Taito ward in the northeast of the metropolis, has employed a scheme since late 2015 to provide subsidies to food establishments that invest in halal status. Through the initiative, companies will be reimbursed by 50% of the cost of certification.
"When you travel, you want to enjoy the food of that country, the regions, and if that cannot be done here in Taito ward, it's sad,” said director of tourism at Taito City office, Takuji Kwai soon after the initiative began.
“We offer lots of delicious food. So we decided to create an environment where Muslims can enjoy without any worries.”
Certifiers look to Jakim
The policy has helped develop a growing network of halal certification agencies in Tokyo. One of these, the Japan Halal Foundation (JHF), was established in Taito last year and now employs three full-time and as many part-time staff.
“Halal is very new to the food industry and there are very few consumers in Japan. But there is an awareness taking place gradually as the industry learns about the halal system,” said Faslin Lafir, a food scientist at the JHF.
“There are many certification bodies, so there are deviating standards. From an industry point of view, companies are a little bit confused about who to get the certification from, which is becoming a problem. Every year there are more Muslim tourists, especially from Malaysia and Indonesia.”
The JHF is in the process of being accredited by Jakim, the Malaysian halal authority, which it sees as having an advantage over other halal certification providers.
“Jakim accreditation is beneficial to promote our companies in terms of the export market — which is currently mainly for green tea and tofu,” said Lafir.
“When companies want to export to the Middle East and other Muslim countries, it’s better to get certified, and having Jakim accreditation, that is more value for them.”
Spike in Muslim arrivals
The number of Muslim arrivals to Japan has been growing sharply since the government relaxed visa requirements for South East Asian visitors in 2013 in a bid to boost tourism.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organisation, more than 394,000 tourists from majority-Muslim Malaysia arrived in 2016, up from 89,000 in 2009. Similarly, the number of Indonesians grew to 271,000 from just 63,000 over the same period.
The Olympic Games are expected to further increase the number of tourists who require halal food.
More than 20m tourists are expected to land in Japan in 2020, of which over 1m will be Muslim, according to one report.
In light of this, Tokyo’s governor has met with the ambassadors of 17 Muslim countries to discuss strategies that could be used to cater for Muslim athletes and tourists.