Islam in Japan

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Map of Japan appears in the Cihannuma by Ibrahim Muteferrika and Katip Çelebi.

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

Early history[edit]

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

Medieval records[edit]

The earliest Western records of Japan can be found in the works of the Muslim cartographer Ibn Khordadbeh, clearly mentions Japan as the "lands of Waqwaq" twice: East of China are the lands of Waqwaq, which are so rich in gold that the inhabitants make the chains for their dogs and the collars for their monkeys of this metal. They manufacture tunics woven with gold. Excellent ebony wood is found there.” And again: “Gold and ebony are exported from Waqwaq.[1]

Mahmud Kashgari's 11th century atlas clearly indicates the land routes of the Silk Road and Japan in the map's easternmost extent.

Ming dynasty records[edit]

During the 14th century Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty made Ryukyu Kingdom a tributary vassal and ethnic Chinese settlers consolidated the islands for their ruler in Nanjing.

During that period there was contact between the Hui, general Lan Yu of the Ming dynasty and the swordsmiths of Japan. According to Chinese sources Lan Yu owned 10,000 Katana, Hongwu Emperor was displeased with the general's links with Kyoto and more than 15,000 people were implicated for alleged treason and executed, including the general himself; his clan was faced with a genocidal punishment of nine familial exterminations.[2][3]

By the 15th century Yongle Emperor's ethnic Hui admiral Zheng He's fleets reached Ryukyu Kingdom attempting to consolidate once more the grip of the Ming dynasty over the Japanese islands.[4] between 1416 and 1419.

Portuguese records[edit]

Among the first European records about Muslims and their contacts with Japan was maintained by Portuguese eyewitness accounts written by sailors who mention a passenger aboard their ship, an Arab who, had preached Islam to the people of Japan. He had sailed to the islands in Malacca during the year 1555.[5][6]

Modern records[edit]

The first modern Muslim contacts were with Indonesians who served aboard British and Dutch ships in the late 19th century.

In the late 1870s, the biography of Muhammad was translated into Japanese. This helped Islam spread and reach the Japanese people, but only as a part of the history of cultures.

Another important contact was made in 1890 when the Ottoman Empire dispatched a naval vessel to Japan for the purpose of saluting the visit of Japanese Prince Komatsu Akihito 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[edit]

The first Japanese to go on the Hajj was Kotaro Yamaoka. He converted to Islam in 1909 in Bombay, after coming into contact with Russian-born writer, Abdürreşid İbrahim, whereupon he took the name Omar Yamaoka. Both were traveling 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 was granted in 1910.

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.[7] 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 Turko-Tatar 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 with the exception of Shaykh Ibrahim Sawada, imam of the Ahlulbayt Islamic Centre in Tokyo.[8]

Some Shia Muslim families who were stationed in Tokyo in the 1960s established the first Azadari in Japan.It was mostly a family affair some family used to gather together and listen to audio tapes. In the 1970s, there was a Pakistan business man Syed Ashiq Ali Bukhari who initiated first and majlis were held in his and his friend Nazim Zaidi's residence on a small scale. They used to have majlis in their home from the 7th Muharram till the 12th Muharram. Initially it was mostly audio tapes and later the video tapes were used. This continued till sometime late '70 s when Shia Pakistanis and Iranian workers started coming into Japan. Then with their help the Muharram / Majlis took a more organized Azadari form in Tokyo. From that time onwards each year during Muharram Azadari is performed.

The Greater Japan Muslim League (大日本回教協会 Dai Nihon Kaikyō Kyōkai?) 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".[9] 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 reflect 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.

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 Hideki Tōjō, he also stated that the trial was a farce and unworthy of being called one.[citation needed]

He was transferred to a hospital on official claims of mental instability and then prison, and freed not long thereafter, dying a Muslim in 1957 after a quiet life where he continued lecturing, on his return to his home village and his wife, who survived him. He claimed to have seen visions of Muhammad in his sleep.[citation needed]

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established in 1935 in Japan.[10]

Post–World War II[edit]

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.[citation needed]

The Turks have been the biggest Muslim community in Japan until recently.

