[From May Issue 2013]
SAKURA HOUSE Co., Ltd.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for Japanese to see how calm and highly moral Muslim people are,” says NAMIKI Masayo, sales manager for SAKURA HOUSE Co., Ltd. SAKURA HOUSE is a company that manages hotels and apartment buildings for non-Japanese. This February, they opened up the shared house, “Yoyogi-uehara Muslim House” in Yoyogi-uehara, Tokyo.
Muslims have all kinds of religious customs. They can’t drink alcohol nor eat pork. Women cannot show their skin to men outside their family. Muslims also customarily pray five times a day and go to mosque on Fridays. In Japan, many foods contain alcohol and pork ingredients and there are few places for praying. “Life wasn’t easy for Muslims in Japan, especially for women,” says Namiki.
Up until now, Japan had little contact with Muslim societies. Lots of oil is bought from the Middle East, so while many Japanese travelled there on business, few Muslims visited Japan. However, an increasing number of Muslims from south east Asia, the middle east and Africa are coming to Japan in recent years to study and work.
“Many Muslim customers have begun to visit our company, too,” says Namiki. “A Saudi student who understood neither English nor Japanese came after translating our website using Google Translate. Muslims ask us where they can find a mosque and where they can buy halal foods. That’s why we had the idea for this shared house for Muslims.”
The Muslim House was designed so that Muslims could live comfortably there. There’s a prayer room in which an arrow indicates Qibla (the direction in which to face towards Holy Mecca). The second floor is for women only and is separated from the first floor by a curtain. In the neighborhood there’s Tokyo Camii, one of few large-scale mosques in Japan.
“But the proximity to the mosque wasn’t that important for me,” says tenant Anfal SEDDIK, smiling. “I chose this place because there’s a floor reserved for women and because it’s new and clean.” Anfal is French and she’s staying in Japan for an internship. “I like it here because the surroundings are quiet. I can pray like I always do and it’s also good that it’s a typical Japanese house.”
“The idea for the Muslim House was partly inspired by a Muslim, Mohamed IBRAHIM, who started working for SAKURA HOTEL Hatagaya, one of the hotels we administer,” says Namiki. “Japanese are still far from being familiar with Muslims. Unfortunately some are scared of them as they hear about Islamic extremists in the news. In a town where Japanese and Muslims cross paths daily, in our own little way we’d like to encourage interaction between Japanese and Muslims.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo