Before departing on our trip to Japan where Maysm was attending a conference in Yokohama, we had very few expectations of the country we would be visiting. All we expected was to witness first hand the Japanese’s love for technology, their innovative inventions and their overly polite nature. Our only real concern was regarding food. Being Muslims, we were curious as to how we would find the food options available to us, but we thought, it’s only for ten days, if we have to give up meat and go vegetarian, it’s not the end of the world! We soon came to realize that it wouldn’t be that easy. We happen to dislike seafood and with sushi bars dominating the streets of Japan and their need to include some sort of seafood in every vegetarian dish, we were hitting some unexpected obstacles. An even bigger problem revealed itself when we couldn’t even grab a bowl of chips because they would have been fried in pork fat.
The language barrier only exasperated the issue. There was so much variation on the words alcohol and pork that even if we were told a dish was free from both, it probably wasn’t. This problem persisted until we discovered an app that would make things a whole lot easier; HalalNavi. The app contained a whole bunch of restaurants and would show which dishes were free from pork products and also present alternative options.
The app managed to magic up other wonders like directing us to a Turkish Halal restaurant which turned out to be a Circassian restaurant! With such a small minority of Circassians in the world, we couldn’t believe we found one in Tokyo of all places!
Even though we only stayed for ten days, we couldn’t get over how polite everyone was. At first we were slightly dubious about how genuine their kindness was until we took the Metro one evening to get back to our hotel in Yokohama. A rather intoxicated Japanese gentleman was sat next to my husband and proceeded to what I can only imagine was to use my husband as a human pillow. Gently pushing the sleepy intoxicated man off, he suddenly regains consciousness. Oh no! I thought, please don’t turn into a fight! On the contrary; the man couldn’t be more apologetic for his actions. Wow. Now these are genuinely nice people!
Over our ten days in Japan we only encountered two other women wearing Hijabs. With less than 1% of Japanese residents being Muslim, this was not a common sight. As we walked down the street we would get the feeling we were being stared at, only to turn around and for that person to look away quickly. On that note, at no point did we ever feel isolated or threatened by these stares. They were looks of pure curiosity, nothing more.
After accidentally stumbling across a festival in Tokyo we were confronted with a lot of curious locals. They would point at our Hijabs and mutter a question in Japanese. I can only imagine they were asking us a question or maybe paying us a compliment. A word we got rather used to was Kawaii, meaning cute in Japanese.
Even though we had a few obstacles with finding suitable restaurants; We loved our time in Japan and even though there is only a small population of practicing Muslims, we were greeted with only curious and polite looks from the locals (a few requested to have photos with us!) and a ton of great memories from our short trip to this fast paced land.
~ Sondos Shapsogh