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Debunking Rumors About Japan's Supposed Anti-Muslim Restrictions

Mosque in Kobe, Kansai, Japan. Photo by Flickr user Aidan Wakely-Mulroney. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Mosque in Kobe, Kansai, Japan. Photo by Flickr user Aidan Wakely-Mulroney. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A list of supposed restrictions that Japan has placed on Muslims has gone viral following the attacks in Paris in November and amid the ongoing United States Republican presidential nomination campaign, in which candidates have consistently used Islamophobia and racism as a political tool.

According to an image image shared widely across English-language social media over the past few weeks, Japan enforces strict laws on Muslims:

Out of Japan’s nearly 127 million occupants, only 10,000 of them, less than one hundredth of a percent, are Muslims. Part of that has to do with their ban on Islamic evangelism but perhaps even more so on their ban of Muslim immigrants.

The problem? Every bullet point on this list is false.

muslims in japan

Posted on the official Steve Reichart Facebook page. Reichart is campaigning to join the board of the National Rifle Association.

Even so, reality-challenged blogs such as Infowars and the Conservative Tribune have reported the bulleted list as fact.

The viral meme in turn generated an Internet debate about whether or not it was true.

Independent media outlet SNA Japan noted that Japan is no stranger to politically or ideologically motivated violence, and that Japan is the only country that has experienced an attack carried out by a non-state actor utilizing “weapons of mass destruction”—the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attacks in the mid-1990s.

The rumor reference site Snopes declared the “Japan keeps Islam at bay” meme as false, while fact-checking site Politifact thoroughly debunked the meme point-by-point after consulting with experts from Japan who explained that nothing about it is true at all.

Popular Japan vlogger Kanadajin3 (aka “Mira”) posted a spirited rebuttal about Japan's “anti-Islamic rumors” that has so far attracted 65,000 views.

Japan's tolerant attitude towards Islam compared to the misinformation spread by the original meme may have more to do with the fact that there are relatively few Muslims living in Japan.

Indeed, some of the comments left on Kanadajin3's video can be considered fairly indicative of anyone or any cultural practice considered “not Japanese.”

For example, a YouTube commenter called shi taka says:

どこの国でもそうだと思うけど、帰化したいなら、その国の文化やルールに従い、自分勝手な行動を止め、秩序を乱さなければ誰だって歓迎されるでしょ。 ただ、自分勝手に、あれもくれこれもくれという移民に対しては、すごく嫌いになる。 日本は外国人の知らないようなマナーが多いからね。日本人でも分からないことだらけなんだ。来るなら、それを学んでから来てほしいね。

[If people want to live in a foreign country] they should abide by the rules and customs of that country, and should stop imposing their cultural practices on others. Japan will welcome anyone If they come here and avoid upsetting the existing order of things. However, we Japanese really hate it if people come here and demand special exceptions to be made for them. We Japanese have a lot of customs that the rest the world is unaware of. Japan is full of customs that are totally unique to our country. If you come, make sure you study our special customs before you get here.

While Japan's history of interactions with Islam dates back at least 150 years to the end of the country's long period of isolation, today it's estimated about 100,000 people in Japan identify as Muslim.

About 10 per cent of these people are from Japan. The remainder are immigrants or long-term foreign residents of Japan who came to the country as students, trainees or foreign workers from countries such as Turkey, Iran, Nigeria and Malaysia.

While many Muslims settle in Tokyo, other “international” cities in Japan such as Yokohama, Nagoya and Kobe are home to mosques that serve a vibrant Muslim community.

For the time being at least, Japan's official stance on Muslims in the country appears to be more nuanced compared with anonymous Internet commenters.

For example, in a 2008 online English-language article from the English-language Dispatches section of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, there is an article by noted Japanese anthropologist and Middle East specialist Katakura Motoko that adopts a tolerant tone about Muslims living in Japan and Islam in general:

 This is in contrast to the West where Islamic headscarves have become a political issue. Many researchers have taken note of the fact that although Japanese can be counted among the victims of the September 11th attacks, there has been no wave of anti-Islamic sentiment here. No newspaper in Japan published a satirical cartoon lampooning Islam.

Although the number of Muslims in Japan is rising dramatically, there are no complaints from neighboring residents about the construction of mosques. There is only a normal sense of curiosity. A local resident will notice that strangers are building something, and simply wonder what kind of people they are. But the sight of Muslims delivering “soba” noodles to neighbors, a Japanese tradition when moving house, has reassured neighbors and affirmed a sense of community.

Notably, in the article Katakura says, “[In Japan we] should turn a gentle and sensitive awareness towards such everyday aspects, rather than let atypical events guide our opinions.”

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has also repeated nuanced perspectives about Islam since Katakura's 2008 article. Abe, while hosting a delegation from Arab Gulf States in 2014, said:

I have found that a fundamental aspect of the spirit of Islam is harmony with and love for others. I believe therein lie points of commonality with the Japanese spirit, which is founded on co-existence.

So, while it could it could be difficult to argue Japan is a pluralistic, multicultural democracy, at the same time Japan has imposed no special restrictions aimed at limiting Muslim participation in Japanese daily life, and the country seems to be more at home with its Muslim subculture than Western democracies, including the United States.

