Halal is hot as Japan targets Islamic markets
Among the presenters at the 16th annual Japan International Seafood & Technology Expo held in August were two who spoke about halal foods. Halal foods are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary rules. Regarding seafood, Sunni Muslims generally consider that all animals coming from the ocean or sea or lake are allowed. Shiites disallow some crustaceans, while allowing shrimp and prawns.
The Tokyo-based Japan Muslim Association presented on the Islamic requirement for halal business, while the Osaka-based Japan Halal Association presented on the importance of marketing and conditions for halal business success. The two organizations offer halal certification services to Japanese food manufacturers. The former has been recognized as a halal certifying organization in Japan since 2012 by Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), while the latter was approved in the same year by the Department of Islamic Development in Malaysia.
The main issue with halal certification for seafood is that pork offal must not be used in aquaculture feeds. Many processed foods contain gelatin from pork, which is forbidden, and meat extracts used as flavoring must be from a halal source. Alcohol is also not allowed.
Japan is trying to boost its tourism by reaching out to Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, where rising incomes are allowing more people to vacation overseas. According to the Japan National Tourist Organization, a combined total of more than 300,000 tourists visited Japan from these two countries in 2013, compared with 140,000 for 2011. Relaxed visa requirements are a major reason for the increase. In July 2013, Japan abolished the requirement of a visa for short-term stays for Malaysian citizens who have passports with biometric data embedded in an IC chip. In June of 2014, a similar exemption was announced for Indonesia.
A Singapore-based organization promoting global halal travel estimated that Muslim visitors to Japan could reach one million in the year 2020. To support this trend, Japanese tourism authorities are holding seminars in tourist regions to train hoteliers and restaurant owners to cater to Muslim guests. Many of the tourists are coming as part of organized groups, but tour operators have noted that Japan’s lack of knowledge about prayer times and facilities and food requirements is an obstacle to Islamic tourism. At the same time, it represents an opportunity for halal certified restaurants and groceries.
An example is Bistro Yama, a French restaurant in Saitama prefecture that started serving halal foods. They found it difficult to deepen the staff’s understanding of Islam, since it is a religion most Japanese have never had contact with before. There are only about 120,000 Muslims in Japan out of a total population of 127 million. However, they hope the move will help them to attract overseas high-income earners.
Many halal-related events have been held or planned in Japan recently. To make Japanese businesses and the government more aware of the trade benefits of halal certification and dealing in halal products, a Japan Halal Summit and Technical Workshop was held in Tokyo on 4-6 August, sponsored by the Halal Development Foundation Japan (HDFJ). Mohammad Zubair, general secretary of Halal Development Foundation of Japan, said at the inaugural of the event that a single Japanese halal standard should be created that would be accepted in every Muslim country.
At that event, the HDFJ and Penang Halal Hub Development Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding for mutual cooperation to promote halal exports and imports between Japan and Penang state of Malaysia. The Malaysian side hopes to interest companies and the Japanese government in using Penang as a base for investments in food manufacturing and import-export distribution.
According to the Japan External Trade Organization, Malaysia has shown very good progress in the halal industry and Japanese companies are eager to establish and expand their market through Malaysia. Some major food and beverage companies including Ajinomoto, Asahi Beverage, Kewpie and Umakane have already established their operation in Malaysia with most of the food’s final destination being the Middle-East and Japan.