashi, said there was no record of any contact between Islam and Japan in Pre-Meiji era (1868). It was only during Meiji Era in 1877 when the biography of Prophet Muhammed (SAW) was translated into Japanese that Japanese people came to know about Islam. However this contact of Islam with Japan was limited to study of culture and history mostly by intellectuals.
During Meiji regime (post 1868 era), Japan and Ottoman Empire of Turkey were in an embarrassing geopolitical situation. As a result the two empires improved ties and cooperation besides exchanging friendly delegations. On one such goodwill mission Sultan Abdul Hamid sent a Naval Vessel, Ertugal, to Japan in 1889. The ship with 609 persons on board reached Yokohama port of Japan on June 7, 1890. After staying in Japan for about three months the ship capsized in Oshima Isles on her return journey, leaving 540 persons, including the commander of the mission Admiral Osman Pasha, the brother of Sultan, dead.
Locals of the Oshima Island came out in the thick dark night to rescue the wounded and gather the dead bodies. The goodwill humanistic gesture was appreciated by both governments. Local resident Torajiro Yamada – a 24 years old, well read son of a well off family – moved by this incident raised a fund for the victims and their families. Japanese government sent him to Istanbul to handover the relief money which he had raised. According to research by late Abu Bakar Morimoto, a Japanese Muslim writer, Torajiro Yamada stayed in Turkey for two years on the request of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, later embraced Islam and adopted Muslim name Abdul Khalil. Abubakar Morimoto describes Torajiro Yamada as the first Japanese Muslim. However, Dr. Saleh Samurai, a veteran Dawah worker in his recent research has named Torajiro Yamada as second Japanese Muslim, while claiming that journalist Oshatharo Noda, who also went to Turkey with relief to be the first Japanese to embrace Islam during his stay in Istanbul. Noda adopted Muslim name Abdul Haleem.
In any case it was only during the last decade of 19th century that a few Japanese embraced Islam.
Despite acceptance of Islam by the first Japanese some 110 years back, majority of common Japanese remained totally ignorant of Islam. It was only after 1973 oil shock that Japanese government started building relations with oil producing Muslim countries. This resulted in exchange of human resources as well. Many Japanese visiting Arab nations for different purposes came in contact with Islam. Many took up the study of Islam and Arab culture here in Japan as well.
First Masjid in Japan is reported to have been built in 1905 within the prison camp for Russian Muslims who were taken as prisoners during Japan-Russia war. However first permanent Masjid was established in 1935, in port city Kobe, around 430 km from Tokyo. Late Ferozzuddin of Kolkata, India was among the major donors of the landmark Masjid of Japan. During 1995, Hanshin earthquake Kobe Masjid withstood the quake while most of Kobe city turned into rubble. Later Nagoya and Osaka Masjid were built in 1938 and 1977 respectively. Tokyo Masjid was built by Turkish community who emigrated from Kazan (Russia) in 1938 which was later demolished for reconstruction. The reconstruction project was postponed for long and was reopened only in 2000. Since late 1990`s a large number of Masjids have come up in various parts of Japan. Around 60 to 70 permanent Masjids have been established mostly due to the efforts of immigrants from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Friday prayers and Tarweeh (special prayers during Muslim fasting month of Ramadan) are also offered in rented halls or apartments.
Late Haji Umar Mita translated Holy Qura`n into Japanese. It took Mita 12 years complete the work, which was first printed on June 10, 1972.
A few Japanese Muslims – Osman Matsubayshi, Sadiq Imaizumi and four others – founded the Muslim Society of Japan (now called, Japan Muslim Association), which declared propagation of Islam as its main objective.
Since 1953 Tablighi Jamaat of Pakistan started sending groups of its members for Dawah, who convinced many Japanese to covert in 1950`s. Many Muslim organisations have sprung up and at present almost every school of thought is represented by their local units here.
These groups and organizations organise various weekly or monthly programmes in their respective centers or Masjids besides major programmes like conference, seminars on Islam are held off and on in different parts of Japan.
Fatima Miyazawa, a 66 years old Japanese Muslim woman, who embraced Islam in early 90`s says, considering nature of Japanese society it looks unlikely  that a large number of Japanese would embrace Islam in near future, however, it may continue to grow at the present slow pace.
Mohsen Bayoumi, the then Imam of Kobe Masjid in his presentation at a seminar at Arabic and Islamic Institute Tokyo, described Isolation of Japanese people from rest of the world, the culture, belief and traditions what Japanese treat as their national identity among  major obstacles in spread of Islam in Japan.
Fatimah Miyazawah suggests that Muslims in Japan should focus more on the education of their children, who are going to be the torch bearers of Islam in future. Muslims need to produce high quality lawyers, doctors, engineers, politicians, public servants and other professional so that their voice is heard. Muslims need to show, by character, what real Islam is, only then Islam can establish firm foot on this land which still awaits to receive message of Peace and truth with warm welcome.

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