Islam in Japan

In 1872, Fukuchi Gen’ichiro (1841-1906),[1] [2] who was staying in Paris as a member of the Iwakura Mission (1871-1873), was sent to Istanbul in order to make an inspection of the judicial systems in the Ottoman Empire and Egypt.11 In 1890, the first cultural envoy of the Ottoman Empire came to Yokohama with a letter from the Ottoman Emperor. On this occasion, Noda Shotaro (1868-1904) was sent as the first Japanese journalist to Istanbul.[3] In June 1891, he converted to Islam and (arguably) became the first Japanese Muslim.[4] During the Russian Revolution in 1917, hundreds of Tatars or Turkic people from Central Asia, especially areas around Lake Baikal escaped to Japan.[5] Japanese Islam has thus always had, from the very beginning, a close connection with Turkic Islam, rather than Arab Islam. One reason for the orientation towards the Asian Continent is that Japanese imperialism was aiming at expanding its sphere of influence and power to the Asian Continent, while Muslims were cooperating with Japan in order to counter Russian expansion.[6] Due to the number of Muslim refugees it was only a question of time until the first mosque in Japan was built; generally, mosques not only serve as a religious space, but also as a meeting and an educational space for a given community. It is said that the first mosque in Japan was built by Tatars in Nagoya in 1931,[7] although this is contested by a document named The Nagoya Muslim Mosque stating that the Nagoya Muslim Mosque was built in 1936.[8] In 1935, Turkic, Tatar, and Indian Muslims living in Kobe built the Kobe Muslim Mosque, which must therefore be the first and one that exists to the present day.[9] However, Muslim intellectuals had already visited Japan earlier: Abdurrejid Ibrahim (1857-1944), a Tartar intellectual, started his ‘round-the-world travel’ in September 1908 and arrived in Wakasa, Japan, in February 1909.[10] He already departed from Japan in June 1909, but was invited back in 1933, becoming in his old age the first Imam in Japan, in the Tokyo Camii (Tokyo Jami; Tokyo Mosque), which was built in 1938 by Russian exile Tatars.[11] The former organization of this mosque goes back to the Tokyo Muslim Association (Tokyo Kaikyoto Dan), which was founded by the Bashkir intellectual, Muhammed- Gabdulkhay Kurbangaliev (1889-1972) in 1924.[12] Today, this mosque belongs to the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Japan. According to a census from 2014, there are currently ca. 80 mosques in Japan.[13] By 2014, there were around 100,000 Muslims living in Japan, with only 10% native Japanese Muslims who were born in Japan as Japanese. Today, very few Japanese are born Muslim.[14]

  • [1] Cf. Iokibe, ‘Fukuchi Gen’ichiro kenkyu josetsu’, 43-88.
  • [2] Miura, ‘Isuramu tono deai’, 7. The mission was named after its chief envoy, Iwakura Tomomi(1825-1883) and consisted of over 100 people including male and female students and high-ranking government officials in order to correct unfair treaties and investigate modernization inthe countries with which Japan had made unfair treaties before the Meiji Restoration.
  • [3] Cf. Misawa, ‘The first Japanese who resided in the Ottoman’, 51-69. Misawa and Ak^adag,‘The first Japanese’, 85-109.
  • [4] Misawa, ‘1890-1993nen ni okeru “Jijishinpo”, 129.
  • [5] Tanada, Nihon no mosuku, 8-10.
  • [6] Japan focused on Turkic Tatar Muslims in Central Asia (mainly in Russia but partly in China)to counter Russia's southward expansion at that time (as for the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902).Turks in Russia such as Volga Tatars, Bashkirs and others sought increased autonomy. From the1930s onwards, organizations related to the Japanese Government propagated information aboutIslam in order to justify Japan’s expansion and raise funds for it. Cf. Komura, Nihon to isuramu,46-50. Additionally, Japan needed to cooperate with the Uyghurs in China and the Hui people inorder to expand into China. Cf. Komatsu Iburahimu, 71. See also Esenbel et al. (eds.). The RisingSun, 2003; Esenbel, ‘Japan’s global claim to Asia and the World of Islam’, 1140-1170; Kobayashi,‘Isuramu seisaku to senryochi shihai’, 63-94; Kurasawa, ‘Daitoa senso ki’, 233-285.
  • [7] Komura, Nihon isuramu shi, 299.
  • [8] On the foundations of the first Nagoya mosque, see The Nagoya Muslim Mosque, 12. The firstNagoya mosque was destroyed during the American air raids in 1945 and never reconstructed.Since 1998, there has been a second Nagoya mosque built by Nagoya Isuramu Kydkai, which is adifferent organization than the Tatars, who had built the former one. Cf. Tanada, Nihon nomosuku, 24.
  • [9] Cf. Tanada, Nihon no mosuku, 24.
  • [10] He visited places all over Japan and met important politicians such as Okuma Shigenobu(1838-1922) and Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909) in his summerhouse shortly before his assassinationin Harbin. Cf. Komatsu, Iburahimu, 50-54. Ibrahim published his travel report: Ibrahim, Alem-iIslam, 1328 [i.e. 1911]; Ibid., Un Tatar au Japon, 2004. On Abdurre§id Ibrahim, see alsoKomatsu, ‘Muslim intellectuals’, 273-288; Sakamoto, ‘Abudyurureshito Iburahimu’, 1-81;Ibid., ‘Yamaoka Mitsutaro’, 157-217.
  • [11] Sakamoto, ‘Tokyo mosuku enkakushi’, 121-128.
  • [12] Cf. Matsunaga, Akira. ‘Tokyo Kaikyo Dan’, 179-232.
  • [13] Tanada, Nihon no mosuku, 36-37.
  • [14] Ibid., 11-16.
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