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  • Matt Canadianintokyo

    I lived there for 8 years. Japan is certainly NOT anti-islamic. Japan is 98.9% Japanese, like Korea and many other Asian nations – Japan has ZERO immigration. Japan isn`t anti-islamic at all, Japan isn`t anti-western at all either, or anti-african or Japan isn`t anti-anything. Because the motto in Japan is *It doesn’t matter who you are – if your not Japanese your a foreigner – and you DONT BELONG HERE. And if you don`t do things 100% the Japanese way in Japan – then GET THE FK OUT! Suggesting that Japan is somehow MORE tolerate to people from other cultures is absolutely PERVERTED and DISGUSTING. How many times have I been simply stared at and pointed at, and laughed at while sitting on the train in Tokyo? How many apartment companies told me, “I can`t help you because we don`t rent apartments to foreigners!” How many jobs have I been humiliated at – talked about behind my back in Japan, treated like an alien in Japan? The writer of this article is perverting and twisting the truth. YES Japan doesn`t have hatred for muslims – because Japan has never ever EVER even considered the idea of a “multi-cultural country.” I`m disgusted by this article – its INCREDIBLY short sighted! You can not compare Japan with multi-cultural countries. Japan is a FAR MORE SIMPLE PLACE. They have never had to navigate the complexities involved in a real multi-cultural country like the USA, England, Canada etc. This article is pathetic.

    • You sound like someone who should not be in Japan. I’m an American, big and clumsy and driving an “open car” around my city. I have the language and mannerisms of a Japanese person, though, so 99.9% people just shut up and talk with me, there’s no staring or oddness, or nothing that isn’t actually kind of fun. I suggest you alter your approach to Japan, if you’re currently here.

  • Good points. Japan is NOT anti-Islamic at all. In fact in our city you can see guys walking around in traditional dress of (presumably) Pakistan, and there are some good restaurants. They are promoting halal food to get tourists to come here.

    That said, don’t expect Japanese to be understanding of your quirks, whatever they may be. I once took over for a gaijin who had a breakdown and had to go back to the U.S. Turned out he was a Mormon who couldn’t take the “sin” of drinking caffeine, and since all tea has caffeine in it, he was oppressed, or that’s the language we’d use today. (This was 20 years ago.) Japan is Japan, and the strength of its culture is why it’s a wonderful place.

    • Johnathan Li

      Even in Japanese Anime Culture, there are also “seeping” influence of Muslims who have assimilated into predominantly Japanese Communities without any problems at all (like those of Canada’s “Mosaic” integration policies), though this is done in a pretty subtle manner, blended in by ideology and perspective (to understand as a fellow human) more than religious reasons.

  • Earl Kinmonth

    Japan is actually quite open to immigration although it does not actively promote it at the present time. If you have some technical skill that a Japanese employer wants, it is far easier to get a work permit for Japan than it is for the UK and easier to acquire permanent residency and citizenship.

    I moved to Japan in 1997 from the UK and acquired permanent residency and later citizenship without problem. I’ve been continually employed from 1997 until the present with one more year to go until full retirement. I’ve had no hassles in that period related to being a foreign national.

    Actually, the idea of a multi-cultural Japan has not only been considered but implemented. Until it lost its colonies and client states, Japan incorporated Chinese, Koreans, and others. The client state of Manchukuo formed in 1932 by Japan in north east China was explicitly multi-racial and multi-cultural.

    Generally it is has been my experience that the foreign nationals who have trouble in Japan are white guys who are for the first time in their lives not at the top of the food chain. When they are treated as less than white gods, they freak out. They blame things on “racism” in Japan even though they could have the same bad experiences at the hands of a fellow white in the US or the UK.

  • GIJ

    Anybody who believes Japan imposes restrictions on Muslims in the country is completely ignorant of Japan’s foreign relations and geopolitics. Aside from the fact that there is no historical basis in Japan for regarding Muslims as a threat to the country, Japan absolutely cannot afford to impose such restrictions. Japan imports massive quantities of oil from Saudi Arabia & Co. which are transported by tankers across the Indian Ocean and then through the Straits of Malacca into the South China Sea and beyond. Malaysia and Indonesia–both Muslim majority countries–can control the flow of traffic through those Straits. You can guess what the governments of those two countries, not to mention Saudi Arabia, would do if Japan moved to pass anti-Muslim laws of any kind. Say goodbye to the flashing neon lights of Shinjuku. All of Tokyo would go dark unless all the nuclear power plants got restarted.

    And let’s not forget the massive, dominant market share that Japanese auto companies enjoy in Indonesia, the world’s 4th most populous country and home to more Muslims than any other. Kiss that market goodbye if Japan imposes anti-Muslim restrictions. All this talk about Japan being a certain way regarding Muslims in particular and immigrants in general has gathered steam in recent years thanks to the ignorance of people like white nationalist Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass shooter and killer of 77 who embarrassed Japan (and also South Korea) by praising the country in his “manifesto” for its homogeneity compared to European countries.

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