Dammam , Saudi Arabia, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Satoro Nakamura spoke to an audience of intellectuals last week about Islam in Japan as part of the 6th annual al Qatif cultural forum. He said that the first accounts of Arabs and Islam in Japanese were written by Arai Hakuseki and that the first Japanese Muslim who converted whilst on a visit Turkey was Torajiro Yamada. Bumpachiro Ariga also converted to Islam under the influence of local Muslims when he went to Bombay for trading purposes.
The first mosque in Japan was buil in 1931 in the city of Nagoya and, with the help of Muslim refugees from Asia, another mosque was built in Kobe in 1935. It remains standing today. The lecturer also said that Islamic associations were formed prior to WWII and a Japanese Muslim Association was established after the conflict ended. It sent a number of student to al Azhar in Egypt, between 1957 and 1965, and to the Persian Gulf in the 1970s, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia.
With the 1970s dominated by a global oil crisis, Arabic began to be taught across Japan and a number of Japanese women married foreign Muslim businessmen who were attracted by the country’s boomign economy in the 1980s.
Nakamura indicated that Muslims in Japan faced two main problems, a lack of education and burial grounds. He also pointed out that the Saudi government had founded the Institute for Arab and Islamic studies in 1983, which is affiliated with the Imam Mohammed Ibn Saudi University.
Muslims in Japan also suffer from a lack of adequate burial grounds and Nakamora indicated that the Japanese Muslim Association owned an Islamic cemetery in Yamanachi, 300 km from the capital.
Islam is taught in Japanese schools from a historical perspective, but students needed to understand contemporary political issues better, Nakamura said. An estimated 70 thousand Muslims lived in Japan, according to statistics compiled in 2005, and worshiped in more than 15 mosques and 16 prayer rooms. The largest community of Muslims resides in Kobe.
Dr. Satoro Nakamura received a B.A in Arabic from Tokyo University in 1993. He obtained an A in Islamic Studies from the same university in 1998 and a PhD in 2002. His dissertation was entitled “The Formation of the Modern Saudi State and its Impact on Bedouins and City Dwellers.” Between 1994 and 1997, he worked as a special attache in the Japanese embassy in Riyadh. He has written about political and economic reform in Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations.