Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Because of rising tourism from Muslim countries, Japanese airports have are gradually adapting to cater to Muslim visitors.
Existing 'silence' rooms have been turned into prayer rooms. Bathrooms now feature taps for Muslim ritual washing and airport restaurants are asking patrons not to drink alcohol when sitting next to Muslims.
Statistics released in January by the Japan National Tourist Organisation show that the number of tourists from Malaysia surged to 28,500 in December 2013, up 65.5 per cent from the previous year. Indonesian visitors were up 27.3 per cent, whilst those from the Gulf rose by 50 per cent.
Motivated by growing requests (and complaints) by Muslim travellers, Narita (Chiba prefecture), Kyoto and Osaka airports have begun implementing changes.
Under Islamic dietary guidelines, Muslims are strictly prohibited from consuming alcohol and pork - two prominent examples of non-halal ingredients - as well as any of their derivatives.
Animal-based foods must been slaughtered or otherwise prepared using methods based on Islamic scripture, and cannot be touched by culinary utensils used to prepare pork.
In December last year, Narita airport started a catering service to provide several pork- and alcohol-free meals for Muslims, prepared by airline food service TFK Corp, which provides in-flight halal catering to Malaysia Airlines.
As a Muslim, Hideaki Yotsutsuji, spokesman for the Japan Halal Association, said Muslim communities in Japan largely welcome the airports' attempts to improve hospitality toward Muslims.
But Yotsutsuji also warned airports to keep in mind that trumpeting their pursuit of Muslim-friendliness could backfire. "By touting your place as 'Muslim-friendly,' you're basically getting their hopes high," he said.
In fact, "No matter how 'friendly' you think your place is, some of the Muslims will feel betrayed just by, say, finding a person next to them drinking alcohol," he warned.