National

City of Chiba aims to be Japan's Muslim center

Kyodo

The city of Chiba is seeking to become the center of Muslim culture in Japan, aiming to attract Southeast Asian tourists to visit and stay in the city.

The municipal government has been prompting businesses in the city to attain the status of “Japan’s first Muslim-friendly facility” in a variety of fields.

In January, Japan’s first halal-certified food-processing facility opened in the Makuhari area in central Chiba. The operator, Sato Chohachi-Shoji Co., a Tokyo-based food trading firm, said the plant is working on research and development, with commercial production to begin in July.

A few hundred meters away, the private Kanda University of International Studies opened a Muslim-friendly cafeteria earlier this month as the first of its kind among Japanese colleges, while retail giant Aeon Co.’s new flagship mall, which opened last December at a nearby site, has a prayer room for Muslim shoppers — the first such facility in its domestic network of 135 outlets.

The efforts by the private sector follow last September’s relocation of the headquarters of the certifying organization Nippon Asia Halal Association from Tokyo to the city.

The Chiba Municipal Government in November invited a representative from the nonprofit group to participate in a city committee on inbound tourism, where members agreed to designate travelers from Asia and Muslims as top promotion targets.

The Muslim-friendly initiative was proposed by Mayor Toshihito Kumagai in line with the city’s efforts to host more international conventions at its huge Makuhari Messe convention complex.

A spokesman for Sato Chohachi-Shoji said the company will promote its Chiba-made halal products to enter the Middle East and Southeast Asia markets after expanding business with Japanese hotels that accommodate Muslim tourists.

“We would like to promote ‘Made in Japan’ as a brand in the global halal market,” he added.