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

The second president of the association was the 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,[disambiguation needed] 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. Aljazeera also did a documentary regarding Islam and Japan called "Road to Hajj – Japan".[11]

Though many Islamic organisations were established since the 1900s, each of them had only very few active members.[citation needed]

Muslim demographics[edit]

Islam was thought to have first come to Japan in the early 1900s when Muslim Tatars were escaping Russian expansionism.[12] The Muslim community in Japan has a history of over 100 years, although some sources contest more than this amount.[12][13][14] In 1909 it was documented by historian Caeser E. Farah that Abdul-Rashid Ibrahim was the first Muslim who successfully converted the first ethnic Japanese, and in 1935 Kobe Mosque—Japan's first Islamic building—was constructed.[12][15] Some sources have stated that in 1982 the Muslims numbered 30,000 (half were natives).[12] Some ethnic Japanese women during the economic boom of the 1980s converted when large swathes of immigrants from Asia came and integrated with local population.[16] The majority of estimates of the Muslim population have been put at around 100,000 in estimates.[12][17][18] Islam remains a minority religion in Japan, and there is no evidence as to whether Islam is growing or not. Conversion is more prominent among young ethnic Japanese married women, as claimed by the The Modern Religion as early as the 1990s.[16] The true size of the Muslim population in Japan remains a matter of speculation. Some Muslim organizations and media reports have put the number of Muslims in Japan at roughly 100,000, but that is probably an exaggerated estimate. The most serious work on this question has been done by Japanese scholars such as Hiroshi Kojima of the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research and Keiko Sakurai of Waseda University. Their estimates suggest a Muslim population of around 70,000, of which perhaps 90% are resident foreigners and about 10% native Japanese.[13][17] In Japan the government does not take religion into account as part of the demographic concern under religious freedom. As Michael Penn states, "The Japanese government does not keep any statistics on the number of Muslims in Japan. Neither foreign residents nor ethnic Japanese are ever asked about their religion by official government agencies".[17]


According to,[19][dead link] '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.

See also[edit]


  • 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....


  1. ^ Saudi Aramco World : The Seas of Sindbad
  2. ^ (二十六年二月,錦衣衛指揮蔣瓛告玉謀反,下吏鞫訊。獄辭雲:「玉同景川侯曹震、鶴慶侯張翼、舳艫侯硃壽、東莞伯何榮及吏部尚書詹徽、戶部侍郎傅友文等謀為變,將伺帝出耤田舉事。」獄具,族誅之。列侯以下坐黨夷滅者不可勝數。手詔佈告天下,條列爰書為《逆臣錄》。至九月,乃下詔曰:「藍賊為亂,謀泄,族誅者萬五千人。自今胡黨、藍黨概赦不問。」胡謂丞相惟庸也。於是元功宿將相繼盡矣。凡列名《逆臣錄》者,一公、十三侯、二伯。葉升前坐事誅,胡玉等諸小侯皆別見。其曹震、張翼、張溫、陳桓、硃壽、曹興六侯,附著左方。)
  3. ^ Others implicated in the Lan Yu Case include: Han Xun (韓勛), Marquis of Dongping (東平侯); Cao Tai (曹泰), Marquis of Xuanning (宣寧侯); Cao Xing (曹興), Marquis of Huaiyuan (懷遠侯); Ye Sheng (葉升), Marquis of Jingning (靖寧侯); Cao Zhen (曹震), Marquis of Jingchuan (景川侯); Zhang Wen (張溫), Marquis of Huining (會寧侯); Chen Huan (陳桓), Marquis of Puding (普定侯); Zhang Yi (張翼), Marquis of Heqing (鶴慶侯); Zhu Shou (朱壽), Marquis of Zhulu (舳艫侯); Chahan (察罕), Marquis of Haixi (海西侯); Sun Ke (孫恪), Marquis of Quanning (全寧侯); He Rong (何榮), Count of Dongguan (東莞伯); Sang Jing (桑敬), Count of Huixian (徽先伯)
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Islam In Japan". Islamic Japanese. Retrieved 2013. 
  6. ^ Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume I: The Century of Discovery. - Donald F. Lach - Google Books
  7. ^ His memoirs: Toruko Gakan, Tokyo 1911
  8. ^ "Alquran 10". Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  9. ^ Most of its produced literature is preserved in the Waseda University Library(Catalogue)
  10. ^ Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosques Around the World, pg. 137
  11. ^ "Road to Hajj — Japan - 26 Nov 09 - Pt 1". YouTube. 2009-11-26. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  12. ^ a b c d e E. Farah, Caesar (25 April 2003). Islam: Beliefs and Observations. Barron's Educational Series; 7th Revised edition. ISBN 978-0-7641-2226-2. 
  13. ^ a b Yasunori, Kawakami; (May 30, 2007). "Local Mosques and the Lives of Muslims in Japan". Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  14. ^ "Islam in Japan". Mission Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  15. ^ Penn, M. "Islam in Japan," Harvard Asia Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 2006. Retrieved February 26, 2007.
  16. ^ a b Y. Nakano, Lynne; Japan Times Newspaper (November 19, 1992). "Marriages lead women into Islam in Japan". Japan Times. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  17. ^ a b c Penn, Michael. "Islami in Japan". Harvard Asia Quarterly. Archived from the original on 2007-02-02. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  18. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2008 - Saudi Arabia
  19. ^ "JapanFocus". JapanFocus. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 

External links[edit]